Sicilian fires recall nanny's 'witch' ordeal

EVEN amid the folklore and superstition which is woven through the fabric of rural Italy, it is a phenomenon which Sicilians have never faced before: a series of unexplained fires, arising in household appliances, even when the electricity is switched off.

But as the village of Canneto di Caronia remained deserted yesterday amid claims that demonic spirits were to blame for the blazes, the hysteria had an all too familiar ring for one Scottish mother.

In the 1980s, Carole Compton went on trial in Italy, branded a witch and a sorceress who used supernatural powers to start fires in the homes where she was employed as a nanny.

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Last night, she was attempting to block from her mind the happenings in Canneto di Caronia, which bring sinister echoes of the ordeal which led to her spending 16 months in an Italian jail.

"What happened to me is something that never goes away," she said, from the home she shares with her husband, Zaroof Fazal, and their three school-age children in Yorkshire.

"It was a dreadful ordeal, and all this doesn’t help. I don’t know what’s happening over there now, and I don’t want to. I have a happy life now. I try not to think about the past."

Italian officials remained at a loss yesterday to explain the cause of the recent events in Canneto di Caronia. Pedro Spinnato, the mayor of the village near Messina, ordered residents to evacuate their homes on Tuesday, to allow investigations to be carried out.

The move follows a series of fires in recent weeks, which have seen fridges, cookers, televisions, washing machines and mobile telephones burst into flames spontaneously in 12 different homes.

Enel, the Italian utility company, cut the power to the town after the first reports but the fires have continued.

Officials are now trying to discover if an electromagnetic disturbance, caused by a natural phenomenon, or a problem in the electrical supply network, is to blame.

However, yesterday, fears were escalating that supernatural powers are at play.

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Father Gabriel Amorth, the Vatican’s chief expert on exorcisms, indicated that the Roman Catholic Church has not ruled out the possibility of demonic intervention.

According to the Italian daily newspaper, Il Messagero, he said: "I’ve seen things like this before. Demons occupy a house and appear in electrical goods. Let’s not forget that Satan and his followers have immense powers."

The Italian government was yesterday braced for the fact that one of Europe’s richest and most industrialised nations is once again hitting headlines around the world as a country where superstition and fear of the paranormal remain part of modern culture.

The authorities were deeply embarrassed in 1982 when Ms Compton was arrested amid claims that she was a witch with powers of pyrokinesis - the supernatural ability to start fires by thought alone.

The young Scotswoman’s ordeal began in 1982, when she went to Italy with an Italian man she had fallen in love with in her home town of Ayr.

She found a job caring for the children of the Ricci family in an exclusive area of Rome. But within weeks she was linked to objects and religious paintings flying or falling around her, and a number of fires which broke out in holiday homes used by the Riccis.

Another fire also broke out in the bedroom of the Riccis’ two-year-old son, Emanuele.

When told she was no longer needed, the nanny moved to another family, but again, objects were said to have inexplicably fallen off walls in her presence.

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When the cot of her three-year-old charge, Agnese, caught fire, she was arrested.

The grandmother of one of the children accused her of being a sorceress, and although she was not charged with witchcraft, this formed the basis of the accusations against her. Italian officials were hugely embarrassed at the panic surrounding her trial, where Italians used crucifixes and amulets to ward off evil.

She was found guilty of arson and attempted arson, although a charge of attempted murder was dismissed.

She was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, but having spent 16 months in jail on remand, she was freed immediately.

After her release she published Superstition: The True Story of The Nanny They Called A Witch, a book which included evidence from experts who suggested she was the unwitting victim of a poltergeist.

Today, she has created a new life with her husband and children in West Yorkshire. However, it seems the superstition which led to her imprisonment is still rampant in the land she once called home.

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