The Interloping Charlatan
Born in January 1946, David Farrant came to prominence in February 1970 when he wrote a letter to his local newspaper claiming to have had three sightings of a ghostly apparition as he passed by the gates of London’s Highgate Cemetery. Yet, he told Andrew Gough (Arcadia
, 12 December 2009): “For a start, my letter to the Ham and High in 1970 badly misquoted myself (not deliberately I concede). I did not say that I had seen the figure (ghost) ‘on three occassions’: I was describing a figure that I said ‘had been seen on at least three occasions’. This is true – it had. But on these occasions, the witnesses were other people whom I had witnessed by this time.”
Is it really plausible that Farrant’s letter was so monstrously altered by the editor of a highly respectable newspaper to mean something quite different to what he had actually written? Is it likely that Farrant would not have insisted on having such a tampered version corrected in the following week’s issue if this had really happened? There is no record of him having asked for any such correction. There is no record of an amendment appearing even though his contact with that newspaper remained ongoing for the next few weeks. There are records of Farrant sticking with his personal “three sightings”
account until October of that year when it suddenly reduced to “two sightings.”
All these years later it has become “one sighting.”
This is what David Farrant actually wrote in the Hampstead & Highgate Express
, 6 February 1970:“On three occasions I have seen what appeared to be a ghost-like figure inside the gates at the top of Swains Lane. The first occasion was on Christmas Eve. The second sighting, a week later, was also brief. Last week, the figure appeared, only a few yards inside the gate. This time it was there long enough for me to see it much more clearly.”
The next month Farrant stated to Today
interviewer Sandra Harris on British television: “The last time I actually saw its face.”
Does this not suggest there was a time previous to the one he is referring to in that interview? Then there is the BBC’s 24 Hours
interview transmitted on 15 October 1970. Laurence Picethly’s interview with him for BBC television was sandwiched between footage of the President of the British Occult Society that had been filmed at the society’s north London headquarters and on location at Highgate Cemetery. The man representing the British Occult Society was obviously not Farrant even though the latter would fraudulently adopt that title two years later. In fact, the British Occult Society had distanced itself from what Farrant was doing as far back as March 1970. The interview Farrant gave in late 1970 is important, however, because there are no editors for him to blame for allegedly “altering” what he had claimed. In the BBC programme the words are heard from his own mouth and there is no escaping them.Laurence Picethly: “On August the seventeenth, Allan
[known locally as ‘Allan’ – his correct name being ‘David’] Farrant decided to pay a midnight visit to the cemetery to combat the vampire once and for all. At the cemetery, Farrant was forced to enter by the back wall [footage shows Farrant entering via the rear of the cemetery], as he still does today. He armed himself with a cross and stake, and crouched between the tombstones, waiting. But that night police, on the prowl for vandals, discovered him. He was charged with being in an enclosed space for an unlawful purpose, but later the Clerkenwell magistrate acquitted him. Now, in spite of attempts by the cemetery owners to bar him, Farrant and his friends
[no friends were discovered by the police or subsequently identified by Farrant] still maintain a regular vigil around the catacombs in hope of sighting either the vampire or a meeting of Satanists.”
David Farrant: “We have been keeping watch in the cemetery for
… [pauses] … since my court case ended, and we still found signs of their ceremonies.”
Laurence Picethly: “Have you ever seen this vampire?”
David Farrant: “I have seen it, yes. I saw it last February, and saw it on two occasions.”
Laurence Picethly: “What was it like?”
David Farrant: “It took the form of a tall, grey figure, and it … [pauses] … seemed to glide off the path without making any noise.”
Farrant’s interview ends at this point. It is reproduced above in its entirety. He was acquitted of the charge that had led to his arrest, it being that he was found in an enclosed area for an unlawful purpose. Highgate Cemetery is obviously not “an enclosed area” and that is all he was charged with in August 1970. The BBC report then returned to the President of the British Occult Society who had strongly advised against the behaviour which led to Farrant’s arrest on an earlier television programme transmitted on 13 March 1970.
Three things are of significance in that BBC television interview from October 1970. The reconstructed footage of what Farrant was doing on the night of 17 August 1970 clearly shows him hunting a vampire with a rosary around his neck, a large cross in one hand and a sharpened wooden stake in the other hand. There is no ambiguity about what led to his arrest in this report where he is featured reconstructing what he was doing at the time of his arrest at midnight in Highgate Cemetery. The image above is taken from the 24 Hours
programme as Farrant reconstructed the actions which led to his arrest. The second thing of significance is that when Laurence Picethly asked whether Farrant had ever seen the vampire, Farrant dis not attempt to correct the person interviewing him by saying it was something other than a vampire. Nor did he make clear that he did not believe in vampires, or that what he witnessed was not a vampire. Indeed, this section of 24 Hours
was titled Vampires.
