Police hope to lift the lid on the murky world of ‘faith healers’ who promise cures for everything from cancer to marriage breakdown – for huge sums of money.
A team of officers has been put together to investigate the scale of the fraud in the city for the first time.
The Leicester Mercury is aware of a number of cases of people handing over tens of thousands of pounds to criminals who then say meaningless prayers or perform rituals for them.
An unknown number of tricksters are operating in the city, advertising in foreign language newspapers or by putting business cards through letterboxes or leaving the on car windscreens.
Many claim to be able to use prayer to lift curses, heal broken marriages and solve financial problems.
Others say they can cure illnesses including cancer and HIV.
Inspector Ben Gillard, commander of Leicester’s Spinney Hill Park police station, said the team needed the community’s help to trace the perpetrators.
Insp Gillard said: “People are being exploited and handing over large sums of money to these people.
“We want to work with the faith community leaders and other people in the community because this is not solely a police issue.
“As well as the money people are handing over to these people, another of the concerns is that some people may be going to faith healers to be treated for medical conditions instead of going to the NHS.
“By the time they go to the NHS their conditions may have worsened or can’t be treated.
“Anecdotally, we are hearing that these people are coming to this country to practise their chicanery, concentrating on a particular area for a time and then moving on to somewhere else.
“We need the community’s help to trace these people.”
One Leicester man told the Leicester Mercury his wife handed over “tens of thousands of pounds” to a conman who promised he could heal a family rift.
He said: “I don’t know how many of the healers there are in Leicester but there are a lot of leaflets being put through people’s front doors and there are adverts in some community newspapers.
“They are exploiting religion, using peoples’ faith to make a lot of money and they have to be stopped.”
Leading members of the city’s faith groups backed the police campaign.
Resham Singh Sandhu, chairman of the Sikh Welfare and Cultural Society and vice president of the Leicestershire Faith Forum, said: “As a community we have not done enough to raise awareness of this problem.
“We hear that some of these people who have ‘salespersons’ who are going around finding business for them. It is a crime and it is very well organised.”
Suleman Nagdi, spokesman for the Leicestershire Federation of Muslim Organisations, said: “We hear horror stories, particularly of elderly or vulnerable people giving these ‘healers’ thousands of pounds.
“We have to do everything we can to educate people about this problem which is causing a lot of distress.”
Leicester City Council’s trading standards team monitors leaflets and business cards which are being circulated in the city, as well as adverts in some foreign language papers.
However, it receives only a small number of formal complaints.
Leicester Trading Standards manager Ron Ruddock said: “Many of the problems that faith healers claim to be able to resolve cannot be measured for their success.
“If they don’t work, they will give excuses or simply ask for more money to keep doing it.
“They may say it hasn’t worked because the customer didn’t believe in it enough.
“Faith healing is no more than an another upfront fee scam but with a different front – it is a con that has been going on for hundreds of years in one form or another.
“This type of scam preys on the most vulnerable people and will offer to cure diseases or to mend broken relationships.
“Anyone with health problems should visit their GP and we would be very worried about people relying on a faith healer instead of proper medical care.
“For example, a faith healer advertising that he or she can cure cancer is an offence under the Cancer Act 1939, and we would contact any healer offering that to explain the law to them.
“There are genuine organisations out there for people who need help with their health or any other aspects of their lives.
“Do not line the pockets of fraudsters who make false and empty promises.”
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