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They've got a brand new castle, so are they happy or theetie weetie?

Daily Telegraph, 20 May 1991

Critics accuse it of being 'a global scam'. Followers say they find spiritual freedom. DAMIAN THOMPSON visits the headquarters of British Scientology.

It looks more like Disneyland than East Grinstead: a brand-new "medieval castle" with sandstone turrets, double-glazed windows and a vast landscaped forecourt. A door opens, and a young man in blue and gold braid naval uniform darts across the lawn, brow furrowed as he studies a clipboard. "Look- that's one of them," says the taxi driver. "We call them Synos. They're very unpopular here. You'll find anti-Syno graffiti all over town."

Saint Hill Castle is the British headquarters of the Church of Scientology, a religion founded in the 1950s by American science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. The castle was opened two years ago, though the Scientologists have actually been in town since 1959, when Hubbard bought the Georgian manor house next door.

To its adherents, Scientology is more than a church: it is a world-wide philanthropic organisation which is being persecuted by powerful enemies in the pharmaceutical industry and the psychiatric profession. It is perceived by its many critics, who include the FBI, the American Internal Revenue Service and some law courts, as a manipulative sect with fantastic doctrines which charges its followers astronomical fees and uses the profits to enrich its business empire.

The church is certainly sensitive to criticism. Shortly after the founder's death in 1986, the journalist Russell Miller wrote a book, Bare-Faced Messiah, which portrayed Hubbard as a pathological liar; for the next three years, he claims, members of the church made his life a misery, putting private detectives on his trail and allegedly giving false information about him to the police.

Two weeks ago, Scientology suffered another public relations disaster when Time Magazine carried a cover story headed The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power. Scientology posed as a church, it said, but in reality was allegedly "a ruthless global scam" which was attempting to turn itself into a mainstream religion. "The church is busy attracting the unwary through a wide array of front groups in publishing, consulting, health care and even remedial education," it wrote.

In East Grinstead, where Scientologists own several high street shops and are prominent members of the Chamber of Commerce, the nine-page article caused a sensation. "Cult under fire," said the headline in the East Grinstead Courier, which reported that local newsagents sold out of the magazine within minutes. Over in Los Angeles, meanwhile, the church drew up an impressive 80-page "Correction of Falsehoods:, describing the piece as "a lesson in how to manipulate 'facts' through omission and innuendo, to create a completely false picture."

Time Magazine claims church officials refused to be interviewed. At Saint Hill Castle, however, they were only too happy to lower the drawbridge. "Ask any question you like," they said.

The Rev Barbara Bradley, the church's American-born press officer, does not look like the agent of a ruthless global scam. IN fact, the very idea produces a schoolgirlish giggle. "That's just silly," she says. "Come and look for yourself."

Saint Hill Castle's thickly-carpeted entrance hall could be the lobby of an international hotel. Uniformed teenagers stand smartly to attention behind a vast semicircular reception desk; there are glossy leaflets everywhere. At the back of the room, there is a display of machines reminiscent of Frisbee discs in brightly coloured plastic. These are the famous E-meters, simple electronic devices which monitor spiritual progress through electrical skin activity. "They cost about UKP2,000, which might seem a lot," says Barbara, " But the technology is very sophisticated."

A little room next to the main entrance marked Founder's Office is carefully roped off. A naval cap sits on top of the desk, along with a cigar-cutter, a lighter and a gleaming brass E-meter. It is just as LRH left it -or might have, if he hadn't died before the castle was built.

In a library at the end of a cloister, students in jumpers and jeans are hunched over textbooks. A young man with a pony tail is holding a fluffy toy dog on his knee and clutching the ends of an E-meter; opposite him, another youth is studying the meter needle and asking the ,bdog questions. Barbara explains that he is practising "auditing": a question and answer procedure designed to clear subjects of deeply-buried neuroses. "We use the toy because you wouldn't train on a real person."

In a corner of the room, two women with frozen expressions are sitting motionless on chairs. "It's a basic communications drill," says Barbara. But there isn't time, she says, to go into all the details.

In the guest lounge, a leather-bound album records the Scientologists' participation in the community. There are pictures of Saint Hill's annual medieval fayre, which attracted a crowd of 3,000 last year; articles formn the local papers about the church's anti-drug campaigns, and dozens of letters to the editor from Scientologists on the same subject.

Thirty years after Hubbard's arrival, the Scientologists are part of the East Grinstead scenery: a hair-dressers' salon is run by Scientologists; so is G & G Vitamins, which supplies huge quantities of pills for a Scientologist diet called the "Purification Run-down". There is even a rumour, strongly denied by the church, that the aim is to have at least one member living in every street in the town.

Alan Larcombe, a local journalist who has been writing about the church since the beginning, believes Scientology has succeeded in changing its image. "They're very involved in the life of the town," he says. "We had an anti-litter drive, and practically the only people who took part were Scientologists. They don't put people's backs up the way they used to. There's a greater tolerance in the town."

But not from the local vicar. "The Scientologists are a bad and insidious element in the local community," says the Rev Roger Brown of St Swithin's, East Grinstead. "It's not a church, it's a front for charging people a lot of money for something it can't deliver."

One way of another, it all seems to boil down to money. Dr Paul Booth of Inform, the Government-sponsored information service on new religious movements, says Scientology brings in more calls from anxious relatives of church members than any other sect -and in most cases, he says, the problem is financial. "We're aware of several cases in which people have spent a lot more than they intended to on Scientology courses. They undoubtedly create some kind of dependence. People are told that if they just take one more course, then everything will fit into place."

Nonsense, says Barbara Bradley: Scientology is only expensive because it costs a lot to train skilled auditors. "We certainly don't encourage people to spend money they haven't got," she says.

A few years ago, Scientology's opponents were convinced that the operation was on the verge of collapse: one great assault by the American tax authorities, the argument went, and the edifice would come tumbling down. It never happened. Instead, an edifice went up. "It cost serious money to build that," says the taxi driver, pointing at the castle. "They've really dug their heels in. But I've got to watch what I say, because one of our drivers is one of them."

(Large picture of Saint Hill Castle. Caption: East Grinstead is learning to live with Saint Hill Castle: "They don't put people's backs up the way they used to. There's a greater tolerance in the town.")

(smaller picture of LRH auditing tomatoes)


The Church of Scientology is the creation of one of the 20th century's most colourful eccentrics: L. Ron Hubbard (1911-86), an author of pulp fiction who became a millionaire after inventing Dianetics, a do-it-yourself psychotherapy technique designed to cure human beings of unhappiness caused by early traumas.

In the 1950s, Hubbard (left) expanded the system into Scientology, which teaches that humans are actually thetans, spirits banished to earth 75 millions [sic] years ago by a cruel galactic ruler named Xenu.

Scientologists aim to reach a state of "clear", free from all malign influences. This can only be achieved by taking a series of courses, most of which cost several thousand pounds each. Scientologists believe in reincarnation, and claim their religion can be combined with all other faiths.

One curious feature of the church is its vocabulary. Its private navy is the "Sea Org"; non-Scientologists are "wogs" or "raw meat"; "dev-T" means wasting time and miserable people pretending to be happy are the unfortunate "theetie-weeties".

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