IT WAS during a rehearsal in the Arc Pentecostal church in Stratford, east London, that Samuel Taveres first noticed one of his choristers was possessed by a demon. Approaching cautiously, the young preacher asked the demon’s name. It had an answer ready, using familiar words from an exorcism scene in the New Testament: “I am legion”. “This meant,” says Mr Tavares, “that a lot of different demons were in there.” The choir spent the rest of the day praying and commanding the spirits to leave the woman, who was also schizophrenic. It was a struggle, says Mr Tavares, “and I’m not sure she is fully delivered even now.”

Such dramas are not unusual in Pentecostal churches: many offer weekly exorcisms. The faith, popular among Britain’s African and Brazilian populations, as well as many white Britons, was the country’s fastest-growing Christian denomination in 2005-15. But a connection to child abuse in some startup African Pentecostal churches is troubling the police.

Jean La Fontaine of the London School of Economics says Pentecostal pastors sometimes identify children as witches, which leads directly to abuse. During the “curing” process, a child might fast for days, or be kept up for nights on end. One pastor says the praying involved can also be violent: people start “coughing out stuff”, he says, or fall on the floor. They may be cut. And simply being branded a witch means rejection and stigma.

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