David Farrant : Out of the Shadows – Full Introduction
Much information is available, in print and on the internet, purporting to educate the reader about the life of David Farrant, a psychic investigator who is perhaps best known for his involvement in the infamous case of of the Highgate ‘vampire’. It is therefore with great pleasure that I am able to present this, the long awaited second volume of David’s autobiography. It is hoped that the reader, whether previously acquainted with David’s recollections to this point or not, will take something new from this incredibly personal insight into a very public person.
When I was asked to write this introduction, I was torn as to which approach to take. I could have recapped David’s life to the point where his narrative begins here afresh, but I could never capture in a brief piece of text all the experiences he shares in the previous volume.
I could also have opted to write a short treatise on the history of one of the most famous paranormal cases with which David has been involved. The life and times of ‘that bloody vampire’, as he is often inclined to refer to it is a tale which does not translate well into synopsis, however, and there is so very much more to the author than that case.
So I decided instead to try to convey for the reader a little about the man who I am lucky enough to know more intimately than most, and who they too can hope to gain a better understanding of through the chapters of this book. This introduction would also be lacking if I did not touch upon David’s infamous Old Bailey trial with which he opens these memoirs, and which was one of the most shocking miscarriages of justice of the 1970s.
Within a short while of knowing David, it struck me that there is something about him which seems to encourage people to project onto him what they want to see. Having read so many other people’s notions of what he was about, I was glad to slowly get to know the ‘real life’ David. Throughout what must be thousands of hours spent in his company, I have seen sides to him which I could never have anticipated. How our lives collided can only be described as a strange twist of fate, a series of coincidences and parallel experiences which made our meeting inevitable. But perhaps it would be useful to explore the route through which many readers will have initially come across his name, and found themselves here; that old cause célèbre which has become known as the Highgate ‘vampire’.
Google those words, and an astonishing, and ever increasing number of hits are returned. What was troubling the residents of Highgate Village so in the late 1960s and early 1970s? Was it really a blood-sucking vampire as some maintain? Or was/is it an incorporeal entity of dark supernatural origin as David continues to assert? Was the whole thing a hoax? Or an outbreak of mass hysteria? It is a classic Fortean case which certainly continues to elicit extreme responses and behaviour. Those whose interest begins casually often become rapidly immersed in heated debate about what actually occurred. Indeed, there is an almost chartable predictability about the novice researcher’s first steps into the mêlée. As he or she begins sifting through conflicting layers of recollection and contemporary media coverage, they quickly find themselves immersed in a bewildering world of staunchly defended ‘truths’ and counter-claims. The intellect, by its nature desiring conclusion, seeks to make patterns and order within the bizarre microcosm to which it finds itself returning again, and again. What is immediately apparent, and extremely unusual for a high profile paranormal case which first came to public attention over forty years ago, is the continuing involvement of the main protagonists in its debate – and the very evident enmity therein. These people are, of course, David Farrant and Sean Manchester.
The cult of personality, so central to this phenomenom, begins to infuse and polarise the intellect’s impulses. The casual enquirer becomes ‘hooked’, frustrated by the dichotomy inherent in the claims made by the respective players. He or she is steadily drawn in further by the very public way in which they choose to interact with those who show an interest in the subject, which has played such a significant role in their lives. Manchester continues to protest that he did dispatch a real life vampire, Farrant denies their existence and asserts that the creature was a form of psychic vampire. Both parties accuse the other of perpetuating elaborate hoaxes, and speculation is rife about the exact nature of their relationship over the years.
Followers of the case clamour for clues as to how what seems at times to have been a cooperative but guarded affiliation descended into such vicious open combat. The not-so-cold war between the warring factions has been described as the world’s longest running internet feud. It has spawned thousands of pages of print and electronic media originating with the parties themselves; dominated multitudinous internet forums; been the subject of countless radio and television shows which focus on the paranormal; and inspired two full length comic books, parodying videos, and even a range of satirical merchandise, as well as several cult websites which bemusedly report the progress of hostilities.
