MPs have raised serious concerns about SPAC Nation in Parliament and called on authorities to suspend its charitable status while an investigation is being carried out.
The church charity is under investigation by the Charity Commission and Metropolitan Police, following allegations of fraud and exploitation of young people.
Steve Reed, Labour MP for Croydon North, said: “I am convinced that SPAC Nation is a cult” and claimed it mainly targets young black people in poorer parts of London, exploiting them for financial gain.
Reed said he has been inundated with phone calls and emails from young people and their parents “making alarming allegations about SPAC Nation”.
Reed said he was concerned about young people still involved with SPAC Nation. He said: “I am deeply worried that more has not been done to stop this organisation from exploiting vulnerable young people”. SPAC Nation claims to have up to 1,000 young people still involved, “everyone of those young people is potentially at risk”.
He said SPAC Nation had been recruiting outside school gates and outside youth centres. “They are targeting young people so that they can exploit them and it is imperative that they are stopped.”
He added: “We surely cannot allow this organisation to continue targeting other young people for abuse and exploitation when it is possible for us to take steps and action to protect them.”
'Charity Commission moves slowly'
Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh said: “The Charity Commission can often move very slowly, and given the seriousness of the allegations, would there not be a possibility of suspending charitable status while the investigations are going ahead. Considering other charities who work with young people, I am aware that this has happened in the past.”
The Commission said: “We welcome yesterday’s debate in parliament. We are urgently progressing our investigation into SPAC Nation. The issues raised in relation to the charity are highly concerning, and clearly entirely at odds with what people expect of charities. Our ongoing inquiry allows us to examine these concerns in full to establish what has happened and determine our next steps. While we will progress our investigations at pace, we must also ensure that our work in this case is robust and thorough, and that we work closely with other agencies and organisations where appropriate”.
‘They are told that if their life is unsuccessful it is because they are not giving enough money to God’
Reed outlined allegations against SPAC Nation, and told MPs that there was a process in which the charity “brainwashed” vulnerable young people.
He said that they offer free food to attract young people to come along, and then “vet the young people who turn up and they then target those who appear to be the most susceptible”. He said they befriend these particular young people and invite them to further events.
“Then what appears to be brainwashing starts. They are told that if their life is unsuccessful, 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.”
Reed said that the charities leaders “display extraordinary wealth” which is “way beyond the experience of the young people that they are targeting”.
SPAC Nation housing vulnerable young people
The Croydon MP also claimed that some young people were encouraged to leave their families and move into properties rented by the organisation's leaders. Such houses are dubbed ‘TRAP houses’ - the term used for drug dens in the United States. Reed said “once in these houses the control and coercion becomes far more insidious”.
He said that a woman leader of SPAC Nation, 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,” he told parliament.
Reed claims: “One young victim told me they had prayer sessions, that 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.”
He said: “This is not an organisation getting young people out of crime, as it claims, this is an organisation criminalising young people for its own ends.”
Reed said: “Once the organisation has control of a young person's mind, they pressure them into making fraudulent personal loan applications so they can hand the money to the organisation's leaders. They are pressured into setting up fake businesses so that they can apply, fraudulently, to take 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 the forms in 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 that it had been done.”
He added that young people were coached to commit benefit fraud and students have been coerced into handing over their entire student loans before then being taken to banks to raise further money through personal loans, “so they lost their ability to continue in education and ended up in serious financial debt”.
Sexual exploitation allegations
Reed said: “Tragically, where criminal exploitation is taking place, there is often also sexual exploitation.” He said that one young woman told him she was just 16 when she moved into a TRAP house and, in her words, “everyone was having sex with everyone else, it was disgusting”. He said he asked her to clarify whether she meant older pastors having sex with younger girls and she said “yes”.
Reed said: “When this young woman complained to her pastor, she was taken to the organisation's leader who told her that if she complained to the police it would rebound on her because he was powerful and had friends in high places. He made that claim look real to these vulnerable young people, by inviting politicians and senior police officers to church services.”
Reed says he believes these people thought they were engaging with a church that was helping vulnerable young people, “but in reality they were being used to intimate young victims to stop them from speaking out”.
He added: “I have spoken to young people who, absolutely sickeningly, were taken to private clinics, to sell their blood, with a so-called pastor pretending to be their parent to sign consent.”