‘… Punches were landed in my ribs, carefully, so they couldn’t be seen.’ One woman’s violent encounter with the Jesus Army.

It was the mid-eighties. My partner and I had moved from Bradford to London. I was in Leicester Square.

A small temporary stage had been set up – at that time of night – and a crowd was listening to a speaker. A silver-haired man was preaching to a bunch of street people and others dressed in fake combat gear, as if it were a uniform. Stanton was holding a rally.

As I listened to the man preach about how he could heal the sick, cure cancer, get addicts off drugs and drink simply by the laying on of hands (his hands, of course), I felt anger at his cruel lies rise in me. Maybe I was outraged at his lack of conscience or maybe his oily, self congratulatory tone raised my hackles. I said loudly ‘Rubbish’, and yelled, ‘How can you say stuff like that? Cure cancer? You should be ashamed . . .’

Before my mouth closed I was surrounded by the combat gear people. I was immediately separated from my friends by a lot of big guys, jostling and shoving us apart. They then began an exorcism, exhorting the demons to come out of my body, screaming in my face, manhandling me and hitting, kicking, pinching, pulling my hair and spitting. I struggled but the more I did, the worse it got.

I was grabbed by the arms, boots kicked my shins. I struggled as punches were landed in my ribs, carefully, so they couldn’t be seen. Furious, I lashed out at whoever came near, shouting for my partner, but he couldn’t get to me as the press of people around me was so solid.

Later, I’d sit in the bath and cry with the pain of my bruised ribs and aching, black and blue shins. In the end they tired somewhat and I wriggled free and ran. I passed an elderly couple and the man stopped me. He pointed at Stanton and said, he’s the devil. His wife was in tears.

I found my friends and tried to make light of it, but I was terrified as I am a rape and domestic and sexual abuse survivor with multiple focus PTSD. After that I kept an eye on them and spoke out against them whenever I could.

The Jesus Army. That was my first encounter with Noel Stanton and his true believers.

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