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A Convicted British Pedophile Is Facing Charges In Bulgaria. But Judges Won't Take The Case.

Daniel Erickson-Hull is a convicted pedophile in the United Kingdom.
Daniel Erickson-Hull is a convicted pedophile in the United Kingdom.

SLIVEN, Bulgaria -- For some residents of one of Bulgaria's poorest communities, Daniel Erickson-Hull was a preacher who not only helped the community spiritually but also materially, generously dishing out cash, much of it contributed from well-intentioned donors around the world.

But for others, Erickson-Hull, a convicted pedophile from Britain, was a serial sexual abuser, cruelly exploiting the trust he had earned by allegedly molesting scores of boys in Nadezhda, a Romany district in eastern Bulgaria.

And now after years of delays and efforts by the defendant's lawyers to have the case thrown out, Erickson-Hull, 47, could finally face his day in court on charges of pedophilia.

Or maybe not.

Several judges have already recused themselves from the trial, and the case has now been handed over to a civil-law judge, although it is unclear when that will start. RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service sent questions to Erickson-Hull's lawyer but did not receive a response.

Convicted British Pedophile Poses As Preacher In Bulgaria
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Convicted British Pedophile Poses As Preacher In Bulgaria

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Despite the allegations he faces, Erickson-Hull still has his supporters in Nadezhda. Young followers of the self-styled missionary and youth worker chased a team of BBC journalists who had traveled there in 2019 for a BBC Radio 4 report on Erickson-Hull. That same year, all eight boys who had told police that Erickson-Hull sexually abused them suddenly retracted their statements. His supporters have filled courtrooms in the past to urge that the case be thrown out.

For many in Nadezhda, the alleged sexual abuse by Erickson-Hull, either at his home or at the youth center he ran, was an open secret. RFE/RL is not publishing the names of his alleged victims or their parents.

"Almost the whole neighborhood was [at the youth center]. All the children went. And mine went, too," recounted the mother of one of Erickson-Hull's alleged victims in Nadezhda, which means "hope" in English, to RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service.

A boy who said he was sexually abused by the British national told RFE/RL that he was lured to Erickson-Hull's house with promises of "new sneakers and clothes."

"He told me: 'Don't live there. It's ugly and dirty. It's nicer here [at my house].' You know what he wanted," he said.

Rights activists have said that the authorities are turning a blind eye because the alleged abuse occurred in a mostly Romany community.

"I tried to raise awareness [with the authorities], but the reaction was always: 'Oh, yes, but they are Roma," said Livia Otal, an activist of For Hope, a Bulgarian NGO working with vulnerable youth in Bulgaria, mainly Roma.

Some 750,000 Roma are estimated to live in Bulgaria, one of the poorest nations in the EU. The Roma of Bulgaria suffer from high levels of unemployment, poor education, as well as social exclusion and discrimination. They often live apart from the majority of society, with Nadezhda being a typical example.

One hundred kilometers west of the seaside resort of Burgas in the district of Sliven, the community of Nadezhda is surrounded by a concrete wall.

"[It's] totally excluded, totally off the radar for every institution," says Rositsa Kratunkova from the For Hope foundation. In Nadezhda and the surrounding area, there is a strong network of evangelical churches.

Who Is Daniel Erickson-Hull?

In 2016, British authorities launched a probe into Erickson-Hull on suspicion of sexual exploitation and possession of hundreds of indecent images of children. With the investigation under way, Erickson-Hull fled to Bulgaria. However, following an extradition request from Britain, Bulgarian authorities sent him back.

In 2017, Erickson-Hull was found guilty and sentenced to 15 months in prison in the United Kingdom. He served two months, released on condition he register with his local police as a sex offender and not leave the country without notifying authorities.

He did neither and, instead, returned to Bulgaria.

British police issued a European Arrest Warrant in 2017, but Bulgaria did not comply since the country does not have a register used to track and restrict the movements of sex offenders. Since then, Erickson-Hull, originally from east London, has reportedly been living in Nadezdha.

For some members of the community, Erickson-Hull was seen as being generous with his money and time.

"He fixed [people's] homes, got them wood, things like that," one teenage boy, who said he was victimized by Erickson-Hull, told RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service.

Erickson-Hull gave money to the community, with a large portion of it purportedly coming from well-meaning individuals through his worldwide social media appeals.

"With the amount of money that he had, he was able to buy the families, literally buy the whole communities," one anonymous witness, who originally alerted the BBC to the case, explained in 2022.

According to BBC Radio 4's File On 4 program, Erickson-Hull started visiting Sliven in 2015, and there had been "allegations of sexual abuse spanning more than half a decade." In 2019, a BBC reporter in Sliven confronted Erickson-Hull, who denied being a "pedophile on the run" and disputed that he was spending time with unaccompanied children. During the encounter, a group of his followers confronted the BBC team and chased them.

That same year, the BBC report was followed by allegations from Dawn Gibbs, a former U.S. volunteer in Sliven, who said that she had walked in on Erickson-Hull in bed with a group of boys.

Complaints against Erickson-Hull by children in Nadezhda were first registered in 2019, but for reasons that remain unclear the victims all changed their statements and dropped their complaints. In the meantime, Erickson-Hull was fined in Bulgaria for not paying taxes or declaring donations worth nearly 1 million lev (around $550,000).

In August 2022, Bulgarian police took action and arrested Erickson-Hull after another 14 children in Nadezhda accused him of sexual abuse.

Nighttime Questioning

Many of the alleged victims were taken to police headquarters late at night to give statements and answer questions.

"Everything happened very quickly in a rather painful way for the children, as the interrogations took place at night, in the early hours, until 6 in the morning," said Stoyko Slavov, a lawyer representing some of the children allegedly sexually abused by Erickson-Hull.

The circumstances of the children's interviews could prove a problem. Under Bulgarian law, any testimony not given in the presence of lawyers or judges is not admissible in court. That could mean the boys would have to repeat their testimony in court.

The controversy surrounding the testimonies has put a brake on the trial. But that has been overshadowed by the decision of seven judges to recuse themselves from the trial, a move court officials in Sliven told RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service was merely a stalling tactic by Erickson-Hull's lawyers.

At the beginning of June, the sixth consecutive judge, Svetoslav Svetiev, recused himself in the case against Erickson-Hull. A week later, his wife, Petya Petrova, who is also a judge, did the same.

Svetiev said he resigned because "the defendant continues to insult the jury," calling them "murderers" because he is still being held in custody. It is not clear why the other judges recused themselves from the trial, but the lawyer, Slavov, told RFE/RL that "the arguments for the dismissals are frivolous, to put it mildly."

Amid the inactivity to move the case forward, the National Network for Children, a Bulgarian NGO advocating for the rights of children, requested urgent meetings with the Justice Ministry and the Supreme Judicial Council, but so far there has been no response from the institutions.

"This proceeding is truly damaging to both the victims and their families. It demotivates them. In fact, such a delay is tantamount to a denial of access to justice," said Georgi Elenkov, a lawyer with the National Network for Children.

Written by Tony Wesolowsky based on reporting by Genka Shikerova
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    Genka Shikerova

    Genka Shikerova has been an investigative correspondent in Sofia for RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service since 2020. She worked for many years at bTV and Nova TV.

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