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Will Kathy ever come home?

Daily Mail, 2 May 1995

By Frances Hardy

LAST month, 27-year-old Stephen Cooper from Middlesborough was cleared of trying to abduct his former flatmate Kathleen Wilson from the controversial Church Of Scientology. Mr Cooper, a former shop manager, says he was attempting to rescue his 23-year-old friend from a cult that he believed had brainwashed her.

Kathleen's mother, 63-year-old divorcee Margaret Wilson, of Boosbeck, Cleveland, says she has lost her only child to the sect. She believes Kathy is enslaved to the organisation which a British judge described ten years ago as 'immoral, socially obnoxious, corrupt, sinister and dangerous'.

Kathleen, however, says since she became a full-time member of staff at the Church Of Scientology in East Grinstead, West Sussex, she has never been happier. So should Kathy come home? FEMAIL talked to all three parties to try to get to the bottom of this tangled emotional tale. In agreeing to allow Kathleen to be interviewed, the Church Of Scientology sent their own representative along to the interview . . .


MY MOTHER was 40 when I was born. She had stayed at home to look after her own mother, who had cancer, and had married late. My father, a bricklayer, was ten years older. He already had sons and grandchildren from a previous marriage.

I have not got happy recollections of childhood. My Mum seemed to find fault with everything I did. I used to like painting, but she said I was wasting my time because it wouldn't help me get a job.

She dressed me in dowdy colours and always found fault with my appearance. I never seemed to be able to please her. If I stayed in she accused me of never going out, but if I went out she would be awkward.

She could also be very nice at times. She was like two different people. Unpredictable. Pleasant one minute and disparaging the next.

My Dad left when I was 11. Mum told him to go. I'm sure she was jealous of the attention he paid to his previous family and the money he gave them. As far as I'm aware, she just asked him to leave.

When I started work (I was on a job training scheme sewing in a factory), Mum asked me to give her all my wages. She said she had handed over all her pay to her mother and she expected me to do the same. I didn't earn much - about L26-a-week - but I gave L16 to Mum without resentment. I believe she wanted control over our relationship. Perhaps she wanted me to be there for her all the time, as she had been for her own mother.

I was 19 when I moved to the South. Mum's criticism had become so bad that I just wanted to get away. Every time I applied for a job, she'd say: 'Oh, you won't get that, you're not nearly experienced enough.'

I travelled to Bognor Regis with one of my oldest schoolfriends, Lorna, and got a job in a garden centre. For a few weeks I shared a flat with Lorna and her boyfriend, Stephen Cooper, but we had a dispute over the rent. After that I moved into my own bedsit, though I continued to see them socially for the odd drink. I wouldn't claim Stephen as a close friend, although Lorna was. I am rather amazed at the concern he has since professed to have for me. Eventually I got a full-time job as a sales assistant in a shoe shop. I visited Mum a couple of times a year and she used to come down and see me for a week or so. She was always asking me to come back to the North, but every time I went home she would carp and find fault. Nothing had changed.

My interest in Scientology started when I was handed a leaflet which said we only used ten per cent of our mental potential. I sent off for a book and attended a couple of courses. I found they helped and I felt better able to communicate with people. It seemed an opening to a more fulfilling way of life. Although I had a job, I admit I often used to think: 'There must be more to life than this.'

I decided to leave the shoe shop and went to work as a nanny for a Scientologist family in Bournemouth. I looked after the two lads in the daytime and did Scientology courses at night. Then I went to another family with five children - Scientologists again - continuing my evening studies and supplementing them with work distributing leaflets.

I liked the friendly atmosphere in the Scientology office. I'd been used to gossip and backbiting, but everyone there was easy-going and people seemed genuinely interested in what I was doing.

In the summer of 1992, I decided to work full-time for Scientology. I became a member of the Sea Organisation based at East Grinstead. The Sea Org, as it's known, is the internal organisation to which all members of the Scientologists' staff belong. We wear a kind of naval uniform to reflect our status. I signed a billion-year contract as recognition of my dedication. I accepted that as a symbol of my commitment - it would carry me from this life to the next.

My mother has always believed she knows my mind, that she knows what is best for me. I'll be 24 in June and she still thinks she can make my decisions for me. Her ideal is that I live with her and look after her. She was always telling me about how devoted she was to her own mother. Now she is trying to make me feel guilty.