The third thing of significance is that when asked if he had seen the vampire Farrant responded: “I have seen it, yes. I saw it last February, and saw it on two occasions.”
He can be heard saying that he had two sightings of the vampire in early 1970, but in the interview he gave Andrew Gough, Farrant states that he had only one sighting and this was in December 1969, not February 1970 as stated by him in his BBC television appearance some four decades prior.Having seen his letter published in the Hampstead & Highgate Express
, Seán Manchester agreed to meet Farrant at Highgate Cemetery so Farrant could point out the spot where he allegedly sighted the apparition mentioned in his correspondence. Seán Manchester was not impressed by Farrant, a scruffy individual who harped on about potential media coverage of the alleged “ghost” he claimed to have seen. Seán Manchester took the opportunity to warn against antics such as Farrant was considering when he was interviewed on Thames Television, 13 March 1970, saying that the investigation of the malefic phenomenon should be left to those who knew what they were doing. In his published letter of 6 February 1970, David Farrant had proclaimed: “I have no knowledge in this field and I would be interested if any other readers have seen anything of this nature.”
Seán Manchester demonstrated on the television programme how such manifestations were traditionally despatched according to vampire lore and tradition. Five months later, ignoring the public warning issued by him that individuals should not take matters into their own hands in this way, Farrant was arrested at midnight in Highgate Cemetery by police who found in his possession a cross and wooden stake. Farrant was alone and claimed to be in pursuit of the legendary vampire said to haunt Highgate Cemetery. Although he originally pleaded guilty, he later changed his plea to one of not guilty after being held on remand at Brixton Prison for the remainder of that month. Charged with being in an enclosed area for an unlawful purspose, he was eventually acquitted and released as Highgate Cemetery does not qualify as being an “enclosed area.” The Daily Express
, 19 August 1970, reported that Farrant told the police (as read out in court from his statement): “My intention was to search out the supernatural being and destroy it by plunging the stake
[found in his possession when arrested by police on the night in question] in its heart.”
Farrant later reconstructed what he was doing on the night of his arrest for BBC television’s 24 Hours
, 15 October 1970. While inside prison, Farrant had written to Seán Manchester to request support from the British Occult Society
to which Farrant owed no connection. He was visited while on remand and told that the Society could not possibly countenance his behaviour. Soon afterwards, Farrant began to falsely associate himself with the BOS, which immediately led to rebuttals appearing in various newspapers. It was only a matter of time before David Farrant began to fraudulently describe himself as the “president of the British Occult Society.”
Readers letters to the Hampstead & Highgate Express
in early 1970 included reports of a ghost wearing a top hat that had been seen in Swains Lane and just inside the gates at Highgate Cemetery. With the benefit of hindsight we now know that some of these letters bore the names and addresses of acquaintances of DavidFarrant. Fraudulent letters were sent to the Hampstead & Highgate Express
, 13 February 1970, using the names and addresses of Farrant’s friends Audrey Connely and Kenneth Frewin. Farrant wrote those letters in order to give his hoax some credibility. He used the names and addresses of friends with their consent. He used his close friend Nava Grunberg’s address in Hampstead Lane, but her name was changed to a pseudonym. He also used Nava Grunberg, now adopting the nom de plume
“Nava Arieli,” when she used an address in Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead, belonging to a friend. Others might have witnessed Farrant in his familiar black mackintosh pretending to be a ghost. It has since been confirmed that he wore an old grey topper and ghostly make-up to convince local people that the cemetery was haunted. Then Farrant heard tales of the legendary vampire in pubs he frequented and decided to board what he perceived to be a publicity bandwagon. The rest is history. The vampire sightings and experiences by others were genuine enough. Farrant was not. His part in the saga was utterly fraudulent. He pretended to be a “vampire hunter” for the next few months before turning his attention to malefic pseudo-occultism which guaranteed a far bigger return in the publicity stakes. This quickly led to criminal convictions which included indecency in Monken Hadley churchyard under the Ecclesiastic Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860. Victoria Jervis was also found guilty. Her revelations under oath when called as a witness during Farrant’s Old Bailey trials two years later are damning, to say the least. This is what she said:“I have tried to put most of what happened out of my mind. The false letters I wrote to a local paper were to stimulate publicity for the accused. I saw him almost every weekend in the second half of 1972 and I went to Spain with him for a fortnight at the end of June that same year. I was arrested with him in Monken Hadley Churchyard. That incident upset me very much. Afterwards, my doctor prescribed tranquilisers for me.”