Seldom does the reader remain entirely neutral, despite their efforts. More often, perhaps partly in an attempt to fulfil the intellect’s urge to form the nebulous mists of conflicting information into a tangible form, they gravitate towards one ‘side’ or the other.
It is almost as if Farrant and Manchester act, whether consciously or not, as human lodestones in this arena, creating a magnetised field within which those who trespass must naturally gravitate, like so many iron filings, towards whichever one pulls them in first. No one ever seems to suggest that they may both be right, that there could in fact have been two entirely seperate nocturnal nuisances abroad in Highgate. There is rarely any inbetween possible, it seems. An inherent irony here is that both parties are notorious for professing to holding, or to have held, strong beliefs in certain aspects of the supernatural and occult; worlds which by their nature are experienced by entering a state of being ‘inbetween’ the mundane, and the sublime or the diabolical.
Whether because of his accessible personality, or the less fantastical version of events which he proffers, David Farrant seems to gain the sympathy of more supernaturally inclined ‘floating voters’ than the man who continues to describe himself as the former’s ‘arch-nemesis’. Invariably these people are relegated to the status of lost causes, by their new found enemy, hopelessly ensnared by the ‘evil powers of David Farrant’ and his ‘cabal of misfits’. For if we are to believe certain readily available and frequently disseminated articles of negative propaganda, David is, of his own volition, unequivocally possessed by a demonic force. And to make things worse, not only is he in urgent need of exorcism, he also has the power to infect and pollute all those he comes into contact with.
Of course, all these attempts to objectify and dehumanise our subject serve only to further curiosity in some about the man they have frequently been warned to stay away from, ostensibly for the benefit of their immortal soul. As someone fortunate enough to know David extremely well, I can assure the concerned reader that the reality is very different from what they may expect. Thrill-seeking ghouls hoping for an audience with a real life cat-sacrificing, virgin-deflowering Satanist, who drives his ‘enemies’ to ruin with a casually dispensed curse, can expect to meet with disappointment.
So what are we to make of this Svengali-esque character whose grainy image stares back at us from so many tabloid scare stories? And as so many confused enquirers ask of those know him personally – ‘What’s he really like?’
To a large degree David answers the latter himself within the pages of this book. His very personal style of writing draws the reader into a world that can only really be understood when recalled in the first person, bringing to life events which have been so clinically disected by those who seek to see everything in black and white. However part of the challenge for anyone who wants to get to know the real David Farrant will always lie in distinguishing where the public persona ends and the private person begins. Like so much of the controversy that surrounds him, David could be seen to be very much comprised of competing and yet eternally fused opposites. On one hand we encounter a flamboyant, enigmatic exhibitionist; on the other he presents as somewhat shy; softly spoken, with a streak of vulnerability never far beneath the surface. Those who are not familiar with his autobiographical works might wonder whether David has ever really wanted to be understood at all.
Perhaps the key to understanding the nexus between the two David Farrants lies in the ever decreasing circles of disinformation, which have obscured his real life for so many decades. Life in the public eye has rarely been kind. His reaction to this seems often to have been to take the germ of an accusation and expand it beyond the initiator’s scope, until he has become the ultimate fulfillment of their desire. He seems to be saying ‘If you can’t be bothered to see the real me, or the real me is so unacceptable to you, I’ll be whatever you want me to be instead.’ This may read as petulance, even arrogance. But it has to be understood in the context of David’s early life, and the way his spirituality and individualism have evolved. His conflict with the constraints and criticism of the world around him, as expounded in volume one, point to a rare kind of person, confident in an inner tenacity of spirit, upon which he relies implicitly.
For example, readers who are acquainted with Volume One of David Farrant’s autobiography, In the Shadow of the Highgate Vampire, will be aware of many of his occult experiences up to 1974, when he was arrested on charges relating to desecration at Highgate Cemetery. There are clear differences between the Wiccan beliefs and practices, and experimental High Magic he describes at length in his book, and the very much left hand (often Satanic) path he is depicted as having chosen by the popular press. David was not slow to realise that the media, now as then, adores an anti-hero; someone whose exploits invoke the the pleasures of both self righteous indignation and vicarious escapism. If society wasn’t going to accept his beliefs and lifestyle, then they could think what they liked of him. And if they were going to think the worst, he would give them more to damn him for than they could possibly dream up themselves.
