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Islington Council has insisted it was following court orders when it paid a religious expert to investigate the possibility of sending a child in its care to Africa for an exorcism ritual.

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The authority has refuted reports in the national media this week that it was keen to send the boy – who was under its care – to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to be subjected to the ceremony at the request of his mother.

The expert in African religion involved, Dr Richard Hoskins, claimed during a speech at a college on Saturday that he was flown out to DRC to investigate in 2004 and that the council only abandoned the plan when he returned with lurid tales of abuse – including beatings and starvation.

Although the council confirmed that it contributed to Dr Hoskins’s trip to the tune of £4,000, it stressed that an abusive exorcism was never on the cards and that they were simply following court orders aimed at ascertaining if the family’s request for a religious ritual was reasonable.

It also said the boy was in the council’s care due to “concerns about his welfare related to his family’s belief that he was possessed by a spirit”.

A spokesman for the council said: “To set the record straight, the events Dr Hoskins refers to took place over seven years ago and contrary to what he alleges, Islington Council did not support sending the child back to the Congo for a deliverance ceremony; in fact we had already taken the boy into care in order to protect him.

“All parties in the care proceedings agreed that expert advice should be sought on the impact of the ‘kindoki’ belief system on the child and his relationship with his family. This was at a time when very little was known about that belief system or abuse linked to supposed spiritual possession. The High Court therefore gave permission for Dr Hoskins to be jointly instructed by all the parties to give advice on his area of expertise. In order to prepare his report, he met members of the boy’s extended family while on a prearranged research trip to the DRC.

“It is totally unacceptable that an expert instructed in the course of care proceedings should disregard his professional duty of confidentiality in what would appear to be a cynical attempt to promote his book. We have written to him asking him to stop discussing this case publicly.

“It is not the council at risk here, but the young person who we continue to have responsibility for. We stand by our actions in the case and are pleased to say that he has grown up to be well adjusted young man of whom we are proud.”

The story has come to light after a talk by Dr Hoskins at the Festival of Education at Wellington College on Saturday (June 23).

Dr Hoskins said: “All I said in my text at Wellington was that a council part funded me on a trip to Africa to see if a child in their care should be sent back to Africa for an exorcism as the family requested.”

The council confirmed this week that it would be writing to Dr Hoskins to address their concerns.

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