Serious allegations have been made about safeguarding abuses of young people living in so-called “trap houses” linked to a church tackling knife crime – that already stands accused of failing to act on rogue pastors within its ranks, as revealed by a HuffPost UK investigation.
We have been told of shocking evidence of abuse within safe houses set up by pastors in the SPAC Nation church to supposedly protect vulnerable youngsters escaping gangs.
The church is facing serious questions about some of its pastors allegedly pressuring young people into taking out loans of up to £5,000 or giving thousands of pounds in “seed offerings” and failing to act on these allegations, as exposed by HuffPost UK on Friday.
HuffPost UK found SPAC Nation’s leader was at the Conservative Party Conference this year seated behind cabinet ministers, such as Home Secretary Priti Patel and Chancellor Sajid Javid, for the prime minister’s speech. He has also met ministers at Downing Street and won a peace award sponsored by the Mayor of London’s office.
Yesterday Pastor Tobi Adegboyega was invited to No 10 Downing Street for a meeting with Special Advisers and Cabinet Ministers.— SPAC Nation (@SPACnation) May 10, 2018
We are pleased to see the voice of our young people being heard!#SPACNation #MAJOR pic.twitter.com/xH8W0xs0fd
But now we can reveal new and serious allegations about safe houses, known as trap houses within the church – which uses the terminology adopted by gangs to describe houses where drugs are cut and sold.
According to the church’s own publicity, the houses were set up to protect vulnerable youngsters escaping gangs to have a place of safe refuge.
The model has been praised as pioneering by politicians and a step forward in efforts to tackle the capital’s deadly knife crime epidemic.
But we have found that some young people within the trap houses have been left vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
Teachers and professionals working with young people also told HuffPost UK that the church is “riding rough shod over its safeguarding obligations” leaving the youngsters at risk.
In one appalling apparent failure of care, a 16-year-old girl was allegedly sexually assaulted by a member of SPAC Nation at a trap house. The church put out a public statement last year saying it had encouraged the young woman to report the incident to police but she declined.
In another recent incident, video footage shows a SPAC Nation pastor whipping a vulnerable young man with a belt in a safe house while reciting a biblical verse. The incident was later dismissed as a joke. The pastor was named as one of the capital’s rising stars at the Evening Standard’s 1,000 most influential Londoners this year due to his work with SPAC Nation.
We have also found a prominent pastor within the church has convictions for 27 offences of fraud and dishonesty and has been labelled a “career con-artist” but runs one SPAC Nation trap house for young women.
SPAC Nation distanced itself from the trap houses. The church’s spokesman Daniel Ogoloma told HuffPost UK: “These houses are rented by individuals and the church encourages individuals to take in people and help them. That is at the will of the individual.”
“The church does not refer people to houses, it only encourages members to help others,” he said.
But this is apparently contradicted by the church’s own own social media accounts, where they are repeatedly referred to as “our trap houses”.
The ‘Belt Whipping Video’
HuffPost UK has been told of two incidents in SPAC Nation’s trap houses that reveal the potential for young people living in these properties to be left vulnerable.
In the first, and most recent incident, we have seen video footage – that has been widely circulated on Twitter – of a senior pastor whipping a young man cowering in the corner of a room with a belt as he recites biblical scripture.
Tonight I am going to support my son Enrique at The Evening Standard’s Progress 1000 Gala. He has been selected in 25 under 25 most influential people in UK! He has come a long way.#SPACNation #Progress1000 pic.twitter.com/AZ10fxd9v3— Tobi Adegboyega (@TobiAdegboyega_) October 3, 2019
According to rapper Tkay Mukuna, who until a few weeks ago was among SPAC Nation’s trusted inner circle, the person striking the blows is Enrique Uwadiae, a senior pastor who has appeared on numerous TV programmes promoting SPAC Nation’s work.
Last month, Uwadiae was selected in the Evening Standard’s POWER 1000 London list specifically as one of the top 25 most influential people in London under 25. He attended the gala ceremony with the church’s leader Tobi Adegboyega, who tweeted saying, “tonight I am going to support my son Enrique,” adding “he has come a long way.” Using the word “son” within the church is a reference to a close bond rather a family relationship.
