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Cult rescue bid was no kidnap, jury decides

The Independent, 15 March 1995

The Church of Scientology was dealt a blow yesterday when Stephen Cooper, a shop manager, was cleared by a jury of trying to kidnap a 'brainwashed' cult member. Scientologists were outraged by the verdict because Mr Cooper had confessed to the attempt, but pleaded in his defence that his former flatmate had been robbed of her free will by the cult.

Mr Cooper, 27, said he had tried to rescue Kathleen Wilson back from the sect because the church had changed her personality and brainwashed her. He also said her elderly mother was worried about Miss Wilson, who was intending to go to Los Angeles for 'further training' with the church.

His defence counsel, John Tanzer, had compared his actions to dragging a woman back as she tried to jump off a 10-storey building. Mr Tanzer had said: 'Our case is simply Kathleen Wilson was a victim. That she was deprived of her own free will and that Mr Cooper sought to rescue her.'

The snatch attempt, in the grounds of the sect's headquarters at Saint Hill Manor in East Grinstead, West Sussex, was foiled when other Scientologists came to Miss Wilson's aid. The jury at Lewes Crown Court cleared Mr Cooper of Saltburn-by-the-Sea, Cleveland, of attempted kidnap and affray.

After the case Miss Wilson, 23 a former shoe-shop worker, who attended every day of the week-long trial, said: 'I am really angry because they have put me on trial.

'I feel insulted by the verdict. They are saying that I am brainwashed, but I have a mind of my own. Other people don't understand what Scientology is about. I am really upset.'

After the verdict Mr Cooper said: 'All I was interested in was the welfare of Kathleen Wilson. This case has been two and a half years of pure nightmare. Now hopefully I can put it behind me. I am so relieved that it is all over. The jury were absolutely fantastic. In my eyes, British justice has won.'

During the trial the jury was told how recruits to the church undergo counselling, called 'auditing' and reveal their innermost secrets, called 'withholds' while holding tin cans attached to an 'E-meter'.

Greg Ryerson, director of special affairs for the church, said 'The verdict is an insult. It is outrageous. There is no evidence as to brainwashing. The defence has taken bigotry, thrown it against the wall and then seen what sticks.'

During the trial Miss Wilson had an emotional reunion with her mother, Margaret, 63; they had not seen each other since the incident more than two years ago. Although they embraced, they argued about the effects of Scientology.

Margaret Wilson said: 'The cult has changed and altered her mind. It is heartbreaking to think I may never see her again. I cry myself to sleep at night.'

The Independent, Home 4

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