Helen Ukpabio: Spiritual Lawfare

From the British Humanist Association:

The British Humanist Association (BHA) and Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN) are being sued by the wealthy evangelical preacher and ‘witch hunter’ Helen Ukpabio who has dubbed herself a ‘Lady Apostle’. Mrs Ukpabio claims to have expertise in identifying children and adults who are possessed with witchcraft spirits and in how they can be ‘delivered’ from those spirits. Her lawyers have informed the BHA and WHRIN that she is launching a legal case against them due to their criticism of her teachings and methods.

…Her legal case against the BHA is based on Mrs Ukpabio’s stating that she wrote that a child ‘under the age of two’ who is ‘possessed with black, red and vampire witchcraft spirits’ can be identified by features such as s/he ‘screams at night, cries, is always feverish, suddenly deteriorates in health, puts up an attitude of fear, and may not feed very well.’ Her teachings are to the effect that babies under the age of two who exhibit signs of illness or standard, entirely normal childhood behaviour (such as crying, not feeding well, screaming at night, having a fever) may be possessed by vampire witchcraft spirits. She also teaches that children who stamp their feet may be ‘trying to make signs… to communicate with gnomes, the witchcraft spirit in charge of the earth.’ Ukpabio claims that the BHA misrepresented her by saying that she ascribed these symptoms to Satanic possession and hence has damaged her reputation and livelihood to the sum of half a billion pounds.

…Gary Foxcroft, Executive Director of WHRIN, commented, ‘This court case is the latest in a long line of unsuccessful legal actions that Helen Ukpabio has pursued against me and other human rights activists. Previous cases were thrown out of court in Nigeria but this time she is looking to take action in a UK court. I have no doubt that a judge in the UK will reach the same conclusion as those in Nigeria.’

(Actually, Ukpabio doesn’t just “dub herself” an apostle; she was consecrated in a special ceremony in 2010, which I wrote about here).

I discussed Ukpabio’s previous court cases here and here; her targets have included the actress Sophie Okonedo, because she narrated the Channel 4 documentary about child-witch accusations in Nigeria that brought Ukpabio to wide international attention in 2008.

As far as I am aware, the largest libel payout in British legal history remains the £1.5 million that was awarded to Lord Aldington in 1989 – and that was in an age before measures were taken to prevent excessive awards. Ukpabio’s claim is more than 300 times that amount, and if successful would be most sensational libel award in British (and perhaps world) legal history. So, which distinguished libel specialist is Ukpabio using? Carter-Ruck, perhaps? Or Schillings, maybe?

The Independent has the details:

In a letter sent to the BHA’s lawyers last Thursday, solicitors acting for the controversial preacher accused the charity of causing “members of the public to regard our client as an evil woman” with the damage to her reputation resulting in a “huge loss of incomes to her churches”. The letter, from London-based Graceland Solicitors, claims Mrs Ukpadio is “a Christian leader of international repute known and respected in many countries of the world”.

Graceland has an office above a beauty salon in Woolwich, and also shop-front premises in Lewisham – an image of the Lewisham chambers can be seen here. According to the company’s website, it was founded in 2006 and specialises in “Immigration Matters, Housing, Employments [sic], Family / Divorce, Crime, Traffic Offences”. The site does not name the actual solicitors at the offices, although other sites indicate that the proprietor is a certain Adolph Okoro.

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