Tuesday, 31 May 2011


Real cleric.                        Fake cleric.

It is illegal to impersonate a person of the clergy unless it is transparently obvious that it is intended as a fancy dress costume at a fancy dress party, or something of that kind, and the intention, wittingly or unwittingly, is not to deceive anyone into believing the fake cleric is actually an ordained clergyman in holy orders. Someone who has impersonated another person for many years, for example, might be clinically diagnosed as having a mental disorder for compulsive impostorising. Impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, however, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalise their accomplishments, and should not be confused with the kind of malicious impersonation being described here which is often accompanied by acts that are to the detriment of the impersonated.  In many countries it is a crime to impersonate somebody on the internet, and it is certainly illegal to dress up as a priest if the person doing so could be confused with a real clergyman.


David Farrant's first meeting with Seán Manchester in early 1970.

Due to an attention-seeker called David Robert Donovan Farrant having his letter published in the Hampstead & Highgate Express, Seán Manchester agreed to meet him at Highgate Cemetery so Mr Farrant could point out the spot where he allegedly sighted the spectral entity mentioned in his correspondence. Seán Manchester was not impressed by David Farrant, a scruffy individual who harped on about potential media coverage of the alleged ghost he said he had seen. Their meeting nevertheless made front page news in the Hampstead & Highgate Express, 6 March 1970, with the photograph (above, left) appearing next to the newspaper's headline "Why do the foxes die?"

Seán Manchester in those days often wore a bow tie and, indeed, was frequently formally attired. He was wearing one when he met Farrant, and also when he appeared on Thames Television's Today programme on 13 March 1970 to present the findings of the British Occult Society who had been investigating a predatory demonic manifestation experienced at Highgate Cemetery in the months and years prior. David Farrant, very nervous and dishevelled in appearance, was briefly interviewed along with other witnesses on the same programme.

Image from 13 March 1970 TV transmission.

Seán Manchester took the opportunity to warn against antics such as Mr Farrant was considering when he was interviewed, 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."

Before (left) and after (right) meeting Seán Manchester.

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 the BOS president that individuals should not take matters into their own hands in this way, David Farrant was arrested at midnight in Highgate Cemetery by police who found in his possession a cross and wooden stake.

David Farrant, Highgate Cemetery, 1970.

Mr 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 David 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, ie 17 August 1970] in its heart." Mr farrant later reconstructed what he was doing on the night of his arrest for BBC television's 24 Hours, 15 October 1970.

David Farrant reconstructing his vampire hunt on TV.

While inside prison David Farrant had written to Seán Manchester to request support from the British Occult Society to which Mr Farrant owed no connection. He was visited while on remand and told that the Society could not possibly countenance his behaviour. Soon afterwards, Mr 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 Farrant began to fraudulently describe himself as the "president of the British Occult Society."

Bow tie acquired .... David Farrant's impersonation
of Seán Manchester nevertheless went up in smoke.

On 28 August 1970, the Hornsey Journal recorded under its headline "Secret Exorcism at Highgate Tomb": "Seven crucifixes, four white candles, and four cups of holy water from a Catholic Church, were used in the fifteen-minute ceremony. It was carried out by four men and a woman who met on an August afternoon near the entrance of a vault where a headless woman's corspe had been found. Incense was burned and holy water was sprinkled near the vault, and the banishment of evil powers, including words in Greek, Latin, Hebrew and English, was read by Seán Manchester, President of the British Occult Society."

Seán Manchester exorcising the tomb in 1970.

The newspaper account is reiterated on page 58 of the first edition of The Highgate Vampire, published by the British Occult Society. Fourteen months later, however, another newspaper article appeared. This time it was in the Hampstead & Highgate Express and amounted to nothing more than a pathetic attempt to mimic the exorcism carried out over a year earlier. David Farrant's blatant bandwagoneering was less an impersonation than a perverse parody aimed at garnering publicity off the back of the bona fide British Occult Society and its president. It fooled nobody, but, unfortunately, Mr Farrant's concoted claims gave the press something sensational, ie "naked virgins," to write about. This is what the article in the Hampstead & Highgate Express, 15 October 1971, reported:

"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, 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 David 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 and the "sex angle," Mr Farrant later recalled (to his friend and collaborator Kev 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!"

David Farrant with Satanist J P Bourre, Highgate Cemetery.

At this point, David 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, Mr 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 impersonating Bishop
Seán Manchester again in May 2011.