“The next action of the Judge is quite clear. For common justice demands that a witch should not be condemned to death unless she is convicted by her own confession. But here we are considering the case of one who is judged to be taken in manifest heresy for one of the other two reasons set down in the First Question, namely, direct or indirect evidence of the fact, or the legitimate production of witnesses; and in this case she is to be exposed to questions and torture to extort a confession of her crimes.”
- The Malleus Maleficarum
When you, Skeptic or Believer, Occultist or Layman, are asked to think of notorious cases relating to the Paranormal and Magickal Arts, what instantly springs to mind? The ‘pretty much true except for the majority of the details’ and best watched from behind the sofa story of the Amityville Horror perhaps? Or the tragic Anneliese Michel Exorcism that cost a young, and mentally ill, woman her life due to the Zealotry of her parents when faced with a mundane reason for her odd behaviour that they just could not Pray away? What about the Highgate Vampire, the shadowy black figure that struck such fear into the hearts of those living in that particular North London suburb that, thrill-seekers and drunkards aside, they avoided the place wholesale after dark? Ah yes, Gravehounds, that last one is nothing if not interesting, and the deeper you dig the more strange things get.
But this article is not about the vandalised and overgrown cemetery, frightened locals, dead Foxes drained of blood or the small number of Paranormal Investigators and Vampirologists sparring over the identity, or otherwise, of the creature supposedly responsible during the early 1970′s. Nor does it focus much attention on the Satanic Cults and local teenagers desecrating the remains of the dead for shit and giggles, burned out candles, broken coffins, chalk-drawn Sigils and all. What this article highlights is the eventual fallout from the events at the Cemetery, and the resulting Witchcraft Trial in all but name that saw a miscarriage of justice claim nearly three years of an almost innocent man’s life for nothing more than expressing his Wiccan Beliefs during a period when the establishment was downright hostile to those that dared to be openly different.
If David Farrant, Paranormal Investigator and according to the police of the period a public nuisance due to his frequent trespassing in areas that had a reputation for being Spiritually Active, made any mistake it was to take people at face value, especially those working in the mass media of the time. The whole sorry affair reads much like something directly out of a Dennis Wheatley novel, if not at least twice as trashy in places, cast into the grimy spotlight by the local press and national news agencies for reasons no more altruistic than filling column inches and program hours with the most lurid and fantastical trash available; little better than a concerted effort by all involved to take the minds of the general population off of the growing social problems brewing just beneath the surface of the post 1960′s UK. Someone was going to have to pay the price for the damage and hysteria caused by the continued events at Highgate, and unfortunately for Farrant, that person was him.
Just as it had been in the Middle Ages, those in the Establishment decreed that a Witch had to be burned to alleviate the stresses of the villagers who had been so pained by the ongoing media circus surrounding the case; and despite the fact that the actual Witchcraft Act of 1735 had been repealed and replaced with the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951, which no longer criminalised the actual claim to possess Magickal Powers but instead punished people for deceiving others for profit while professing Supernatural Abilities, the State demanded it’s pound of flesh in any way it could get it. Farrant was arrested and officially charged with a laundry list of minor crimes when nothing more serious could be made to stick; multiple counts of interfering with remains in tombs, conspiracy to damage property in the cemetery between 1971 and 1974, unlawful and malicious damage to a memorial to the dead, theft of sheets from Barnet General Hospital, possession of his father’s old service revolver and the sending of Voodoo Dolls to two police officers involved in the case.
Farrant was found not guilty of the majority of the charges relating to interfering with remains, including one supposedly involving a corpse in a car, but he received two years in prison for a final count of this, and two more for using his spooky Voodoo Doll based Powers to scare officers of the law who should, frankly, have grown the hell up and known better than to take it all so seriously. He received a further six months for the malicious damage charge, itself involving nothing more destructive than chalk used to draw a Magickal Symbol on the floor of a vault, a month for the revolver and eight months for the sheets, both of which were eventually made concurrent with the other sentences.
When one takes in to account both the lack of evidence presented by the prosecution and the almost Inquisitorial Zeal expressed by an already embattled police force straining under the weight of external bureaucracy and internal corruption who seemed determined to get their man no matter how many falsified statements they had to throw at him to do so, it is painfully obvious that Farrant’s charges were are little better than a smokescreen for the real accusation being made; that he dared to be open about the fact that he was far from a good little Christian and flip the establishment the bird while living his life as he chose. The fact that he saw nothing evil about the pleasures of the flesh and the inherent beauty of the female form no doubt enraged his detractors further, especially when certain photographs taken in the Cemetery itself later came to light, much to the delight of the press.