The moral climate of 1960s and 1970s Britain became his stage, that broad gulf which stretched between the entrenched attitudes of the old order, and a post-war generation that was embracing never before known freedoms and opportunities at a giddily accelerating pace. The longevity of the press’s coverage of David’s increasingly outré exploits during this period is testament to the public’s fascination with a world which challenged what was acceptable, or even commonly decent.
David’s relationship with the media however, is not so straightforward as the public’s. Indeed it is a primary source of confusion for many people researching the case of the Highgate ‘vampire’. One criticism often levelled at David is that his actions – or at least those alleged by the press – do not correspond to his own stated ethics and outlooks. This is often used as a tool in argument to critique the seriousness with which he approached the case. I would be offering ludicrous apologetics were I to suggest that David did not sometimes, even often, enjoy or participate in the press attention which seemed to accompany his every move throughout the 1970s. Likewise I cannot protest that he was always misrepresented or exploited. I must concur with some of his critics that, on face value, his media forays during this period sometimes present as a series of contradictions, about which even he doesn’t blame people for being confused.
What is a researcher, or anyone who doesn’t know David, to make of the media coverage of his alleged claims to have sacrificed animals during magical rituals, for example? “I will sacrifice cat at Hallowe’en: Farrant,” screams the Hornsey Journal of 7th September 1973. But the David who wasn’t terrifying the feline population of North London was and is an animal lover, who has kept pets of his own for most of his life. The best remembered case of this nature relates to a cat belonging to the singer Long John Baldry. Having become convinced that ‘Stupzi’ had been kidnapped by David for the purposes of sacrifice, he conveyed as much to the local press. Of course, no corrective article appeared when Baldry later swore on oath during David’s 1980 libel case against the Daily Express that ‘Stupzi’ had returned unharmed of his own accord. Even Sean Manchester was confident enough in 1985 to state of David: “I do not believe that he has ever partaken in a real black magic ceremony, nor do I believe that he is capable of harming an animal, not even for publicity.”
So if David did not commit these acts of cruelty (and I do not believe he did), why would he appear to want the public to think that he had? One could be forgiven for thinking that this projection of a hellraising fiend actually protected a rather introverted and sensitive person from having to open and hold up his real self to scrutiny. On the other hand,was it all a big joke to him? Did he hold a discriminating and judgemental society in such low regard that he simply did not care what they thought of him? Had he become addicted to the notoriety? Moreover, was he being manipulated by some who were perfectly aware of how useful this pliable and attractive young man could be for the furtherance of their own publicity seeking ventures? More on that in the book itself!
Much of the confusion experienced by those attempting to ascertain how sincerely David took his involvement in the occult during the 1960s and 1970s arises from such contradictory stories. At the same time he was writing serious and well-informed articles for the press about the dangers of getting drawn into the world of black magic, he was being presented as a black witch himself, and a theatrical one at that. When asked why he posed for so many photographs which clearly depict him ‘vampire hunting’, complete with obligatory cross and stake, he simply replies, ‘That’s what the reporters wanted me to do’, as if this was the most reasonable thing in the world. While I would not describe David as entirely naive, not now anyway, he has certainly always had a very hedonistic streak which has got him into all sorts of trouble over the years. And I don’t believe that he engaged in these pursuits with any conception of how they would be interpreted in years to come.
There are many incidents recounted in this volume which have in themselves attained cult status, continuing to capture the imaginations of a baffled, but extremely amused public. Many others included unintentional comedy turns by a mysterious figure known as ‘The Magister’, whose attention seeking antics became more and more ludicrous as he outbested himself with increasingly bizarre plots and schemes.
Recurrent ‘occult duels’ between David and rival ‘occultists’, often complete with pre-battle publicity shots, were dutifully chronicled by the local and national press. Their readers, with tongue firmly in cheek, anxiously awaited the outcome of these frightful duels to the death (or, more correctly, to first blood). The most infamous actually did result in Manchester’s demise – at least, until he decided that public life was much more rewarding if one was alive, and arose from the dead to duel another day.
