Below is the text of the speech made by Steve Reed, the Labour MP for Croydon North, in the House of Commons on 8 January 2020.
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this important and alarming issue this evening, and I am grateful to colleagues who have stayed late to be present during this debate. SPAC Nation is an organisation that has been in the news recently, and I start by expressing my gratitude to Nadine White and Emma Youle at HuffPost, who carried out some extraordinary investigative journalism to bring the matter to light, to Greg McKenzie and the excellent BBC “Panorama” team for their work, and to many others working in the media and in the press.
When I first became aware of SPAC Nation I thought, as many have done, that it was just another Church. I started to think differently when one of their leaders stood as the Conservative candidate in a Croydon council by-election. There is nothing wrong with a Church leader standing for election, of course, but it was odd to find hundreds of young members of this so-called Church shouting abuse at other parties’ canvassers, shouting obscenities at the council leader, and intimidating voters on their own doorsteps, including by videoing them. When I tweeted my concerns about this unchurch-like behaviour, I was inundated with emails and phone calls from young people and their parents, making alarming allegations about SPAC Nation. I took a full two days to phone them all back, and from that I was able to piece together what was really going on inside this organisation.
I am convinced that SPAC Nation is a cult. It advertises events targeted mainly at young black people in poorer parts of London. It offers free food or free bowling sessions to attract young people to come along. The young leaders vet the young people who turn up and then target those who appear to be most susceptible. They befriend these particular young people and invite them to further functions and events, including dinners. One of the organisation’s leaders will start phoning them, sometimes several times a day. They are then given lifts by that individual to meetings. Then, what appears to be brainwashing starts. They are told that if their life is unsuccessful, if their family is poor, that is because they are not giving enough money to God. They call it seed: “If you give seed to God—as much as you can lay your hands on—you will become rich.” This is the message they try to pump into these young people’s heads.
The organisation’s leaders display extraordinary wealth. They drive cars worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. They wear Rolex watches and expensive designer suits, and they live in multimillion-pound properties. All of this is way beyond the experience of the young people they are targeting. They tell these vulnerable young people that they became rich by giving seed to God and tell them that they can have the same, but first they have to give, and by any means possible.
Some young people are encouraged to break their links with their families and move into properties rented by the organisation’s leaders. They call them “trap houses”, the term used for drug dens in the United States. A woman leader of this organisation running one of these trap houses where vulnerable young girls were placed has 27 convictions for serious fraud. No vulnerable child should be allowed anywhere near her. Once in these houses, the control and coercion becomes far more insidious. One young victim told me they had prayer sessions, which she described as brainwashing, for up to eight hours a day, but the emphasis was not on God or spirituality; it was on wealth and money and the need to give seed to God in order to get rich.
Once the organisation has control of a young person’s mind, it pressures them into making fraudulent personal loan applications so that they can hand the money to the organisation’s leaders. They are pressured into setting up fake businesses so that they can apply fraudulently for business loans. The so-called pastors show the young recruits how to fill in the application forms with false information. In some cases they fill in the forms for the young person simply to sign. In at least one case, an application was made in a young person’s name without their knowledge or awareness.
Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)
On SPAC Nation and the financial implications of some of its dealings, my hon. Friend will be aware of the case of the late Mrs Osinlaru, who seems to have obtained a £150,000 secured loan on her house. Tragically she passed away, leaving her two young adult daughters and 13-year-old son in the house, unaware of this control over it. The house was later repossessed and a bailiff’s warrant secured, but that was stopped only because of the presence of the young 13-year-old son. That family risk losing their home and becoming homeless because of a loan they did not know about, and their mum has passed away. I have written to the Church and it has admitted that it was involved in securing, or helping to secure, that loan. Does that give my hon. Friend further cause for concern?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising yet another alarming case of what appears to be a form of fraud and deception perpetrated on a family who had just lost their mother. It seems to have been deliberately intended to disinherit her children.
There are many ways in which the leaders of this organisation appear to be perpetrating fraud in order to enrich themselves. I have spoken to young people who, sickeningly, were taken to private clinics to sell their blood, with a so-called pastor pretending to be their parent in order to sign consent forms. I have spoken to young people who were coached to commit benefit fraud. I have met students—I have also spoken to their parents—who were coerced into handing over their entire student loans before being taken to banks to raise further money through personal loans, so they lost their ability to continue in education and ended up in serious debt.
Tragically, where criminal exploitation is taking place, there is often also sexual exploitation. One young woman told me that she was just 16 when she moved into a trap house and, in her words,
“everyone was having sex with everyone else, it was disgusting”.
