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In the 1930s and 1940s Scottish-born Helen Duncan claimed to be a physical medium bringing comfort to the bereaved. The wartime British Government considered her at best a fraud preying on the grief of thousands of citizens, at worst a spy for Germany. In 1944, under a 1735 statute prohibiting the practice of witchcraft, the British government brought...
In the 1930s and 1940s Scottish-born Helen Duncan claimed to be a physical medium bringing comfort to the bereaved. The wartime British Government considered her at best a fraud preying on the grief of thousands of citizens, at worst a spy for Germany. In 1944, under a 1735 statute prohibiting the practice of witchcraft, the British government brought Duncan and three of her associates to trial where they were prosecuted and convicted. The trial and appeal were quite sensational. Supporters of Mrs. Duncan believed she was being persecuted for her religion; supporters of the government believed she was rightly convicted for taking advantage of the public. Since the mid-1990s the debate has begun again, with calls for Mrs. Duncan’s posthumous pardon from believers who maintain that she was wrongly convicted and imprisoned. This book examines the charge that Mrs. Duncan was the victim of religious persecution and that the law was misapplied. It also discusses justifications for statutes such as the original Witchcraft Act (repealed in 1951) and for legislation that regulates or prohibits the practice of unorthodox religious beliefs. Corcos also analyzes the conduct of the trial, the legal arguments advanced, and the public and Parliamentary reaction to Duncan’s conviction, putting in perspective the balances that societies set between freedom of belief and the necessity to protect the public from fraud.
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