RELIGION

Fleecing the rich with a fake crusade

ROSS LAVER May 5 1986
RELIGION

Fleecing the rich with a fake crusade

ROSS LAVER May 5 1986

Fleecing the rich with a fake crusade

RELIGION

The victims included an Anglican rector, the wife of a prominent British member of parliament and three well-to-do aristocrats. But the blue-blood cast of witnesses was not the only reason why scores of spectators and reporters jammed the Crown Court building in Maidstone, 50 km southeast of London, for the past 10 weeks. They, and millions of British newspaper readers, were titillated by revelations in the sensational trial of 46-year-old Derry Mainwaring Knight.

Knight stood accused of defrauding devout—and wealthy—Christians of $436,000, money that the prosecution said had been spent on prostitutes, fast cars and general high living.

Knight’s defence: he said that he needed the money to destroy a sect of devil worshippers and free himself from the control of Satan.

As improbable as that story sounded in the courtroom, many residents of the East Sussex parish of Newick evidently believed it. According to Crown prosecutor Michael Corkery, the balding, paunchy Knight moved to the village in 1983. There, he

quickly ingratiated him-

self with the community by distributing Church of England pamphlets from door to door and organizing prayer meetings. And when his painting and decorating business began to founder, Knight sought help from John Baker, the 49-year-old rector of the Anglican parish. Knight complained about owing large sums of money and he told the rector that vicious debt collectors were harassing him. Baker, whom Corkery later described in court as “generous in spirit and highly gullible,” agreed to help by approaching wealthy parishioners for donations. In return, Knight promised to devote the rest of his life to Christ.

Then, in February, 1984, with his business near bankruptcy, Knight moved into the attic of the rector’s house. Baker said that on one occasion Knight went into a trance-like state during which he seemed to be pos-

sessed by spirits. Recalled Baker: “There were things speaking out of his mouth but not in his normal voice—a quite well-known phenomenon with demonic possession.” The rector added that when he demanded to know what had happened to Knight, a strange voice replied: “You cannot have him. He belongs to Lucifer. He was dedicated by sacrifice as a child,

and he is a master of the occult.”

Baker testified that Knight had told him he could break the devil’s hold over him only by becoming head of a mysterious organization called the Sons of Lucifer—which he could then destroy from within. But in order to be chosen as leader, he said, he would have to prove his worthiness for high office by buying black magic artifacts and satanic regalia, including robes, a sceptre, a chalice and a throne. Said Corkery: “The rector had been caught hook, line and sinker, and he was used to entice bigger fish into his net.” Through the rector’s enthusiastic introduction, Knight succeeded in enlisting Susan Sainsbury, 47-year-old wife of Conservative MP and government whip Timothy Sainsbury and a member of one of Britain’s wealthiest families, in his putative crusade against Satan. Said Sainsbury, who never met

Knight in person but still sent him seven cheques totalling $170,000: “I prayed for Derry and his deliverance from Satan. The advice from my prayers was that I was doing the right thing.” Another victim, 48-year-old Viscount Hampden—born Anthony David Brand—testified that he paid $80,000 for a white Rolls-Royce sedan that Knight said he needed to impress the other members of the mysterious satanic order. And when Knight complained that police were monitoring his home telephone calls, Brand willingly gave him another $6,000 so that Knight could install a telephone in the limousine.

In fact, Corkery told the court, Knight spent most of the money on prostitutes and the acquisition of jewelry, fine clothes and a succession of cars including a Cadillac, a Lotus and a Range Rover. But z Knight insisted that he x had used the money to § buy satanic regalia, which he had stored abroad at an undis1 closed location. And in ! another startling dev fence argument, Knight □ said that he had no need to obtain money fraudu-

lently because he earned

up to $25,000 a week from a prostitution ring he operated in London.

But that explanation failed to convince the jury, which last week convicted Knight on all 19 charges of fraud. Judge Neil Denison, who sentenced Knight to seven years in prison, told him that he was appalled by his “cynical manipulation of so many good people.” Even Knight’s own mother was pleased to see him go to jail. Indeed, 64-year-old Margaret Knight told reporters that her son had once cheated her out of $92,000 by running up a bank overdraft in her name. She added: “He often told me that you can always take Christians for a ride because they won’t take you to the law. Jail is probably the best thing that could happen to him.”

—ROSS LAVER in London