My life now is very fulfilling. In the morning I work as a librarian in the course room, then I study in the afternoon and evening. Soon I'll be moving to a house, owned by the Scientology Church, with its own swimming pool, gym and fitness instructor. I feel very lucky.

I have a boyfriend, too - Peter Howell, a member of the Sea Organisation. Relationships outside the group are very rare. They do not seem to work because there is not the shared sense of purpose.

The Sea Organisation has a moral code which says there should be no sex before marriage and monogamy in marriage. I am happy to abide by the code. It is a question of survival. When you work together as closely as we do within the group, sexual relationships outside marriage could cause problems. As for my mother, if she wanted to see me, she could come down any time she wanted - there is nothing to stop her. She has refused to stay at East Grinstead, although I have invited her.

It was one night last November that Stephen Cooper tried to snatch me away. I was walking with some friends up to the staff bus when suddenly a fellow I could not clearly see, but whom I later realised was Stephen, jumped towards me.

There was a lot of scuffling and kicking, then I saw a rottweiler dog which they tried to scare us with. But the attempt failed. The dog ran off and my friends got me to safety.

In court, when I heard the verdict - that Stephen was not guilty of attempted kidnap because I had been brainwashed and did not know my own mind - I was outraged. I'm not brainwashed. I am happier here than I have ever been. I can never envisage leaving here and since the incident with Stephen I have not felt like going home. Yet despite everything she is still my mother and I cannot write her off. I would just like her to be straight with me.

There is a chance that I will marry Peter - if he asked me I would say Yes - and I would want my mother to be at the wedding, of course I would. But I don't know how she would feel about that.


I MARRIED late, at 38. My husband was 12 years older and already had children. I gave up work so that I could devote myself full-time to her. I used to walk her to school four times a day with our dog Bess.

She wasn't clever academically and left school at 16, but she was very artistic. She tried her hand at everything - music, stained glass making. I bought her a keyboard for L300 and used to love listening to her practising. I used to say: 'Open the door wider so that I can listen.'

She could have gone to music college at Redcar but she didn't stick at anything for long. She got a job painting little models and she was good at it. She loved painting and I encouraged her. I even went to art classes with her because she wanted me to.

I don't think I was strict with her, although I wouldn't let her stay out all night. They learn about the facts of life at school these days, don't they? But I used to tell my daughter that going on the Pill was wrong and that you should wait until you get married - like we did. She didn't seem all that interested in boys though.

I don't think I was critical of her and it isn't fair of her to say that I split up with my husband just so I could have her to myself. I blame his family for the failure of our marriage. We got on well and went lots of places together.

Kathy left because there isn't much to do in Boosbeck. I love it here in the country but I would give it all up to have her back. I'd even sell this house and go and live with her. We could go on holidays like we used to. She loved that.

As a girl she was always gullible. She would fall for every so-called free offer that came through the letterbox, whereas I throw them straight on the fire. My mother taught me that you have to work for what you get - and she was right. I've never been in debt and the only time I have ever been in a court of law was through all this.

I remember telling her to join a church youth club when she went down South - Catholic, Church Of England, Methodist, it didn't matter. I must have had a premonition. I was afraid even before it happened that she might be tempted to join a cult or something.

As soon as she went to East Grinstead, everything changed. I didn't even get a Mother's Day card this year - the first time that has ever happened. The last time she was in this house was two-and-a-half years ago. It was about the case and she came with one of their solicitors. She hardly spoke to me. I went down there to see her. The Scientology people said they would pick me up and find me somewhere to stay. I thought my daughter and I would have some time together, but she arrived late every night and she was exhausted after working from dawn to dusk. She just flopped on the bed tired out.

One day she promised we would go out together and we arranged to meet. But then she arrived in a car with one of them - they seem to go everywhere with her.

Some nights I don't sleep thinking about her. I have tried phoning but that's no use. I once put L5 in 10p pieces into the phone box down the road while they kept me hanging on and hanging on saying they were trying to find her.

I only ever got through once and when I asked her to come home she said: 'They won't let me.' That stayed in my mind and keeps me going. It's why I don't give up. People say: 'Don't bother with her; get on with your life', but what she said that one time keeps me thinking that it's worth trying to get her back.