During the shocking video clip, the person filming can be heard addressing “Enrique” by name, instructing him on how to best hold the belt for the assault.
The victim, who Tkay says is aged around 22, is seen laughing nervously and cowering on the floor.
Earlier this week, the alleged victim made a statement on social media, sitting next to pastor Enrique and the SPAC Nation pastor who is the alleged leader of the trap house, saying “you can see by the video that I was smiling” adding, “me being painted as a victim or someone that’s being mistreated is totally a lie”.
But Tkay, who knows the victim personally and describes him as a vulnerable person who lives with depression and self-harms, dismisses any notion that this video was “just a joke”.
“It doesn’t become a joke when you start to record it and people are laughing and you’re whipping the man with a belt,” says Tkay, who left the church recently after a falling out with senior pastor Tobi Adegboyega. “How would you feel if that was your son or daughter? Is it a joke then?
“I know that he’s very vulnerable so it was easy for them to get into his head. He left the trap house for a short while after that video but now he’s back there.”
I was a guest of Number 10 at the Conservative Manchester Conference. It was a great speech. I especially liked the detailed plan for young people! pic.twitter.com/EehpFTveBr— Tobi Adegboyega (@TobiAdegboyega_) October 2, 2019
When HuffPost UK contacted Uwadiae he denied that the video was shot at a SPAC Nation safehouse.
“The information you have gathered here is clearly false. The video did not happen in any SPAC Nation safehouse,” he said. “I have always lived with my brothers and no one here has been referred here by SPAC Nation. As for the video itself, the alleged ‘victim’ can and has spoken for [himself].”
Alleged Sexual Assault Of A 16-Year-Old Girl In A Safehouse
The most serious allegation HuffPost UK was told of relates to an alleged sexual assault by a member of SPAC Nation of a 16-year-old girl inside a trap house.
This incident has been confirmed by the church itself in a public statement issued in March last year.
The statement said: “SPAC Nation takes any allegations of sexual misconduct, assault or violence amongst our members extremely seriously.
“The full details of this allegation, which is alleged to have happened back in 2016, was only brought to some of our leaders’ attention by the woman in January of this year.
“As a result, we encouraged the young woman to report the incident to the police and we also offered to do that on her behalf. However, she declined.”
Following this declaration, allegations were made online that Uwadiae had encouraged the silencing of this allegation in order to protect SPAC Nation’s reputation.
HuffPost UK has seen a screenshot of a WhatsApp conversation in which Uwadiae calls for SPAC Nation members to retweet a denial of the allegations by the accused man.
But Uwadiae strongly refuted this allegation.
“I did not silence any allegation,” he said. “When it was brought to my attention this was reported to the police but [it] was declared no further action. I don’t have the power to silence anyone. I cannot defend myself against gossip but I will defend my integrity.”
SPAC Nation’s spokesman told HuffPost UK: “In the case of any sexual abuse, a victim should be encouraged to report… She was encouraged to report but she declined, we put out a statement at the time where we clarify this.
“Also the entirely alleged assault was not between a SPAC Nation pastor but with a former member of the church who was not a pastor or leader in the church.
“Our stance with the alleged perpetrator following the allegation was to advise him to seek help, which we would offer to anyone. This may not have been a popular response as I’m sure people would have wanted us to publicly shame him but as it was a sensitive circumstance, amongst teenagers we did not want to do this.”
The incident has raised questions about whether more should have been done to support the teenage girl involved.
The government lays out clear guidelines for charities in regards to safeguarding protocols.
Its section on “Safeguarding and protecting people for charities and trustees” says: “As part of fulfilling your trustee duties, you must take reasonable steps to protect from harm people who come into contact with your charity.”
It continues: “We expect all trustees to make sure their charity: is quick to respond to concerns and carry out appropriate investigations,” adding that trustees must not “ignore harm or downplay failures.”
SPAC Nation says it has a robust safeguarding policy in place.
