The Sussex Devils

By Marc Heal

The Satanic Panic Of The 1980s – A Memoir And A Mystery Story

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A Love that Could Hurt No One (Part Three)

By now senior members of St Thomas’s clergy had heard about the confrontation at the fellowship group. The priest-in-charge of St Thomas was a pinch-faced 52 year-old Evangelical called Peter Vincent. Before becoming his tenure at St Thomas, between 1963 and 1971 he had been the vicar at the Church of Saint John the Divine in nearby Rastrick. Whilst there he had developed quite a reputation. Vincent was an enthusiastic exorcist. He believed in healing with hands and casting out of demons, later describing such events as “wonderful”. Distressed to hear of the events of the previous night, The Reverend and his wife Sally met with the Taylors to ask them what had happened. Still wounded, in every sense, from his fight with Marie, Michael told them that Marie Robinson had attempted to seduce him in front of his wife. Not only that, but he suspected that she had somehow caused him to become possessed by the Devil. The "love that could hurt no one" had become an agony.

Far from telling Michael to calm down, that some perspective was clearly required, the Vincents sympathised. Sally Vincent was especially supportive. For reasons unknown  (very possibly connected with Marie’s youth and vivacity) she seems to have had a low opinion of Ms. Robinson. Yes, it was very likely, the hard faced vicar’s wife agreed, that Michael was under some kind of demonic influence, and that Marie was to blame.

The events of the next two weeks are difficult to piece together. One thing is clear – Michael Taylor had become emotionally unbalanced. The obvious target for his rage was of course Marie. Now he reacted violently against anything to do with religion, any symbol, any representative of faith. He knelt in the street outside the house, shouting. He told neighbours that he had seen the Devil. He destroyed crosses and religious books in own home. He began to show signs of lunacy in the true sense, becoming affected by, and fearful of the moon. He was particularly concerned about the effect of the moon on Marie.

The news of Michael Taylor’s erratic behaviour was continually relayed by parishioners to Peter Vincent. The priest's suspicions hardened. He became convinced that Michael’s problems were caused by possession.

It should be noted again that before going to the fellowship group Michael was from all accounts a stable and happy man. He had never been a regular churchgoer or influenced by religious doctrine or imagery. And yet, within weeks of traumatic personal events that had clearly shattered his self-esteem and relationships, not to mention the searing experiences of “exorcisms” and “speaking in tongues” and a heavy diet of fundamentalist propaganda, Michael was seeing devils.

A sensible response might have been for Michael to ease off on all the group hysteria and sexually repressed craziness, to take a few days out to spend some time with the wife and kids, to forget about religion and relax. In fact according to Barbara Woodman this is what the Taylors had decided to do. But they never got the chance. Father Vincent was made of sterner stuff. Far from giving poor Michael some breathing space, the priest decided, in God’s name, to twist the thumbscrews on those devils.

On October 4th Christine Taylor called at Barbara Wardman’s house. She looked desperately tired. She and Michael didn’t want to attend any more fellowship meetings, she said. They wanted to get back to their old, quiet life. Barbara asked Christine if she was all right.

Christine’s voice was drained of emotion, cracked with fear. Barbara said that, “Chrissie told me they had been up all night. As soon as it began to get dark and he moon was up, Michael started to go on about the moon. They sat downstairs in the sitting-room all night making the sign of the Cross over each other to keep each other safe.”

On the night of October 5th 1974, in this exhausted and emotionally erratic state, Michael and Christine were summoned to the vicarage by Reverend Vincent. Wearily the Taylors agreed to attend.

Waiting for them, the priest had assembled what he regarded as a crack anti-Satan squad, an exorcism A-Team.  First there was his wife Sally - that particularly uncompromising hardliner, who as we have seen was deeply suspicious that Marie Robinson was also in league with the Devil and had much to do with Michael’s “possession”. Next was the Reverend Raymond Smith, a Methodist preacher from nearby Barnsley and his wife Peggy. The pair, a murder jury was later to hear, “described themselves as practitioners in exorcism” Finally there was Donald James, another Methodist lay preacher.

When the Taylors got to the vicarage, the Vincent’s team them sat down, and told Michael what they were convinced ailed him – not a nervous breakdown, but that evil spirits were living inside him. Michael reacted badly, and as the exorcists later reporrted he went for the Reverend Vincent, throwing his tea at him, kicking the vicarage cat and (gratifyingly) punching the bastard in the face. Between them all, the group restrained Michael. He was clearly very disturbed. Sally Vincent, the inquest was later told, “Took the view he was no longer in control of his faculties. She said there was an enormous force of evil emanating from him because of demonic possession, which required exorcism, which was going to be a long job and would take all night… Some of them formed the opinion that the girl Marie Robinson was connected with some Satanist group and that she had pledged him into Satan.”

Maybe. Or, to his credit, Raymond Smith ventured, was it possible that Michael was simply exhibiting signs of extreme stress? Certainly the man needed help. But perhaps after all they should take him to a doctor, or a psychiatrist?

“This was considered”, so the inquest was told, “and solemnly rejected."

Leaving Christine under guard at the vicarage, and under some pressure herself, the vicar and his party restrained Michael. According to the inquest, at midnight, “They took him into the church vestry. They laid him down and at times had to hold him down and took it in turns to exorcise each particular demon . . . He was made to confess sins of which he was innocent and was subjected to indignities which defy comprehension. These included having crosses pushed into his mouth while he was sprinkled with holy water. They made a list of the spirits, which they cast out – “incest”, “bestiality”, “blasphemy”, “lewdness”, “heresy”, “masochism” and many others. At one stage a wooden cross Mr. Taylor was wearing was burned…“. Michael tried to escape. Again they tied him down. Over the next seven hours the Reverend Vincent claimed to have expelled over 40 demons from him. It was tiring, physical work, but according to the good Reverend by about 7:00 a.m. Michael had only three demons left in him - those of "murder", "violence" and "insanity". Even by the doctrinal logic of the “deliverance team”, these would surely have seemed important omissions.

One can only imagine the state Michael was in. The exorcists were tired, but eager to crack on with the task after some refreshment. The plan, apparently, was to continue the exorcism after they had all had the opportunity for some sleep. Then they would deal with the three recalcitrant demons.

Early in the morning, the Reverend Vincent contacted the police. He told them what had happened in St. Thomas’s that night. The constable on duty didn’t quite understand what the vicar was talking about, but admirably urged him to get Michael to a GP. Christine, who had also undergone a kind of exorcism from the women back at the vicarage, and who was also in a broken physical and mental state, refused the doctor. She needed to get back to her own home, she said. Christine called a family friend, John Eggens, who drove the shattered, traumatized Taylors back home, and mercifully took the children to stay with their grandparents for a few hours. The situation was recounted later by Reverend Vincent to Phillip Gill, the Wakefield coroner, and Julian Hallam, acting for the Taylors.

Vincent: We did feel very strongly that if Christine returned home without any protection, there could be serious trouble.

Mr. Gill: There could have been a murder?

Mr. Vincent: Of her? Yes. We had not been able to expel the evil spirit of murder, and there was in Michael's eye towards the end of the ministry in the vestry, a look I can only describe as murder.

Hallam: You have even gone as far as saying you knew the victim would be Christine, or you were fearful for her safety?

Vincent: We were.

Hallam: But you left at 7:30am and that was it. You had something else to do?

Mr. Vincent: I personally left, but this does mean the subject was dropped.

At just after 10am, the phone rang on PC Walker’s desk. A few moments later he crouched beside a man covered in blood, grovelling on the Ossett footpath. It was Michael Taylor. 



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