Facing David Farrant in court to address him, Victoria Jervis added:“You have photographed me a number of times in your flat with no clothes on. One photograph was published in 1972 with a false caption claiming I was a member of your Society, which I never was.”
On another occasion, she recalled, how she had written psuedonymously to a local newspaper at Farrant’s request “to stimulate publicity for the accused.”
Back in 1972 during the indecency case, “Mr P J Bucknell, prosecuting, said Mr Farrant had painted circles on the ground, lit with candles, and had told reporters and possibly the police of what he was doing. ‘This appears to be a sordid attempt to obtain publicity,’ he said.” (Hampstead & Highgate Express, 24 November 1972).
Speaking at the April 1996 Fortean Times Convention, Maureen Speller commented: “The programme came up with ‘His investigations had far reaching and disturbing consequences’ which I said meant he’d been arrested a lot. Strangely enough, this is more or less what he said. God, I felt old being the only member of [my] group who could remember this nutter being arrested every few weeks.”
“The wife of self-styled occult priest David Farrant told yesterday of giggles in the graveyard when the pubs had closed. ‘We would go in, frighten ourselves to death and come out again,’ she told an Old Bailey jury. Attractive Mary Farrant — she is separated from her husband and lives in Southampton — said they had often gone to London’s Highgate Cemetery with friends ‘for a bit of a laugh.’ But they never caused any damage. ‘It was just a silly sort of thing that you do after the pubs shut,’ she said. Mrs Farrant added that her husband’s friends who joined in the late night jaunts were not involved in witchcraft or the occult. She had been called as a defence witness by her 28-year-old husband. They have not lived together for three years.” (The Sun, 21 June 1974).
“All he talked about was his witchcraft. He was very vain.” (Julia Batsford, an ex-girlfriend quoted in the Daily Mail, 26 June 1974).
“Au pair Martine de Sacy has exposed the fantasy world of David Farrant, self-styled high priest of British witchcraft, for whom she posed nude in front of a tomb. Farrant was convicted last week by a jury who heard stories of Satanic rites, vampires and death-worship with girls dancing in a cemetery. Afterwards, 23-year-old Martine said: ‘He was a failure as a lover. In fact, I think his trouble was that he was seeking compensation for this. He was always after publicity and he felt that having all these girls around helped. I’m sure the night he took me to the cemetery had less to do with occultism than his craving to be the centre of something.’ … While Martine told her story in Paris, customers at Farrant’s local — the Prince of Wales in Highgate, London — chuckled over the man they called ‘Birdman.’ One regular said: ‘He used to come in with a parrot on his shoulder. One night he came in with photos of Martine in the nude. We pinched one, and when she next came in, we told her he was selling them at 5p a time. She went through the ceiling.’ … Farrant called his estranged wife Mary, in his defence. She said: ‘We would go in the cemetery with my husband’s friends when the pubs had closed. We would frighten ourselves to death and come out again. It was just a silly sort of thing that you do after the pubs close. Nobody was involved in witchcraft or the occult’.” (News of the World, 30 June 1974).
“I cannot believe for one moment that he is a serious student of the occult. In fact I believe him to be evil and entirely to be deplored.” (Dennis Wheatley, Daily Express, 26 June 1974).
“I think he’s crazy.” (Canon John Pearce Higgins, Daily Express, 26 June 1974).
“But for the results of his actions, this scruffy little witch could be laughed at. But no one can laugh at a man who admits slitting the throat of a live cat before launching a blood-smeared orgy. Or at a man who has helped reduce at least two women to frightened misery.” (Sue Kentish, News of the World, 23 September 1973).
“The jury were shown folders of pictures of naked girls and corpses, and told about a black-clothed altar in Farrant’s flat with a large drawing of a vampire’s face. When questioned, Farrant said: ‘A corpse was needed to talk to spirits of another world’.” (George Hunter & Richard Wright, Daily Express, 26 June 1974).
“The judge said any interference with a corpse during black magic rituals could properly be regarded as a ‘great scandal and a disgrace to religion, decency and morality’.” (The Sun, 26 June 1974).