Convicted Fraudster Runs A ‘Trap House’
Another of the pastors in charge of one of the 20-odd trap houses linked to SPAC Nation is Mariam Mola, who has been described as an “experienced confidence trickster” because of her history of criminal convictions.
Mola, whose real name is Mariam Mbula, describes herself as a philanthropist on her social media profiles and is involved with mentoring young women, including attending a breakfast at the Financial Times in September this year.
It was an incredible privilege to organise @financialtimes breakfast on behalf of @official_nypf We ended our breakfast on the FT roof looking across St Paul’s and Londons finance district ! pic.twitter.com/uGfE5XpoHA— Mariam Mola (@mariammola_) September 14, 2019
She has 13 convictions for 34 offences including 27 for “fraud and dishonesty”, according to a report in The Telegraph in 2016, which says she has been jailed in the UK, Belgium and Spain.
On one occasion the 30-year-old from east London preyed on a woman whose daughter has Down’s syndrome in order to trick her family out of more than £15,000 by posing as a Foreign Office official. A citing about the case on Mola’s defence barrister’s website, in a section titled “serious fraud cases,” says the judge in the proceedings described her offences as “the worst frauds of the kind” that he had seen.
Now Mola heads up an all-female safehouse in Wapping – the ‘Love House’ – geared at accommodating young women with nowhere else to stay.
But serious questions have been raised about her suitability to oversee a trap house for young women due to her criminal record.
In particular, HuffPost UK found a troubling broadcast on the social media platform Periscope where Mola talks about “invading the private lives” and controlling the finances of the young people in the trap house.
Speaking in the broadcast she says: “I tell you what to do with your finances. I tell you where you’re going. It’s not like you have an option. If you have an option as you’re leaving the house, drop your key in the letter box’.”
She continues: “I need you to tell me what you’re earning,” and then says, “I need to invade in your private life if we’re gonna share a bed. We’re gonna share these finances, you’re gonna tell me how much you’re earning.”
In the same clip, Mola refers to young women living in the Love House being in £250,000 debt and says she oversees their regular instalments back to the debt collectors, while also instructing them to “sow everything” back to SPAC Nation.
HuffPost UK yesterday reported on accusations that some pastors within the church are forcing young people to take out loans of up to £5,000 and hand over thousands of pounds in money as “seed offerings” or donations to SPAC Nation pastors, leaving them with significant debts.
In the Periscope clip, Mola talks about “running lines” and how the people in the line must each give a minimum of £100 a week, and the people underneath those people must also give £100 a week.
“I don’t need 50 or 500 girls that have their own mind, that know what to do with their own salary,” she says. “I’m looking at a kind of woman who is going to produce finances.”
She later says: “You will die in your sleep. You will you die if you don’t find that money.”
SPAC Nation’s spokesman said: “All the cases you are quoting against Mariam, I’m sure she can speak for herself and the church does not refer people to houses, it only encourages members to help others.”
When HuffPost UK approached Mola for comment, she sent us a direct message on Twitter that said: “Not interested. Please kindly publish what suites [sic]. All the best, M”, followed by a heart emoji.
‘These Are Not Our Trap Houses’
SPAC Nation clearly distanced itself from the trap houses when asked by HuffPost UK.
Daniel Ogoloma, the spokesman for the church, said: “Just so you know, when people come to us needing help, SPAC Nation only encourages members to take in those who have housing issues according to what the bible teaches.
“It is therefore not ‘SPAC Nation houses’... These houses are rented by individuals and the church encourages individuals to take in people and help them. That is at the will of the individual.”
Yet we found numerous public references on SPAC Nation’s social media accounts that appear to contradict this.
The blurb on one video posted on SPAC Nation TV’s YouTube channel states: “T.R.A.P stands for Take Risks And Prosper. We have over 23 safe houses across London, housing individuals that may required a safe haven. Our safe houses are inspirational hubs providing mentorship and guidance 24/7.”
One tweet from SPAC Nation’s official Twitter account says: “Jokes, laughter and old school party games is what you’ll be welcomed with at one of our TRAP houses. Not every house is a home but we’re here to change that.”
And another post on SPAC Nation’s official Facebook page reads: “This weekend Pastor Tobi Adegboyega met with some of the parents of the young people that live in our Trap houses.”
