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Just The Worst Two Years Of My Life

IN THE second part of his special investigation into the Church of Scientology, Argus chief reporter PAUL BRACCHI talks to a man who travelled 3,000 miles to join the Sussex-based cult.

[A very small picture of Mr. Bracchi is shown, as in yesterday's article. A large picture, in the center of page 6, is shown of a man wearing a neat denim shirt, labelled: "Above: Nowell Matandirotya. "I feel I was exploited" A smaller picture shows a grim stone mansion, with the caption "Right: Saint Hill Manor, near East Grinstead, HQ of the Sea Organisation, the church's civil service.]

THIS man left his family, his job, and his country to take up a scholarship in Britain.

He lived to regret his decision.

Nowell Matandirotya says coming to study Scientology in Sussex turned out to be the worst two years of his life.

His 3,000-mile trip from Zimbabwe, on an air ticket paid for by the cult, eventually ended in a room like the one pictured on the opposite page.

The photograph taken two years ago but published for the first time today, speaks for itself. It shows the cramped conditions inside Stonelands, Scientology's biggest hostel in Sussex.

[The corner of a bare room is shown with three iron, army-style double bunks. One pair of bunks is across a window. Some have sleeping bags, some blankets. One bag is occupied. Clothing lies on the floor. A dozen or so Disney cartoon characters appear on the walls, each perhaps 8 or 10 inches tall. The caption: "LEFT: The cramped conditions in a dorm at Stonelands and, below left, Stonelands itself." The same picture of Stonelands printed yesterday appears, much reduced in size. A third picture shows a man seated, holding an open books. Caption: "Ken Brown: Help for escapers from the cult." Yesterday's picture of Mr. Hubbard's face appears again with the same words: "SCIENTOLOGY: THE INSIDE STORY."]

This is where members of the Sea Organisation, the military-style wing of the cult, live and sleep.

L. Ron Hubbard, the science fiction writer who founded the alternative religion, called the group the "aristocracy of Scientology."

But new recruits have to carry out menial tasks like cleaning toilets, clearing paths, and emptying bins.

Nowell, 27, said: "I feel I was exploited. If I had only known. If I had been enlightened in Zimbabwe about Scientology as a cult I wouldn't have come."

He is not alone.

Three of his countrymen, who do not wish to be identified, also came to "study" at Saint Hill, the UK headquarters of the cult.

They tell a similar story.

The Zimbabwean government has now condemned Scientology, the Evening Argus has learned. It warned people not to get involved with the church after the plight of the trio was highlighted in the local Press.

The statement, issued by the Ministry of Information, Posts, and Telecommunications, was faxed to us by the The Chronicle newspaper in Bulawayo.

It said the cult, which has offices in the city and the capital Harare, was nothing more than a "profitable global racket".

Peter Mansell, director of public affairs at Saint Hill, said he knew nothing of the criticisms. And he denied people like Nowell were being exploited.

He said: "We are about the least discriminatory of any organisation I have ever encountered. We have woman ministers and woman executives. One of our fairly senior executives is an African woman."

Back home in Zimbabwe, Nowell had a job working for a private security firm in the capital Harare.

The ticket:

But his life was to change after a friend told him about Scientology.

Nowell said: "He described it as a training institute."

On January 22, 1990, he went to find out more about the alternative religion at an office in the State Lottery Building at the corner of Julius Nyrere and Speke Avenue.

He read a book. He took a course. And eventually he became a full-time staff member.

Later, he says, he was approached by two officials from Saint Hill who invited him to come to Britain.

The cult paid for his ticket and arranged his visa.

This is one of the letters of introduction for people coming to study Scientology here. "Mr... is hereby granted a scholarship to study at the Hubbard College of Scientology, Saint Hill Manor. The scholarship covers course fees, room and board, and a basic allowance."

Nowell said: "To me it sounded really exciting." But his excitement was short-lived.

