The Sussex Devils

By Marc Heal

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

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Welcome To The Sussex Devils

Welcome to my Unbound “Shed”. (And if that sentence doesn’t alarm you, stay safe, OK?). 

Thank you for your pledge. I am of course keen that The Sussex Devils should be published. It has taken up a huge amount of time and emotional output and I’m pleased with the result. I am going to have to spend the next few weeks abasing myself for pledges - not only to my friends, but from strangers, bare acquaintances, people who have probably never liked me in the first place.  All this I am prepared to do.

But on another level, I couldn’t care. I have had precious support from several people when writing the book and I thank them all. But I would still have done it even if no one had ever shown the slightest interest. There are times in life when a compulsion seizes you – a madness that won’t release you until its fury has run dry (think addiction, or obsessive love). The Sussex Devils has been one of them. 

The Sussex Devils is both a memoir and a mystery story. It is an odd memoir because it recalls incidents that for thirty years that I deliberately forgot. Only with sanity and distance have I been able to write about my own religious trauma – or, as the evangelicals might say, about my encounter with Hell. 

The Sussex Devils is also a strange sort of mystery, for it is only through my unravelling the strange story of Derry Mainwaring Knight, the Reverend John Baker and Bishop Eric Kemp that I became able to write about my own experiences.

Derry Mainwaring Knight was of course the starting point for the book. His trial was in early 1986. The prosecution case was that Knight was a con man who had duplicitously claimed that he was a senior member of an occult cabal. Helped by a Sussex priest, the Reverend John Baker, and other senior clergy within the Church of England, Knight had raised large sums from Sussex gentry on the pretext of buying and destroying powerful items of occult regalia in order to free himself and others from Satan’s grip.

One problem the prosecution faced was that many of the supposed victims denied that they had been defrauded. The Reverend Baker and other wealthy contributors to Knight’s anti-satanic campaign maintained that this story was essentially true. The Devil was real. Secret organisations dedicated to works of evil did exist at the heart of the British establishment. Knight's eventual conviction did not change that truth.

The trial was an irresistible confection for the tabloid press - lesbian sorceresses, pantomime dancers and Tory wives, all appearing as witnesses in the name of God or Satan. But the surrounding furore obscured several facts. Whilst the judge accepted that Knight was a bona fide Satanist, he dismissed as ridiculous the claims that senior members of the Conservative Party and the Catholic Church were engaged in the cabal. Those claims look rather less preposterous now.

All of these events occurred at the same time as I was coping with my own issues with evangelical religion (or confronting Satan, depending on your perspective). So I was going to say that The Sussex Devils is “unashamedly” personal, but that’s untrue. I am rather “old school” in my approach to personal confession: it makes me uneasy. I see that there is another book on Unbound (Pure by Rose Bretécher) that pleads for a new, more open approach to mental illness. Draw back the curtains. Throw some light on all the stigma, yeah? She’s probably right, but I come from a background (Sussex again, you see?) that instinctively believes that these things are best left between a chap and his doctor, and that in any case there are precious few problems that can’t be resolved by a stiff whisky and voting Conservative. So although I have tried not to spare myself when I describe events in the book that I now find embarrassing, even traumatic, the shame has been mine, the horrors are mine. 

So – thanks again. That’s enough soul searching. You want to know about the lesbian witches and Tory MPs, right? Hold tight. First, it will pay to remind ourselves of the so-called “Satanic Panic” of the 1980’s, and that’s what I willl discuss in the next post.

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david crespin
 david crespin says:

I enjoyed the book, thanks.

posted 15th November 2018

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