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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.