The hostel:

He ended up sleeping first at Brook House on the outskirts of East Grinstead, which burned down in December 1991, then Stonelands in West Hoathly in a room with about 30 others.

One man who has been inside Stonelands is Ken Brown who runs a night shelter in Crawley.

Ken, who befriended one of the other Zimbabweans after he left the cult, said: "The place had a feeling, not just of squalor, but of despair about it. So much so that I wanted to shed tears, and still do whenever I think about it."

He told of peeling wails, cheap and shabby furniture, and iron bunk beds three tiers high stacked in as close as possible." A stark contrast to the splendour of Saint Hill.

Mr Mansell said: "Go to the Vatican and see the opulence that exists there and compare that with the conditions in a nunnery. They are two totally different things."

The cult has now spent 671,000 for a new staff hostel in Crowborough.

Mr Mansell said: "We are really happy with the new building. It will give all of us more space and more room in much better conditions."

The contract:

On his arrival, Nowell had to sign a bizarre "billion year" contract with the Sea Organisation. Then he was handed a set of overalls and assigned to the Estate Project Force (EPF).

His "studies" were about to begin. Those in the EPF, the lowest rung of the Sea Organisation, carry out menial tasks at Saint Hill like cleaning the toilets, emptying the bins, and raking leaves off the lawn, according to former cult members.

Those duties, Nowell said, lasted six weeks. He was eventually given a naval-style uniform and a Job in the bookstore at Saint Hill.

At night Nowell would return to his bed and think about the life he had left behind in Zimbabwe.

He said: "I had to find my way out."

The statement:

"To escape from the clutches of Scientology calls for great courage and resolution."

These are the words of High Court Judge Mr Justice Latey in 1984.

On May 8, 1992, one year before he left the cult, Nowell was asked to make a statement by Saint Hill officials.

It followed inquiries by a national newspaper into the way he and others were being treated. The document, bearing his signature and painting a rosy picture of Scientology, was made available to the Press. The story never appeared.

That same statement was faxed to the Evening Argus after we approached the church. Asked whether any pressure was put on him, Mr Mansell replied: "Absolutely not at all."

Here are some of the points of difference between what he was alleged to have said THEN and what he says NOW:

1992: "I wasn't recruited by anyone."

1994: "I was approached by two recruiting officers from Saint Hill."

1992: "I had full understanding of the aims of the Church of Scientology."

1994: "If I had been enlightened in Zimbabwe about Scientology as a cult I wouldn't have come."

1992: "I didn't have any difficulties with the food. I found it Okay."

1994: "I had a running tummy all the time. I couldn't stand it."

1992: "I don't regard Ron (Hubbard) as Jesus. I don't pray to him."

1994: "I didn't like the idea of worshipping L. Ron Hubbard ... people were asked to clap hands facing his photos or his statues."

1992: "I have a sense of direction of where my life is leading, as compared to the wasted days of before I came into Scientology."

1994: "It was a period of great depression."

Asked whether Scientology uses unscrupulous methods to silence critics, Mr Mansell replied: "It is completely and totally not the church policy to do that. If there ever was, or had been an instance, we would be first ones to take action.

That was not the view of Mr Justice Latey.

He concluded: "If a person seeks to escape from Scientology his files are taken by the intelligence bureau and used, if wished, to pressure him into silence.

"They are often so used and uncontraverted evidence of this has been given at this hearing."

The final chapter:

On May 3 1993, exactly one year after he signed his statement, Nowell did finally leave.

He was helped by Bonnie and Richard Woods who run ESCAPE, the East Grinstead-based Christian support group.

Nowell was to return to Saint Hill with the couple just once more to collect his passport.

But cult officials accused him of stealing 1,000 and making unauthorised phone calls and refused to hand it over.

The police were called. Nowell was taken to East Grinstead for questioning but was released without charge. His passport was returned at the request of the police.

For the past year Nowell has been living in a safe house somewhere in Sussex. Earlier this month, he returned to Zimbabwe to see his mother and sister.

Friends gave him the money for his air fare. He is okay.

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