They told me outside the court that I was being selfish wanting her back, that it's only so she can look after me. That's nonsense. I can look after myself. And if she is saying that, too, it's only because they've put the idea into her head. I just want her away from there because as far as I'm concerned she is a prisoner.


MY GIRLFRIEND Lorna Bowden and Kathleen had been the best of friends since they were 11. I think there was an element of protectiveness in the friendship as Kathleen was rather quiet and slow intellectually.

We used to go out as a threesome to the Lake District. I never resented Kathleen's presence - far from it, she was a nice girl, and when we moved to West Sussex, Kathleen came along, too. We agreed that as a temporary measure she could live with us in our rented flat in Bognor Regis.

We knew nothing about Scientology until Kathleen moved to Poole in Dorset to take up a nannying job and sent us some personal assessment forms. We filled in the forms to please Kathleen then sent them off to East Grinstead. A woman >from the cult came to see us and gave me a personality assessment. She asked whether we wished to join a course, but we declined. Nonetheless we were pursued relentlessly. Eventually I had my mobile phone disconnected to avoid them.

Kathleen continued to keep in touch by letter. She wrote extolling Scientology and saying how much it could help us. She mentioned nothing else. We assumed it was a fad and did not worry unduly until she went to work full-time for the cult.

We did not hear from her for two-and-a-half years and we began to feel quite anxious. Then, at the beginning of November, 1992, Lorna had a phone call. Kathleen said she was going to America with the Scientologists but that she didn't really want to go. She mentioned that there were a few things she wanted to sort out and asked to see Lorna.

Lorna arranged to see Kathleen the next day at 3pm. We waited at the house belonging to the cult where she lived, but she didn't turn up. A woman there told us she had gone to London to get a visa. We went to the castle - the Scientology HQ is a modern castellated building - in case she was waiting there, but again we were told she was in London.

The next day Lorna spoke to Kathleen and arranged to meet her at the castle at 6 pm that evening. The place was bristling with security guards. Kathleen was waiting with a PR woman and a gentleman called Austin Lennison, the Scientology ethics officer.

They seemed perfectly friendly and had put on a huge spread of food, but the atmosphere was very disquieting. Every time we asked Kathleen a question, one of the others would answer for her. All she actually said was 'Hello', and when Mr Lennison tapped on his watch at 6.45 pm and said: 'Kathleen, it's time', she said: 'I've got to go now and start work.'

I knew Kathleen loved dogs, so I told her I had a new one, a rottweiler, in the car and asked if she would like to see it. Mr Lennison leapt in with: 'I'd like to see it,' so we went and got the dog.

Just as we were leaving, Kathleen said quietly to Lorna: 'I catch the bus at 10.30 pm.' We took it as a signal that she wanted us to be there.

There was no pre-conceived plan to abduct Kathleen. I simply construed her words as a cry for help and formed a plan in my mind to get her to a place where she could talk freely to us. Lorna did not even know of my intentions. On the day we had driven to see Kathleen, our neighbour and friend Barry Brown had come with us. So there were three of us in the car, and the dog, when we returned to meet Kathleen at the turning circle where the buses leave to take Scientology HQ staff home.

We saw her walking along with Austin Lennison and a security guard. I said: 'Kathleen, you can have a lift with us' and pushed Austin Lennison out of the way. But he knocked me to the ground and shouted 'Back up! Back up!' into his radio.

Suddenly guards seemed to appear out of nowhere. I was scared for my own safety and shouted to Lorna to let the dog out of the car. He ran towards me, I grabbed him, got back into the car and we sped off. Another car spun behind us then started to chase us.

I thought that would be the last of it, but later I was asked to go to Chichester police station to make a statement. I said then that I fully intended grabbing Kathleen and taking her away with us to a place where she could speak freely. I believed that she was being kept there against her will. I still do.

From the time when I was charged with kidnap until the case came to court, I have lived a waking nightmare. Now the Scientologists are even threatening to take a civil case against me for the emotional strain caused to Kathleen. Yet if Kathleen arrived on our doorstep today and said she needed help, we'd take her in. We wouldn't think twice. She was one of Lorna's closest friends and she is still a nice girl at heart.

GRAPHIC: A brief reunion for mother and daughter outside court after Stephen Cooper was cleared of attempted kidnap Today, Stephen Cooper still believes Kathleen is being kept by Scientologists against her will Kathleen says she is very happy and cannot envisage that she will ever leave

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