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Cult Accused of Intimidation

The Sunday Times, 3 April 1994

by Richard Palmer

Police are investigating complaints that private investigators employed by the Church of Scientology, the cult created by L. Ron Hubbard, have intimidated witnesses and plaintiffs in forthcoming court cases.

The cult, which claims to have 300,000 members in Britain and 8m worldwide, has attempted to undermine its critics after coming under severe financial pressure in this country. It is anxious to protect its funds which are set to be drained further by a series of expensive civil actions brought by former members.

Some of them are seeking damages or the return of thousands of pounds from the cult, which uses controversial techniques to recruit people.

The cult's response has been to target those taking legal action and others who are helping them, accusing them of conducting a vendetta against their religion. Last week police in East Grinstead, West Sussex, sent a file to the Crown Prosecution Service after incidents during six days of demonstrations by scientologists outside the house of one witness, Jon Atack.

Atack, a former scientologist, has devoted the last 10 years to helping victims of the cult, which was branded corrupt, sinister, dangerous and immoral by a British judge in 1984. At present he is acting as an expert witness in 80 cases, including libel actions and criminal conspiracy cases.

Atack, who claims that at least 80 scientologists have committed suicide, knows more about the cult than most people, but he was not prepared for the ferocity of the onslaught of the past few weeks.

In an attempt to discredit him, scientology representatives distributed defamatory leaflets to his neighbours, accused him of being a drug dealer and told members of his family that he was going to prison.

He has also learned that someone has obtained confidential details of his bank statements. "I am frankly in fear of my life and I am frightened for my children," he said. "This has ruined my health and left me with very little money for 10 years now, but I am determined I will fight them to the death."

He is not the only victim. Sussex police are investigating complaints from Beverley Ryall, a solicitor in Chichester representing several former scientologists who are trying to retrieve subscriptions. She was woken at home at 12.15am two weeks ago by two unidentified officials from the cult's Bournemouth organisation who falsely accused her of possessing stolen documents. "These are intimidation tactics. They just want to make me feel bad about criticising them and representing former members," she said.

Gary Fry, 26, from Blandford, Dorset, was also visited. He left scientology two years ago and has helped others wanting to leave the cult's Bournemouth mission since he won back the 22,000 [British pounds] he paid out in fees over a two month period. Martin Francis, from Bristol, who left only a few weeks ago, was also harassed.

Much of the harrassment has been carried out by Eugene Ingram, an American private detective flown in from Los Angeles by the cult's head office in the United States, to target Atack and others involved in legal actions against the cult. Ingram, according to statements given under oath by a key Witness in an American court case, has boasted of "turning" a Los Angeles judge by setting him up with a prostitute and videotaping them having sex. Gary Scarff, a former member of the cult's paramilitary Office of Special Affairs, has testified that Ingram was also involved in a conspiracy to murder an opponent of scientology. The allegations are the subject of American police inquiries.

In 1987, Ingram was involved in a campaign to try to discredit and prevent publication of an unflattering biography of Hubbard, a science fiction writer, by Russell Miller, a Sunday Times journalist. Miller was harrassed for months and an attempt was made to frame him for murder.

Last week Ingram said he was investigating Atack as part of a criminal inquiry. One interviewee was even led to believe that Ingram was an FBI agent. "I am astonished that the police cannot protect a British subject from such an undesirable alien," said Atack.

When he was finally traced to a hotel in East Grinstead, Ingram was characteristically hostile: he even complained about being telephoned at his hotel. "I have never done anything illegal," he said, "I don't intimidate. I cannot discuss the nature of my business in this country, which is confidential to the client."

The complaints about the behaviour of scientology representatives have followed a series of financial and legal setbacks for the cult. In the last few weeks, it has been forced to pull out of two high-profile court cases and lost a third in the United States, where a court ordered it to pay $2.5m damages to a former member who complained of false imprisonment and alleged that scientology had ruined his business and his mental health.

However, Sheila Chaleff, the cult's spokeswoman, insisted it was the scientologists who were being harassed: "Enough is enough. They just want the freedom to be able to practise their religion in peace," she said.

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