“Judge Michael Argyle QC passed sentence after reading medical and mental reports. He said that Farrant — self-styled High Priest of the British Occult Society [sic] — had acted ‘quite regardless of the feelings of ordinary people,’ by messing about at Highgate Cemetery.” (Hornsey Journal, 19 July 1974).
In the summer of 1974, David Robert Donovan Farrant was convicted of malicious damage in Highgate Cemetery by inscribing black magic symbols on the floor of a mausoleum. Offering indignities to remains of the dead via black magic rites in Highgate Cemetery where photographs were taken of a naked female accomplice amidst tombs. Threatening police witnesses in a separate case where his black magic associate was subsequently found guilty of indecent sexual assault on a young boy. His associate, on his current website, describes himself as a “master of the black arts.” Farrant was also convicted of theft of items from Barnet Hospital where the offender worked briefly as a porter upon his release from Brixton Prison where he had been on remand in August 1970. He was further convicted of possession of a handgun and ammunition kept at his address, which also contained a black magic altar beneath a massive mural of a vampiric face of a horned devil that had featured in various newspapers, not least full front page coverage of the Hornsey Journal, 28 September 1973.
Farrant received a prison sentence of four years and eight months. Two libel suits brought by him resulted in the News of the World
(who had quoted his girlfriend’s claims that his publicity-seeking antics were compensation for him being a failure as a lover) failing to produce their principal defence witness due to Farrant making sure she remained in her native France, and him losing against the Daily Express
(who had accused him of being a black magician and also of being insane) where £20,000 court costs were awarded against him. He had also brought suits against Canon Pierce Higgins and Dennis Wheatley (who sadly died prior to the court case) that failed. In the News of the World
action, which he won on a technicality, he was awarded the derisory sum of £50 and ordered to pay costs. The newspaper’s star witness who failed to appear for their defence was Martine de Sacy, his ex-girlfriend who had been identified as the naked female in the infamous “nude rituals trial” at the Old Bailey in June 1974. Farrant persuaded her not to appear, causing the News of the World
to lose their star witness.
Farrant’s blatant bandwagoneering was a perverse parody aimed at garnering maximum publicity. It fooled nobody, but, unfortunately, his concoted claims gave the press something sensational, ie “naked virgins,” to write about. This is what an article in the Hampstead & Highgate Express, 15 October 1971, recorded:
“Despite a warning from police that he could be prosecuted, occultist David Farrant said this week he might return to Highgate Cemetery to ‘exorcise a vampire’ and fight a black magic sect. In the early hours of last Friday Mr Farrant, who is founder of the British Occult Society [sic], performed an exorcism ceremony involving six other young men and two naked girls at a chapel in the cemetery. After the ceremony, one of the girls claimed she saw a shadowy figure which Mr Farrant said was the cemetery’s vampire, ‘the king of the undead.’ … Armed with a crucifix, a bible, herbs such as camomile, dill and garlic, and holy water taken from St Joseph’s Church in Highgate Hill, and accompanied by six other society members, he had climbed over the cemetery wall just before midnight … etc.”
Later in the article one of the alleged naked females is identified as Farrant’s girlfriend Martine de Sacy. The newspaper reported: “He denied the ceremony involved sexual practices.” Then it quoted Farrant explaining: “That’s black magic, which involves getting your rewards before you die — wealth, prosperity, sex. Christian belief is that you get your reward after death. The elaborate things involved in the exorcism were purely symbolic, the most important thing was to have people present who believed in God and the bible. The girls were naked as symbols of purity — they were virgins.”
This, at least, is what he had told the Hampstead & Highgate Express in October 1971. Four years later, however, he told readers of New Witchcraft magazine, issue #4, something far removed from the supposed exorcism with naked girls which did not involve sexual practices, as had been fed by him to the Hampstead & Highgate Express. When describing the same ceremony is an unedited article penned at the behest of the magazine’s editor from his prison cell, David Farrant now claimed:
“The intrinsic details regarding this part of the ceremony however, must remain secret; suffice it is to say here that the entity (in its now omniscient form) was to be magically induced by the ritual act of blood-letting, then brought to visible appearance through the use of the sex act. … I disrobed the Priestess and myself and, with the consecrated blood, made the secret sigils of the Deity on her mouth, breast, and all the openings of her body. We then lay in the Pentagram and began love-making, all the time visualizing the Satanic Force so that it could — temporarily — take possession of our bodies.”