It is unclear who is taking safeguarding responsibility for these trap houses if SPAC Nation says it is not.
Council Concerns About Safeguarding
SPAC Nation is also on the radar of councils and the Metropolitan Police in relation to safeguarding concerns.
Earlier this year London local authority safeguarding leads from councils across the capital and police attended a meeting in which safeguarding issues relating to SPAC Nation were discussed. Teachers have also expressed concern about the church’s activities.
One London teacher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told HuffPost UK that SPAC Nation was “riding roughshod over anything to do with safeguarding” leaving young people potentially at risk.
“Putting people up in houses, everything about taking a vulnerable child or person into your care, for me is very worrying,” the teacher said. “By providing shelter to somebody you can make the person loyal to you and do your will. For me that has a massive coercive potential.”
The teacher said SPAC Nation’s self-proclaimed aim to attract vulnerable young people who are involved with gangs meant it had a very clear safeguarding duty.
“A lot of the pupils they claim to be reaching out to are vulnerable, looked-after children, some in the care of the state, but others in various different care provisions, some in children’s homes, some in foster homes, and some in more semi-independent living situations, and there is clear guidance about how you risk assess those situations and steps to be followed.”
Another teacher, who also asked for anonymity, said she had seen SPAC Nation flagged on a safeguarding bulletin within the school where she was teaching.
“I noticed the name SPAC Nation on the bulletin in my school and I wondered what it was,” she said. “So I spoke to one of my students about it and they said... that they groomed kids by giving them phones and Rolex watches.”
Youthworker Lillian Okolie flagged concerns to her local council about pastors from SPAC Nation recruiting young people outside McDonalds in Croydon.
Rapper Tkay, the former SPAC Nation member, argues the church’s pastors deliberately target these kids by venturing out into deprived areas to recruit.
“They’ll go to places like Woolwich, fast food places like Bagel King (in south London), council estates where there’s young kids. They couldn’t go to somewhere like Mayfair where middle class people live,” the rapper said.
“They will go to these places and perform with their cars because that’s what people aspire to. When these young people go on YouTube, they look at the rappers with the nice cars and comfortable lifestyles.”
Like many of SPAC Nation’s critics, youthworker Okolie echoes the belief that the church has used its reputation for helping to tackle the knife crime epidemic to avoid proper scrutiny from authorities.
SPAC Nation says it has a clear safeguarding policy in place and is complying with its obligations. It said it could not oversee the trap houses as they are not run by the church.
Ogoloma, the church’s spokesman, said: “There are laws in place in this country. SPAC Nation cannot go into private houses and regulate it, however, we have taken steps to try and do this more recently. We have been implementing advisory safeguarding policies and laws to help those who do decide to take in people. We have a safeguarding officer and we believe he is one of the best.”
However there have been calls for police and social services to investigate how these trap houses function and what takes place there.
Sarah Jones, who was Croydon Central’s Labour MP until the general election was called and is running to retain her seat, said she was aware of concerns about safeguarding at the church.
She said in a post on Twitter on Friday: “Over recent months I have been passed increasingly concerning reports about the SPAC Nation church, regarding safeguarding of Croydon young people and allegations of financial fraud. I can now confirm I have passed these reports to the Charity Commission and will be meeting local police to discuss the evidence given to me next week.”
Christian vlogger Kojo Ampadu, 28, who has regularly used his platform to raise concerns about SPAC Nation following a visit to the church in 2018 where he felt uneasy, said: “SPAC Nation just haven’t done anything that can push the police, authorities, to take immediate action to shut them down, because they do just enough where they can say – ‘But we have helped young people, we have done rallies’.”
He added: “If the police force weren’t starved, would they have allowed a religious organisation to go on as long as they have bringing people into a church where they’re putting their knives down?
“Would there not have been a voice in their head saying: ‘What’s actually going on there?’ Do you know what I mean? Because you’re seeing someone do something that you can’t do. Wouldn’t you want to ask what’s going on?”
HuffPost UK approached Downing Street and The Conservative Party for comment and has not received a response.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.