David goes a long way towards providing the reader with an insight into the sensibility of this era of Highgate’s history, without which any study of the case would remain starched and inaccessible. For readers looking in on those heady days, these comedic interludes could cloud a definitive conclusion even more. It is too easy to attempt to overanalyse what were often just instances of young people in a particular time and place, finding new ways to shock and provoke a disapproving old guard. Even in the world of the occult and organised alternative religion it seems, the younger generation were rebelling against the restrictions imposed therein. And the occult itself had become a popular fascination for many who would never have been drawn into that world a decade earlier, a new and exciting world which was the thing to be ‘into’.
Cynical researchers with the benefit of hindsight are incredulous that David did not predict the impact that these high jinks would later have upon his reputation as a psychic investigator, at least among those who have no sense of humour. It seems beyond the scope of some people to grasp the possibility of being genuinely immersed in the supernatural whilst being able to lampoon oneself and those who mock one for one’s beliefs.
It is my view that in the years leading up to his fatal arrest, David’s world had begun to spin around him so fast that he had entered an exhilarating mindscape wherein he was almost invincible. He had moved on from the more restrained and sedate coven which had helped formulate his earlier Wiccan approaches to witchcraft. By now David was practising experimental magic which pushed his own boundaries further and further, and with it came an entourage of people who helped cocoon him from the mundane world of rules and structure. There were invitations, women, calls from the press, constant escapades. He seemed to become blinded by the perpetual camera flash, lost in a world of esoteric exoticism and earthly temptation. But somehow, although he may have lost touch with himself at times, he was able to hold on to the person inside, and this integrity is what helped him survive the injustices which were to be meted out to him only too soon.
The opening chapter of this volume finds David facing his infamous Old Bailey ‘witch trial’ of 1974. Alongside his recounting of his hunger strike in 1976, those who were involved in the preparation of this book know that this was one of the most unpleasant chapters of these years of David’s life for him to recall in detail. It certainly makes for unsettling reading. Indeed, the need to meticulously trawl through the boxes of court transcripts which David still has in his possession delayed the publication of this book by some months, so elaborate were the proceedings and so great the need to present the facts correctly.
‘Witch trial’ may seem like a strong term, but it is an extremely apt description. That the Witchcraft Act had been repealed in 1951 must have presented a considerable obstacle for the Metropolitan Police, who had to rely instead upon a variety of other acts in order to nail their man. At the trial, David would stand accused of a plethora of different charges under four main groupings, which are all covered in full in the main text of this book. The clustering of seperate charges together, in order to present a convincingly suspicious image of the accused, was very transparent. ‘Farrant was Framed, OK’ was the campaign slogan David would eventually labour under upon his release, and this assertion becomes more evidently the case as one follows the progress of his trial and convictions. The most serious of the charges connected to desecration of Highgate Cemetery are so vague in terms of when the offences were supposed to have occurred as to almost be laughable. The widespread vandalism which had taken place in Highgate Cemetery was clearly not the work of one person, not least the one on trial. But only one high profile conviction was deemed neccessary it seemed. And it mattered not a jot that the people really responsible for the most ritualistic desecration remained, as is their nature, nameless, silent, and protected.
By the time of the arrest which led to his trial, David had already been arrested three times – essentially for the practice of magical rituals and seances in public places, regardless of how these charges had been worded in point of law. Did he think he could ride the wave forever? Who knows. But eventually David’s impulsiveness and headstrong defiance was catching up with him. The police had made it very clear that they considered him a public nuisance and an outrage, and that his time was running out. The public had swallowed his bait and were ready to spit him out, as the notoriety of his own making became his undoing. The slight, intense young man who protested his innocence to the jury day after day was the same looming menace who months before would not hesitate to ravish their daughters and sacrifice their cats if the moon was ripe (and the newspapers were to be believed). Society had been the butt of his joke long enough, and now it was going to call the shots.
