Concerns continue to be raised about the relationship between a controversial church and the Croydon Conservative Party.
SPAC Nation has been described as an “extremely dangerous organisation” by Steve Reed who is standing for re-election as MP in Croydon North.
The church meets every Sunday at different locations around London and on its website describes itself as getting gang members to give up their weapons and join the church.
But an investigation published by HuffPost UK earlier this month found that some young people were being pressured into taking out loans to give to the church.
As well as financial exploitation, concerns about safeguarding issues and even sexual abuse have also been raised.
Police are examining allegations but no criminal investigation has been launched.
The church holds services in different locations across the capital and shelters young people who have joined the church in what it describes as “trap houses”.
It is believed that three of these are based in Croydon.
Mr Reed told us: “The church leaders encourage politicians and senior police officers to come to their churches and say they have stopped young people becoming gang members.
“Where it went beyond that was in the Fairfield by-election where the Conservatives put up a candidate that was a pastor in this organisation.”
Earlier this month one pastor from the church, Jayde Edwards ran for the Conservative Party In a Croydon Council by-election.
The 20-year-old got 537 votes, missing out on being elected to represent Fairfield to Labour’s Caragh Skipper, with 849 votes.
Mr Reed added: “I tweeted my concerns about SPAC Nation and I got inundated with phone calls from people, people telling me they have been criminally exploited. I took the allegations to the police.
“I think the Conservatives covered it up. It is immoral to say the least and illegal possibly.
“One of the concerns I’ve got about Mario Creatura (Conservative Croydon councillor and parliamentary candidate for Croydon Central) was he saw allegations were being made publicly, but be gave members of SPAC access to the electoral register. It is highly irresponsible.”
He is referring to members of the organisation being given the information during canvassing for the Fairfield by-election.
Mr Reed is concerned that the church is operating across the capital and he thinks that more than a dozen local authorities, including Croydon, should be looking into the safeguarding issues.
After he raised initial concerns he had a meeting with head pastor Tobi Adegboyega.
Mr Reed said here the pastor told him that the allegations were from “disgruntled individuals”.
But he admits that politicians across the board were taken in by the organisation.
“Politicians of all parties have been hoodwinked into going to church services, believing it was a church. I don’t criticise the people who were hoodwinked in this way,” said Mr Reed.
“But the Croydon Conservatives went one step further to outsource a campaign to the church. When the allegations came they did not disown their candidate.”
Cllr Creatura did not respond to a request for a statement but Conservative colleague, Councillor Jason Cummings, was adamant that the local party has no connection to the church.
Cllr Cummings said: “We don’t have any involvement with the church at all.
“Jayde Edwards is a member of that church and a member of the Conservative Party. In the same way a significant number of our activists are members of other churches, mosques or gurdwaras.
“There is no difference between Jayde and anyone else. We have no professional relationship with SPAC Nation at all.
“If people have any information about any criminal activity they should take it to the police. It is not our responsibility to look into.
“Anytime anyone raises concerns of this nature about any organisation it is right that they are investigated. That is a matter for the investigating authorities.
“One of the things that should be looked at is the links the Labour party has had. Sarah Jones was on Victoria Derbyshire promoting SPAC Nation. It is a little bit rich that things are thrown at us.”
In February 2018 Labour’s Sarah Jones, who is standing to re-election in Croydon Central, appeared on the BBC 2 programme alongside SPAC Nation members praising the church for its work with gang members.
She has since raised concerns about the group herself. On November 8, she tweeted: “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.”
Ms Jones added that she passed on the information to the Charity Commission and police.
As for what happens now, Mr Reed wants to see the church closed down and support for young people leaving the church.
He said: “There has to be a through investigation into the allegations and I would like to see the church closed down and see the the authorities take protective measures to stop them recruiting vulnerable young people.
“There are an awful lot of highly traumatised and damaged young people who need help they are not getting.”
Mr Reed accompanied a group of former SPAC Nation worshippers to speak to police officers about the allegations.
He said: “The allegations of financial exploitation is very worrying, but really grim allegations of sexual abuse was the most upsetting.
“I think this is an extremely dangerous organisation that is targeting vulnerable young people.”
A spokesperson from the Metropolitan Police confirmed that it is looking into allegations made against the church.
“We have received allegations that pertain to potential fraud and other possible offences that relate to SPAC Nation,” said the spokesperson.
“Officers are reviewing the allegations to identify if any criminal offences have potentially been committed. Once this review is complete, a decision will be made as to whether a criminal investigation is launched. We cannot comment any further at this time.”
When contacted, Croydon Council could not confirm whether it was investigating the organisation.
A spokesperson said: “We do not comment on safeguarding concerns related to individuals or specific organisations, but we are there to offer support. If anyone is worried about someone at risk, or feels at risk themselves, please contact our safeguarding team on 0208 726 6400, or on 0208 255 2888, if urgent.”
SPAC Nation and Jayde Edwards did not respond to requests for comment.