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Friend cleared of Scientology kidnapping

Daily Telegraph, 15 March 1995

By JOHN STEELE, Courts Correspondent

A MAN who tried to remove a woman from the Church of Scientology was cleared of attempted kidnap yesterday after arguing that 'brainwashing' by the cult had turned her into a robot without the ability to decide whether she consented or not to leaving.

Stephen Cooper's 'victim', 23-year-old former shoe shop worker Miss Kathleen Wilson, told the jury that she was happy to be at the cult's headquarters at Saint Hill Castle in East Grinstead, East Sussex, and did not consent to being removed.

The court also heard he had admitted to police he intended to 'snatch her' against her will.

But Cooper, 27, who runs a newsagent's shop, was cleared at Lewes Crown Court of the charge by a jury which retired at 12.53pm, began their lunch at 1pm and returned with unanimous verdicts at 2pm.

His counsel, Mr John Tanzer, argued that, even though she claimed in court she did not consent to removal, it was possible her free will had been removed by the processes she had undergone in the cult and she did not have 'sufficient intelligence and understanding' to decide if she consented.

After the verdict, a delighted Cooper said: 'I wasn't confident. I thought the evidence was against me but the jury was fantastic. In my eyes, British justice has won today.'

Scientology officials took a different view, warning the verdict would act as a 'green light' to those who wanted to remove members from sects. Miss Wilson, a former flatmate of Cooper, said: 'I am outraged.

'I feel insulted by the verdict. Instead of judging Stephen, they judged me. I said I wanted to stay at Saint Hill and I meant it. I was not brainwashed.'

Mr Justice Hidden told the jury that Scientology was not on trial and that they did not have to decide if it was a cult or a religion.

The issue was Stephen Cooper's acts and intentions when he went to Saint Hill with another man on the night of Nov 6, 1992.

To prove attempted kidnap, the Crown had to establish four elements - an attempt to remove her, that it was by force, that it was without lawful excuse and that she did not consent.

The first two elements were not challenged - Mr Cooper admitted to police he went to snatch her, 'probably against her will', after being contacted by her mother - and the judge ruled he could not offer a defence of lawful excuse because that would require a belief that she faced physical danger. But the judge ruled that there could be a possible defence on the grounds of consent, even though Miss Wilson testified that she did not consent.

This enabled Mr Tanzer to tell the jury some of the evidence suggested a regime in which she was effectively enslaved and robbed of her free will.

'Kathleen Wilson was a victim. She was deprived of her own free will and Stephen Cooper sought to rescue her. She never said she wanted to be rescued but we say, simply, that is because she couldn't.

'If a member of our society is turned into a robot, turned into a slave, is that person consenting? A robot is programmed as to what to say. The person underneath has been suppressed and enslaved.'

Cooper, he said, was not a 'malign kidnapper using unwarranted force to take away a damsel manifestly not in distress'. Rather, he wanted to 'put her in a position' to make her own free choice.

Outside court, Cooper, from Saltburn, Cleveland, said the last two years had been a nightmare. He planned to marry Miss Lorna Bowden, 23, the one-time close friend of Miss Wilson.

'I was only interested in the welfare of Kathleen. We felt she had changed after joining them. Lorna said she was always easily-led and that she had to look after her at school.'

Verdict dashes cult hopes of ending sinister image


THE acquittal of Stephen Cooper is a major setback for the Church of Scientology in its efforts to dispel its image as a sinister and manipulative cult.

The decision will go down in the demonology of the cult - or, in its own terminology, on the ever-lengthening list of anti-Scientology 'suppressive acts' - alongside a bench-mark case in the family division of the High Court in 1984.

In that hearing Mr Justice Latey presided over a custody dispute between a father who was a committed Scientologist and a mother who had left the cult. The judge removed two children from the father and gave them to the mother. After a three-week trial in which he heard evidence about Scientology and its late founder, the science fiction writer turned spiritual guru, L Ron Hubbard, he said: 'Scientology is both immoral and socially obnoxious. In my opinion it is corrupt, sinister and dangerous.

'It is corrupt because it is based on lies and deceit and has as its real objective money and power for Mr Hubbard, his wife and those close to him at the top.

'It is sinister because it indulges in infamous practices, both to its adherents who do not toe the line unquestioningly and to those outside who criticise or oppose it.

'It is dangerous because it is out to capture people, especially children and impressionable young people, and indoctrinate and brainwash them so that they become the unquestioning captives and tools of the cult, withdrawn from ordinary thought, living and relationships with others.'

The cult, which offers endless press releases and glossy brochures to the media, has denounced the Latey hearing as a 'travesty of justice' in which it was not allowed to defend itself.

Scientology was created by Hubbard more than 40 years ago In essence, he suggests humans are reincarnated from the beginning of time and inside everyone there is a thetan - or spirit - trying to help the human improve. But the thetan is handicapped by engrams - bad thoughts or past misdeeds - which have to be cleared by the processes of Scientology known as dianetics, to guide the individual human towards spiritual enlightenment.

The central tool of dianetics is 'auditing with an e-meter', a machine which is used when Scientology members are quizzed by 'auditors' about their innermost thoughts.

Auditing, the theory goes, enables members to confront and overcome engrams. Within the cult there is a cadre of dedicated members known as 'Sea-Org' whose recruits sign a contract to work for a billion years and they audit their way 'up the bridge' of spiritual improvement towards the levels of 'clear and Operating Thetan'.

As evidence in the Cooper trial showed, cult members wear uniforms and the East Grinstead castle is patrolled by guards with handcuffs and heavy torches.

The jury heard of 'ethics officers' and 'ethics penalties' for those committing harmful acts.

The 'rehabilitation project force' was a euphemism for an internal disciplinary body.

Cooper's lawyers were unable to adduce the Latey judgement in his case but the detailed evidence before the judge in 1984 convinced him that Hubbard, who died in 1986, was a 'charlatan and worse' who had lied about his background and war record to promote himself and had created a quasi-religion to make money for himself and his cohorts.

The Daily Telegraph

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