And then, of course, there was the hope-sinking figure of Judge Michael Argyll, who presided over the case. Just three years earlier Argyll had sentenced the editors of the satrical magazine Oz to fifteen months hard labour for ‘corrupting public morals’. This sentencing was described by the New Law Journal at the time as ‘indefensibly severe’. At a later appeal he was found to have misdirected the jury on seventy-eight seperate occasions. Notorious for his right wing views, Argyll, who was in his late sixties at the time of David’s trial, was a staunch campaigner for the reinstatement of the death penalty, and an active member of the Conservative Party. It seems no coincidence that he was selected to preside over the farce that the Crown’s case against David became. About the only positive thing there is to say about Argyll in this context is that even he considered the inclusion of an unlicenced firearm charge to be inappropriate for an Old Bailey trial. Throw the Metropolitan Police into the mix and the trap was well and truly sprung.
As we read of the trial’s progression it becomes increasingly obvious that there was a glaring lack of evidence available to the prosecution. So obvious is its substitution with prejudice against the defendant in the form of the ‘helpful’ efforts of the Metropolitan Police, that the case would probably not even make it to trial today. False, incriminating statements attributed to David and recorded by Inspector Trim, his most vociferous adversary within the police force, are read out in court, allowing their impact on the jury before they are contested and conceded as unsigned. A key witness to the uncontested ‘Voodoo Dolls of Death’ charge, a young John Pope, is too frightened of further police brutality to give evidence for the defence. (In 1980 Pope was to admit in court that he felt pressurised by the police to not cooperate with the defence.)
A good illustration of the Metropolitan Police’s method of casebuilding, which was excluded from Chapter One for lack of space, concerns yet another example of fabricated evidence. One of Inspector Trim’s statements presented to court, recounting the police raid upon David’s flat, refers to an altar, requisite with various occult accoutrements. However, at some point between Trim having sight of the altar and recording this for posterity, the altar cloth somehow changed from red to black. Presumably this was yet another attempt to portray the person on trial as the caricature the public had come to know and fear; to reinforce the flimsy black magic allegations of the prosecution. The defence arranged for the cloth, which was still in situ, to be brought to court in order that Trim’s deliberately erroneous description be evidentially refuted. It was. The judge saw it, the jury saw, even Trim saw it – (I myself have seen it many times), and there was no denying that it was a harmless piece of red velvet with no sinister overtones whatsoever. Even Judge Argyll saw fit to refer to this example of police ‘error’ in his summing up – but this was merely perfunctory, and to be of no avail.
The typical modus operandi of the Metropolitan Police at this time is played out by numbers: identify a perceived or real threat, sometimes even an actual crime; pick out a high profile antagonist; and cleanse society by whatever means necessary in order to set an example. And, of course, rise up through the ranks as a result. The tools of their trade – intimidation, and ‘verballing’ – cobbling together confessions or interviews from disjointed remarks and filling in the gaps, in order to establish already decided guilt. It is important to remember that this trial took place some ten years before the implementation of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984. This act revolutionised protocols for the interviewing and detention of suspects, most significantly with the introduction of the obligatory tape recording of interviews.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the act was passed towards the end of Operation Countryman, a six year inquiry into the corruption of the Metropolitan Police which resulted in 400 police officers losing their jobs, but, less surprisingly, no convictions. Significant connections between officers identified as corrupt, and membership of Masonic lodges were made throughout the inquiry. It is beyond the scope of this introduction to discuss the contemporary relationship between high ranking Freemasons, the Metropolitan Police, and professional Satanists. So many years later we can only speculate as to whether the framing of David Farrant was a classic case of misguided ‘noble cause corruption’, or if there were more venal motivations which remain buried. This would certainly make for an interesting piece of further research, however, and may well be of particular significance. The same can be said for the routine stopping of his letters whilst in prison, to anyone who may have been in a position to help him, an infringement of his rights which he later raised successfully with the European Commission of Human Rights.
I would challenge any reader upon reading David’s full account of the trial to accept that he was fairly tried, or that his sentencing was commensurate with his alleged crimes. The die had been cast, before the trial even commenced, and the Metropolitan Police, the cemetery authorities, the real perpetrators of Satanic desecration and the outraged public had their whipping boy safely under lock and key. With the handing down of deplorably harsh sentences totalling four years and six months, the ‘game’ was over. An example had been set, and David Farrant, along with his obstinate refusal to confess his ‘sins’, had finally been contained. Or so the powers that be thought.
