Bid to Muzzle Us Fails
News of the World, 4 May 1969, front page
An attempt by a section of the Scientologists to muzzle the News of the World has failed. Last week, more than three years after issuing a writ against us for alleged libel concerning its "Mind Cult," the Hubbard Association of Scientologists dropped the action.
They are to pay a considerable sum to cover the legal costs we incurred in preparing to defend the action.
The Scientologist [text not readable] their action was heard before Master Bickford Smith in chambers.
He approved the application on conditions:
1 - That no further action is brought by them on the same ground;
2 - That they pay all the costs.
Only the previous week the plaintiffs had gone to the Court of Appeal to say that a witness was unavailable and to ask for the libel case, which was then imminent, to be postponed.
The court granted a delay of not more than a week - and warned that further such applications by the Mind Cult would not be received sympathetically.
ROBERT WARREN writes:
The dispute was over an article which appeared in the paper in January, 1966. It was the first to mention the way in which Scientology, then a little known but rapidly growing fringe group, tended to break up family life.
Following that story and subsequent public outcry, the cult has now stopped the process of "disconnection" - the way in which followers were told to write to the friends and families saying they would have nothing more to do with them unless they took up Scientology.
I wrote the article after speaking to such a family. And a very distressing story it was.
Mrs. Anne Stainforth had received a letter from Zandra, her 18-year- old daughter, who had become a Scientologist and gone to work as a clerk at the cult's headquarters, Saint Hill Manor, near East Grinstead, Sussex.
The letter said: "This is to inform you that unless you have some training and processing I will disconnect from you as I feel that you are invalidative of me and Scientology.
"I am willing to help you in any way if you want, but until then I am not going to communicate with you or accept any communication from you.
"I am doing this of my own free will and for my own betterment, Love Zandra."
Mrs. Stainforth was shocked. So was her elder daughter Maureen, who received a similar letter.
They did not feel that Zandra was likely to write that sort of letter of her own free will. They suspected that she had been urged to write them by somebody at Saint Hill Manor. So they brought them to us.
I went to Saint Hill Manor. And there I saw copies of similar letters pinned on an office notice board. The originals had been sent to relatives and friends of Scientologists all over the world. Since then I have discovered many cases of families split by "disconnection."
But the Scientologists and Lafayette Ron Hubbard, their rich American founder, refused to discuss this with me. So did Zandra and her brother, Michael, who had also become a Scientologist.
We headlined our story: "Let's hear from you, Mr. Hubbard."
Indirectly, we did.
His solicitors wrote to complain about the article. They gave us seven days to apologise for what we had said and pay damages and costs. We refused.
Eight months later we received a writ from the Hubbard Association of Scientologists International.
Within weeks we were ready to defend the action in the High Court. But it was to be three years before the case was withdrawn.
Twice we applied for the action to be struck off for want of prosecution. Each time the Hubbard Association said they intended to proceed.
Finally, it was due to be heard last month. At the last moment the plaintiffs said they could not get hold of their witnesses and asked for an adjournment.
Mr Justice Paull called their application ridiculous.
The Scientologists said their main witness, Michael Stainforth, was in a ship and they did not know where it was.
The Judge suggested that they use wireless to find him and refused their application.
The Scientologists took their plea to the Court of Appeal, where three Lords Justices granted a deferment of up to a week and warned that "any further application will certainly not be received with any sympathy." They said the Scientologists had been "dragging their feet."
The next day the Hubbard Association's legal representatives contacted ours and said they wanted to withdraw the action.
This they did last week before a Master in Chambers.
When Zandra Stainforth wrote her letters, Scientology was little known in Britain. It had been the subject of a Government inquiry in Victoria, Australia, and then banned in that State.
There were vehement criticisms of the cult in the Australian report, a document which should be read by anyone attracted to Scientology.
At the time the report was published, Hubbard was still calling himself "Doctor" and claimed to be a disillusioned nuclear physicist, an explorer, a botanist, an inventor - and one of those very rare people who have visited Venus.
Since then he has left this country - he did so soon after our article appeared - and has been told by the Home Office not to return.
Hubbard has also been banned from Australia, Rhodesia and Greece.
He has renounced his title of "Doctor" - though no one knows where he got it in the first place - and taken his movement to sea in a fleet of ships. The largest, Apollo, was last reported heading for Northern Europe after being ordered out of Corfu by the Greek Government.
Hubbard's movement has been described in the House of Commons as "socially harmful, " its methods "a serious danger to the health of those who submit to them."
And Hubbard's response has been an almost hysterical attack on orthodox medicine and psychiatry. At the same time he issues statements saying he no longer has any control over the cult. Now Scientology's income in Britain has dropped. Much of it depended on foreign money, particularly from America.
Last summer, the Home Office stopped people coming into the country to study Scientology and this weakened the British organisation.
But Lafayette Ron Hubbard is not beaten yet. He has an enormous international organisation. Every detail is regulated by written orders. The members are intensely loyal and discipline is strict. Defaulters are punished, sometimes severely. Their loyalty is rewarded.
Hubbard has come a long way from the days before he published his original hotchpotch of a thesis - Dianetics the Modern Science of Mental Health.
I have traced his brainchild back to its source - in Pasadena, California.
Those were the days. Shortly after the war, when Hubbard, poor and just out from a psychiatric ward in a U.S. Navy hospital, lived in a van in the garden of a house in Orange Grove Avenue.
There he wrote and re-wrote Dianetics. His previous writing had been science fiction, but Dianetics was published as a serious work.
And in craze-prone America of the early 1950s, his theories became popular. It was on this unsteady base of mental processing that he built his international Scientology empire.
And its success, as Mr. Kenneth Robinson, the former Minister of Health, said in the Commons last year, was based on the policy of directing itself "deliberately towards the weak, the unbalanced, the immature, the rootless and mentally and emotionally unstable."
Another attack was made by Mr. Peter Hordern, the Conservative MP for Horsham, who said: "The public has been hampered in its knowledge of Scientology by the fact that, as far I can establish, on every occasion that the organisation has been named by a newspaper, the newspaper has been served with a writ for libel."
The News of the World agrees with these statements.
[end of article]
Transcription by Andreas Heldal-Lund