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The 1980s saw the surfacing of a deeply disturbing phenomenon in the U.K. It revolved around what became infamously known as “Phantom Social Workers” (PSW) or “Bogus Social Workers” (BSW). They were strange and terrifying characters who, on more than a few occasions, reportedly tried to kidnap babies and children. Peter Rogerson said of the mystery: “The stories of the phantom social workers, the strangers who know everything, who appear out of nowhere and disappear after acting in a strange irrational manner, more than echo the motif of the Men in Black. None are caught, no car number plates are recorded.”

The U.K.’s police were quickly on the trail of the PSW – despite their overwhelming elusiveness. The reason why the authorities urged such vigilance was because the wave of PSW reports followed in the wake of a 1987 “satanic abuse” scare that exploded across certain parts of England, including Rochdale, Nottingham, and Manchester. There were outlandish tales of babies being sacrificed, and even eaten, in abominable rituals to Satan and his demonic minions. Tales of aborted fetuses used in similar infernal rites, in darkened woods, and at the witching-hour, abounded too. Major inquiries were launched, but nothing ever surfaced to suggest the hysterical rumors were anything other than that: hysterical rumors. It’s hardly surprising, though, that the public and government agencies – and particularly so the police – were on edge.

Patrick Harpur is the author of an excellent book, Daimonic Reality. In its pages, he commented on a wave of PSW activity that broke out in the U.K. in 1990. Of these emotionless characters, who Harpur described as “vaguely menacing strangers who turn up in the vicinity of nefarious goings-on, but who are unfailingly ineffective,” he said: “Reports poured in to the police, describing ‘health workers’ or ‘social workers’ who called to examine or take away children, but who hurriedly left when the householder became suspicious. The visitors were mostly one or two women, but sometimes a woman and a man. The women were typically in their late twenties or early thirties, heavily made up, smartly dressed and of medium height. They carried clipboards and, often, identification cards.”

Mike Dash, who has made a noteworthy contribution to the Phantom Social Worker controversy, has investigated yet another report from 1990; this one involving a woman named Elizabeth Coupland, of Sheffield, England. It was a winter’s day when two women knocked on Coupland’s door. Dressed in a fashion that suggested authority, the pair identified themselves as coming from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). Such was their manipulative skill, Coupland allowed the pair in, and even let them examine her children – one aged two and the other not even yet six months old.

According to Mike Dash: “The visitors soon left, and Coupland assumed that she would hear nothing more of the matter.” Coupland was wrong. Dash notes that a couple of days later, one of the women returned. But this time with a man. Coupland was shell-shocked to learn that her children were to be taken away from her and to be placed into care. The terrified mother, now very suspicious, loudly said that she was going to call the police, at which point, says Dash, “…the social workers beat a diplomatic retreat.” It’s hardly surprising – but disturbing – that the real NSPCC knew nothing of this highly worrying state of affairs.

The U.K.’s police were quickly on the trail of the PSW – despite their overwhelming elusiveness. The reason why the authorities urged such vigilance was because the wave of PSW reports followed in the wake of a 1987 “satanic abuse” scare that exploded across certain parts of England, including Rochdale, Nottingham, and Manchester. There were outlandish tales of babies being sacrificed, and even eaten, in abominable rituals to Satan and his demonic minions. Tales of aborted fetuses used in similar infernal rites, in darkened woods, and at the witching-hour, abounded too. Major inquiries were launched, but nothing ever surfaced to suggest the hysterical rumors were anything other than that: hysterical rumors. It’s hardly surprising, though, that the public and government agencies – and particularly so the police – were on edge.

Patrick Harpur is the author of an excellent book, Daimonic Reality. In its pages, he commented on a wave of PSW activity that broke out in the U.K. in 1990. Of these emotionless characters, who Harpur described as “vaguely menacing strangers who turn up in the vicinity of nefarious goings-on, but who are unfailingly ineffective,” he said: “Reports poured in to the police, describing ‘health workers’ or ‘social workers’ who called to examine or take away children, but who hurriedly left when the householder became suspicious. The visitors were mostly one or two women, but sometimes a woman and a man. The women were typically in their late twenties or early thirties, heavily made up, smartly dressed and of medium height. They carried clipboards and, often, identification cards.”

Mike Dash, who has made a noteworthy contribution to the Phantom Social Worker controversy, has investigated yet another report from 1990; this one involving a woman named Elizabeth Coupland, of Sheffield, England. It was a winter’s day when two women knocked on Coupland’s door. Dressed in a fashion that suggested authority, the pair identified themselves as coming from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). Such was their manipulative skill, Coupland allowed the pair in, and even let them examine her children – one aged two and the other not even yet six months old.

According to Mike Dash: “The visitors soon left, and Coupland assumed that she would hear nothing more of the matter.” Coupland was wrong. Dash notes that a couple of days later, one of the women returned. But this time with a man. Coupland was shell-shocked to learn that her children were to be taken away from her and to be placed into care. The terrified mother, now very suspicious, loudly said that she was going to call the police, at which point, says Dash, “…the social workers beat a diplomatic retreat.” It’s hardly surprising – but disturbing – that the real NSPCC knew nothing of this highly worrying state of affairs.