Woman had abortion because bogus faith healer said unborn child was ‘evil’, court hears
- Credit: Polly Hancock
A woman terminated her pregnancy after being told her unborn child was “evil” by a con artist posing as a faith healer, a court heard this week.
The claim was made at the trial of Juliette D’Souza, who is accused of amassing a fortune by tricking vulnerable people into believing she was a shaman with the power to cure cancer or help the disabled.
Blackfriars Crown Court heard that the pregnant woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, originally visited D’Souza because she was struggling to conceive.
The prosecution says she was tricked into paying £176,000 to the defendant between 2006 to 2007, money she believed would help her to have a baby.
But after she finally became pregnant, the defendant allegedly told her to have an abortion because “the baby was evil” and “if she had the baby, she would be in real trouble”.
The woman was set to give evidence as the Ham&High went to press, but on Tuesday a friend of hers, who is another alleged victim of the scam, told the jury: “[The pregnant woman] was so entrenched in believing [D’Souza] that, unbelievably, she listened.”
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Witnesses began to give evidence on the alleged £1million fraud this week, telling the jury that they were taken in by a clever, manipulative and bullying conwoman.
They are said to have believed the cash would be sent to the Amazon rainforest as a “sacrifice”, to be hung from a sacred tree – which would somehow solve their problems.
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The prosecution alleges that the money instead funded D’Souza’s “lavish lifestyle” of first class air travel and shopping sprees on designer goods.
One witness, photographer Jocelyn Bain Hogg, told the court that he had given the defendant about £45,000, believing the offerings would improve his career, stop his seriously ill mother dying, and prevent his girlfriend from being killed in an imminent car crash.
Another witness hoped to get help for her 10-year-old son, who was born with Down’s syndrome and had been asked to leave two schools because of his behavioural problems.
The mother-of-two, who also cannot be named, told the jury she handed over £42,000 in two instalments, not to “cure” her son’s disability, but in the hope of aiding his behaviour and physical difficulties.
She said: “I’m quite an open minded person and although it seemed a very strange thing, I suppose I was desperate, and I would have done anything to help [my son].”
Ruth Fillingham allegedly paid £169,000 from 1998 to 2004 to ward off the evil spirit of her deceased brother, save her partner from a non-existent tumour and ensure her eye surgery would be a success.
She told the court she took out bank loans and even borrowed £34,000 from her best friend, lying about what it was for.
The jury heard that Ms Fillingham even sold her house because D’Souza said it was “spooked”.
D’Souza allegedly told her the money would return somehow, encouraging her to buy lottery tickets because “lots of her ladies had won”.
The people who claim to have fallen prey to the alleged fraud have been challenged in court over how they could have believed something so far-fetched.
Many have told the jury that D’Souza would win their trust by seeming to have special knowledge about their lives and family.
“She seemed to know things that others didn’t know,” Mr Bain Hogg told the court.
“In hindsight, I guess she just did her research.”
When demands for cash were allegedly made, witnesses claim D’Souza was bullying and manipulative.
“She would deliver the information in such a way that you felt you had no choice,” Ms Fillingham said.
“The threats, if the money was not handed over, were very frightening. Death and all sorts of things would happen to you.”
Several witnesses said they were told family members would die if the cash was not provided.
On the nature of the sacrifices, Mr Bain Hogg said: “In most cultures, it would be a goat or a sheep.
“The sacrifice in the west was cash, because that’s what we value, whereas if you’re in the middle of a village in Suriname, you probably value your pig.
“That’s what she was selling us.”
D’Souza, 59, of Perrin’s Lane, Hampstead, denies 23 charges of fraud and obtaining property by deception.
The trial continues.