David may have begun his prison term as an angry young man. He is still rightfully indignant about the damage done to his reputation by convictions which should never have come to pass. But astonishingly he is not an embittered person. The establishment’s atttempts to disenfranchise him of his credibility only served to reinforce the beliefs he held in the spiritual aspects of life, for which he had been so vilified. David’s refusal to renounce or cease practising his magical lifestyle whilst incarcerated make for very heartening reading, and are an interesting insight into his approach to his personal relationship with the unseen world.
Perhaps in this environment above all others one can expect to uncover the rawest, most primal aspects of humanity. How one responds to a life dominated by spartan, sometimes brutal regime, the ostensible stripping of all personalisation and dignity, and the ever present threat of violence or manipulation by one’s fellow man must surely betray something of one’s hidden core.
Any ex-inmate will volunteer that the people who are most feared in prison are psychopaths, people whose power to harm exists outside of the hierarchy to which other inmates become homogenised. Perhaps David’s aura of ‘otherness’ was what helped the two years and six months which he spent in various prisons pass with minimum conflict arising with other prisoners. Some were certainly frightened of him, having been well versed by the national press about his supposed curses, black magic rituals and so forth. Perhaps in some instances his reputation worked to his advantage for a change.
More than once frightened cellmates were to request transfers, one, as David recounts, even receiving a rather vaudevillian exorcism courtesy of the late Rev Neil-Smith, intended to free him from the ‘evil powers of David Farrant’.
But for the most part David seems to have got on well with those he was confined with, despite finding himself surrounded with career criminals whose lives and backgrounds were often very different from his own. He is, after all, a good mixer and it is hard not to like him. In fact, as I alluded earlier, the man behind the myth is very human indeed. Far from surrounding himself with a cabal of ‘misfits and weirdos’, David is fortunate to have a close and supportive circle of friends. In fact, knowing many of his intimate aqcuaintances, I can confirm that they constitute some of the most sincere, level-headed and likeable people one could hope to meet. Several have been involved, in varying ways, in the exhaustive process of getting this book finally into print, and for this I know that David is extremely grateful. Their motivation has been, as ever, to help the world see the person they know, and not just the David Farrant who so often overshadows their dear friend in the public arena.
To gain and to keep good friends one has to be a good friend in return. Once David lets one past the inevitable defence mechanisms which he has had to develop throughout years of on and offline abuse, a better friend could not be hoped for. He is sensitive and loyal, extremely protective of those he cares for, charming yet self-denigrating, and an attentive listener. In my personal interactions with him, I have never found him to be anything other than considerate, romantic, and chivalrous. He has an unusual presence for sure, but he certainly never comes over as malicious, let alone ‘demonically possessed’. David is usually reluctant to discuss the subject of magic these days, but when he does his contributions are considered and intelligent. On the broader subject of the paranormal, he has a lifetime’s experience of investigative techniques and his own theories about the many hauntings he has studied, all of which he is happy to share with those who care to ask.
We have sometimes discussed his time in prison, and how resentful and vengeful some of his fellow inmates felt about the people who had ‘landed them inside.’ The deliberate choice to not allow this kind of sourness to cloud his concsiousness shines through in the later sections of this book as he adjusts to life on the outside, re-marrying and continuing and developing the work of the British Psychic and Occult Society.
These chapters marvellously illustrate some of the years between the terrible conclusion (legally at least) of the Highgate case, and where David is today. Just as his first autobiography fills so many gaps about his life before that case, we are invited to see him as he really is, to experience his thoughts, aspirations, emotions, and regrets. You will have to take David as you find him, and you will certainly find someone who has led an extraordinary life. But what you will find if you seek it is someone who, whilst sometimes their own worst enemy, is as fallible as you or I. I hope that somewhere along the line the reader will be able to discern for themself where the confluent public and private David Farrants diverge.
For if we were all straightforward and predictable, there would be few man-made mysteries to unravel. And where would be the fun in that?
London, May 2011