Considering that the maximum penalty for performing supposedly Magickal Acts proscribed by law under the earlier Witchcraft Act was only a single year in prison, it is bizarre to think that Farrant was faced with almost five times that for offences that were a direct result of his desire to explore Fortean Phenomena that fell well outside the remit of any Governmental body to investigate, and that any court in the land would find him guilty in the first place. It is worth reiterating here that while he was convicted of some of the offences listed above, at no point was Farrant actually found guilty of handling human remains, so what we eventually end up with are charges relating to trespassing in a Cemetery after hours, a minor offence usually dealt with by the administering of a not unreasonable fine, dressed up as something darker to put a nail the troublesome Occult Adventurer’s coffin once and for all.
The bizarre ill treatment meted out to him by the powers that be did not end there, however. Farrant continued to fight his corner from inside the prison system, eventually resorting to a hunger strike in an effort to make his jailers treat him with the same basic human dignity as the other, Non-Magickal inmates. His requests to see his High Priestess in the same capacity that any other inmate would see their own Priest was denied, outgoing letters were censored and eventually stopped, and his calls for appeals were quashed at every opportunity by the grey suits in the Home Office. At one point he was even placed in a cell with a man who had killed his wife with an axe because she had supposedly been a Witch; it is hard to see the prison authorities getting away with putting a prisoner in danger in the same manner if the issue was one relating to a clash of two more readily accepted Religious Practices such as Judaism and Islam, yet Witchcraft was not a recognised Religion at the time and as such was not protected in the same manner.
Seven weeks into his hunger strike, and some two years and eight months in to his sentence he was finally released, and began a mildly successful campaign at his own expense to clear his once relatively good name. Yet there has been no admission by the authorities that they had falsified evidence and embarked upon a blatant overreaction to the actual crimes committed in a concerted effort to remove a far too vocal, and perhaps in some ways notorious, public figure from the limelight while they continued their enquiries. Yet even while Farrant was in prison the vandalism at Highgate Cemetery, both Satanic and otherwise, continued, and it became increasingly clear to anyone that thought of themselves as an impartial observer that the police had indeed got the wrong man. Upon his release, however, few rallied to his cause, no doubt because of the continued hate campaign waged against the supposed King of Black Magick by the press.
So why, you may ask, has this Old Fox decided to resurrect a court case that was over and done with, albeit with a definite miscarriage of justice as it’s ultimate conclusion, a few years before I was even born? What is my motivation for getting involved in a situation that has spawned so much enmity between those few interested people that are still discussing the events of the early 1970′s in Highgate that it may well have been far better for my own good to leave it all alone and just watch those involved from afar? Why have I popped my head over the top of the trenches and chosen a side in a conflict that has very little to offer me as an individual so long after the fact?
Frankly, it all boils down to the last promise that I made to my father, that his children would change the World, and in my case I have been doing just that, one mind at a time, since his passing a year ago through my writings here at Rebel Without A Soul and a select few other places both online and off. This Old Fox intensely dislikes injustice you see, and doubly so when it revolves around the persecution of my fellow Occultists for little more than the nature of their Beliefs. Farrant may not have been an Angel; he certainly played up to the cameras where possible, not only because he liked the attention, as I am sure that anyone would in his place, but also in a somewhat misguided attempt to stick two fingers up at an establishment that was very much out to silence the outspoken youth of the period any way they could, especially those in the Counter Culture that dared to openly profess alternative Spiritual Beliefs. None of that should have earned him the sentence he ultimately received, however, or the continued mistrust of the British public.
Was there an element of thrill seeking in his actions? Possibly, but throughout the case David comes across as a person far more inquisitive than hedonistic, a fact that seems to be lost on his more vocal detractors both then and now, and as such fuelled by an all consuming need to know and tenacity in the face of adversity that would have won him the respect of his fellow Occultists and Paranormal Investigators had the Highgate Case happened a mere twenty years later. Many in the UK credit the show Most Haunted with being the first to push the boundaries of social acceptability in this regard, providing as they did neatly packaged Table Tapping for entertainment purposes only, yet this is a fallacy; without the actions of a few usually unsung heroes living in the early days of the Modern Occult Era, Farrant included, Yvette Fielding and Derek Acorah would have never dared do what they did, albeit spuriously, for the cameras throughout the early years of the 21st Century.
Indeed it is worth remembering the often overlooked fact that in many ways Farrant’s conviction and subsequent media campaign to clear his name upon his release set the stage for the grudging public acknowledgement of the rights of the many Ghost Hunting and Magickal Groups that would follow his lead during the 1980′s and 1990′s to practice in the open, albeit guardedly. This Old Fox, for example, has his Spiritual roots in one such Current, that of Chaos Magick, the core ideas of which may never have got as widely disseminated in the years that followed had Farrant not blazed his at times self undermining trail through the media of the 1970′s. Whether we realise it or not, all of us in the UK Magickal Community owe him in some small way for his sacrifice, and the fact that we all sit idly by and allow him to continue to be vilified for a past that is more speculation than reality is a true testament to just how little has changed in the world of the Weird, and just how fragmented we remain as a Movement.