On his 1975 article, Farrant later recalled (to his friend and collaborator Kevin Demant): “When I had time to spare I wrote a few articles. I sent one to New Witchcraft which was used, and I mean, every single word was used. It was written on old scraps of paper, anything I could get together because obviously, they wouldn’t have given me official writing paper to do that, apart from which, it would have been stopped anyway. That was smuggled out and used. I also wrote one for Penthouse, because … they’d played up the sex angle in court and all the papers were implying … I thought, well, it’s a magazine, they could be half-serious. I mean, bloody hell, it was sold in W H Smiths!”
At this point, Farrant had contrived an infamous persona where necromantic diabolism overshadowed his earlier attempts to mimic Seán Manchester. He adopted a phoney form of witchcraft where he manufactured quasi-satanic stunts for the benefit of the press. These cost him his liberty and he ended up being sentenced to four years and eight months imprisonment in 1974. Though similar publicity stunts ensued upon his release, he would never again catch the attention of the media in the same way as he did prior to and during his notorious trials at the Old Bailey, and slowly returned to the bandwagon he originally boarded in 1970. Once again, David Farrant began to impersonate Bishop Seán Manchester, having publicly eschewed the trappings of manufactured devilry. In May 2011 he published pictures of himself dressed as a Christian priest carrying a bible. Such impersonation, of course, is illegal in the UK.
David Farrant was arrested in December 2002 and charged with the harassment of Seán Manchester, his wife, London secretary and a colleague. But the Crown Prosecution Service did not proceed with their case due to Farrant taking great care to stagger the frequency of incidents so that they fell just outside the remit for the minimum number of offences required per month for a case to be successfully prosecuted via the precise charge brought under the section of the Protection from Harassment Act invoked. This much was confirmed by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. Had the police merely charged him with sending malicious mail, Farrant would have undoubtedly been found guilty but his punsihment could be no more than a fine. Whereas the actual charges for harassment brought by the police were more serious, and if the CPS had allowed the case to be taken to trial it would have almost certainly resulted in a custodial sentence.
Seán Manchester’s London secretary and good friend, Diana Brewester, sadly died of cancer in December 2003, having been harassed and libelled by Farrant in her latter years. Farrant always sends his malicious pamphlets to his victims. One such item contained Diana Brewester’s private address which he published and circulated via the pamphlet. He also published false and disgusting claims about her private sexual life, none of which were true. David Farrant has absolutely no regard for the way he maligns people, steals, lies and causes grief to whomsoever he pleases. Throughout his life he has never shown any remorse for his behaviour and crimes. Indeed, he has always sought to capitalise on them; bragging to the press and regurgitating them in self-published pamphlets crammed with libel and copyright infringement. His entire life has been predicated on the execution of grievances, vendettas and sick pranks. Apart from a couple of weeks as a porter in late 1970, he has lived off state benefits all his life.
Occupation: (since release on parole from prison in and also prior to imprisonment):
Unemployed (permanently in receipt of state benefits).
November 1972 (Barnet Magistrates’ Court):
Indecency in Monken Hadley churchyard (Ecclesiastic Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860).
June 1974 (Central Criminal Court, London):
Malicious damage in HighgateCemetery by inscribing black magic symbols on the floor of a mausoleum.
Offering indignities to remains of the dead via black magic rites in HighgateCemetery where photographs were taken of a naked female accomplice amidst tombs.
Threatening police witnesses in separate case where his black magic associate, John Pope, was subsequently found guilty of indecent sexual assault on a boy named Blackwell.
Theft of items from BarnetHospital where the offender worked briefly as a porter in late 1970.
Possession of a handgun and ammunition kept at Farrant’s address, which also contained a black magic altar beneath a mural of a face of the Devil.
Two libel suits brought by David Farrant resulted in the News of the World (on a claim that his publicity-seeking was a substitute for his failed sexual libido) failing to produce their principal defence witness owing to Farrant making sure she remained in her native France, and his losing against the Daily Express (who had accused him of being a black magician and of being insane) where £20,000 court costs were awarded against him. In the News of the World action, which he won on a technicality, he was awarded the derisory sum of £50 with court costs awarded against him. The newspaper’s star witness who failed to appear for their defence was Martine de Sacy, an ex-girlfriend of Farrant’s who was identified as the naked female in the infamous “nude rituals trial” at the Old Bailey in June 1974. She was persuaded not to appear by her ex-boygriend, causing the News of the World to lose their star witness. Farrant was arrested in December 2002 and charged with the harassment of several people, including Seán Manchester, his wife and others, but the Crown Prosecution Service did not proceed. Subsequent complaints to the police in 2007 from his ex-girlfriend concerning alleged death threats against her and the threatened publication of inappropriate photographs came to nothing.