I asked her to clarify whether she meant older pastors having sex with younger girls, and she said yes.
When that young woman complained to her pastor, she was taken to the organisation’s leader, who told her that if she complained to the police, it would rebound on her, because he was powerful and had friends in high places. He made that claim look real to these vulnerable young people by inviting politicians and senior police officers to his church services. He even met the Prime Minister in No. 10 Downing Street. I believe all those people thought they were engaging with a Church that helped vulnerable young people, but in reality they were being used to intimidate young victims and prevent them from speaking out.
SPAC Nation is not an organisation that is getting young people out of crime, as it claims; it is an organisation that is criminalising young people for its own ends. It operates right across London and has already expanded into other cities, including Birmingham and Leicester.
Marsha De Cordova (Battersea) (Lab)
I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate and raising what is clearly an important issue. Does he agree that what he has described is criminal activity and preying on the most vulnerable, and it is essential that the Government intervene and take action?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that important point. I look forward to hearing what Ministers have to say about how we can work constructively and collectively to tackle many of the problems and horrors that are associated with this organisation.
As I was saying, SPAC Nation started in London. It seems to have spread right across the city, and it is expanding into other cities including Birmingham and Leicester. It has no fixed location—it does not have a home church—which makes it much harder for the authorities to track it. There is no home police unit keeping track of what it is doing. There is no local safeguarding board keeping track of the risks to young people. It holds its services in vast venues in many different boroughs and cities.
I have reported to the police and safeguarding authorities every single allegation that has been made to me, but I am deeply worried that more has not been done to stop this organisation from exploiting vulnerable young people. SPAC Nation claims to have up to 1,000 young people involved right now, and every one of those young people is at risk. It appears to have up to 15 trap houses scattered across London, and every young person inside those properties is at very serious risk. A teacher in north London told me that SPAC Nation had been recruiting schoolgirls outside the school gates. A youth worker in Croydon told me that it had been recruiting outside the youth centre. SPAC Nation is targeting young people so that it can exploit them, and it is imperative that the organisation is stopped.
I have some questions that I would like the Minister to answer this evening, if possible. Allegations about this organisation have been circulating widely in the black community and on social media for up to four years, so why has police intelligence failed to pick anything up? I was able to find out most of this information over a couple of days by speaking to people and googling on social media. If I can do that without the resources of the police, why has police intelligence failed to recognise what is happening to potentially thousands of vulnerable young kids across this city? What action can be taken immediately to stop this organisation recruiting any more vulnerable young people for abuse and exploitation in my constituency and beyond? Given what we have heard, and given what victims have told us, we surely cannot allow this organisation to continue targeting other young people for abuse and exploitation when we can take action to protect them.
What help can be given to young people involved in SPAC Nation now? That includes those living in trap houses who urgently need to get out before they are further criminalised, their family relationships destroyed and their future lives ruined. And why has no help been offered to potentially thousands of young people who have managed to get away from SPAC Nation but who are left burdened with huge debts and who have been criminalised, many of them homeless and many suffering trauma and mental ill health? We cannot simply leave these young people to suffer the consequences of abuse by an exploitative organisation.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
What the hon. Gentleman has illustrated tonight is worrying to everyone who has heard it. It is hard not to be moved and to feel concerned. The magnitude and the massiveness of what he has outlined indicates that it should not be an ordinary police investigation; it probably needs a specialised unit with the resources and the manpower and womanpower to conclude the investigation and put an end to what has gone wrong. Exploitation of young people is abysmal and despicable, and it needs to be addressed.
As always, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and I agree with every word he says.
What concerns me further are the worrying echoes of the Rotherham child abuse scandal. In that case, vulnerable young girls’ allegations of serious abuse were dismissed because they came from poor or difficult backgrounds, and it is the same with SPAC Nation. I cannot help wondering, as one desperate mum told me: if this was happening to white middle-class children, would it have been ignored for so many years? Would it have been allowed to go on in this way? We need to address that question, because it is a real feeling and concern in the community. In my opinion, SPAC Nation is a criminal enterprise masquerading as a Church, because that gives it access to vulnerable young people and cover for exploiting them.
I would like to say this to every young person who is afraid or at risk from SPAC Nation’s activities tonight. This organisation might seem powerful, but we are stronger and we are on your side. Collectively, we will not stop until every young person is safe. We will not stop until the wrongdoers inside SPAC Nation have been brought to justice. And we will not stop until this dangerous, manipulative organisation can do no more harm.