Over the years popular culture has mocked Scientology at almost every opportunity, but it’s a religion you make light of at your own peril.
In Louis Theroux’s recent documentary My Scientology Movie, a series of bizarre exchanges and the threat of legal action meant he was barely able to scratch the surface of the church – although what he did discover hinted at a dark truth behind the secretive organisation.
With Louis and his team unable to speak to present Scientologists, they turned to apostates and set about recreating serious allegations of physical abuse by the church’s leader David Miscavige towards his underlings, allegations the church has always strongly denied.
Time and time again Scientology has failed to take the opportunity to paint itself as the socially progressive movement it thinks it is.
After all this, you’ll understand why.
We spoke to four ex-Scientologists who allege to have witnessed countless laws being broken by the church here in Britain, many in fact at the church’s HQ at Saint Hill Manor in East Grinstead.
First we met Sharone Stainforth. She was a cadet on board the Apollo as a pre-teen in the late 60’s, a flagship of the Sea Org – an organisation which Scientology describe as a ‘fraternal religious order, comprising the church’s most dedicated members’.
Founder L.Ron Hubbard used the boat to travel around the Mediterranean for ‘research purposes’, but many believe it was to avoid paying tax to U.S authorities.
Sharone says that the harrowing experiences she witnessed on-board the ship, involving child labour and abuse, live with her to this day.
She is now 60-years-old and claims that children on board were seen as an ‘irrelevance’ being made to work doing menial jobs like chipping off rust.
Any disobedience or questioning of Scientology would result in harsh punishments, as Sharone soon found out.
We were on the Greek Island of Corfu and me, 11 and my friend, 12 were seen chatting to Greek boys. When we came back on the ship it was decided we were a security risk, we were instantly segregated, interrogated and put in the hold [of the ship]. It was an absolutely terrifying experience.
And she wasn’t the only person who alleged to experience first hand the abuse that children suffer while in the care of the church.
John Duignan, 51, explained that while he was in the church he knew of someone we’ve had to call ‘Mary’ for protection purposes.
He explained that ‘Mary’, who was 14 at the time, had become disenfranchised with the church and was looking for a way out.
John claims she was interrogated for hours on end by staffers, before her mum was notified and threatened with disconnection along with her daughter.
He said that the mother had become so indoctrinated with Scientology teachings, that she gave up her daughter and decided to stay in the church.
‘Mary’ was then taken to a local train station, given £30 and told to get a train to London and never come back. She had no family, no support, nothing.
Later on I talked to her and found out how she survived. She walked into nightclubs, would get herself picked up by guys for a one-night stand, get some food, get a place to sleep. Eventually she got into drug dealing and drug addiction, all that stuff. 14-year-old girl, she lived like that for 5/6 years until her sister was able to grab her and get her off the drugs.
And it seems the lack of regard for youngsters’ welfare doesn’t even stop there. John claims that he was witness to even more disturbing experiences during his time in the Church.
John explained there is a certain hierarchy within the organisation. While the best and brightest members were groomed to work in Special Ops and the Sea Org, those who were less capable worked in maintenance or as carers for the children.
A guy came out of nowhere called ‘Bo’. They picked him off the streets in Denmark, hauled him over here. He was a bit clueless and a bit of druggy, and he was put in charge of the children.
There was 6 months of sexual abuse going on during his time there. And when it was finally exposed they just shifted him to Denmark, didn’t report it to the police and they asked the kids ‘what did you do to get sexually abused’?
But possibly the most horrific story we heard was about a former Sea Org member called Alice.
She was only 19 when John met her and she was allegedly put on to the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF) for having sex with a fellow Sea Org member. The RPF is a rehabilitation program for members who have violated Scientology policies.
The program includes religious study and manual labour tasks, but has been accused in documentaries such as Going Clear of overworking and mistreating its participants.
John says that after Alice experienced the RPF and intense interrogations from officers, she couldn’t take the stress anymore and wanted to leave.
But after being told she couldn’t leave the Church, she fell into such a state of despair and could see no other way out that she decided to ‘top herself’.
She escaped from the room she that was being held in, she ran into the workshop, she grabs a tin of paint thinner, glugs it down, runs up, climbs up on the roof and jumps off. Shatters of course her pelvis and lower spine and all that plus of course whatever was happening to her with the paint thinner. Alice was left crippled for life.
And it’s not just Sea Org members who allegedly suffered. John revealed that staffers were also under intense pressure to meet the Church’s demanding standards. He claims that they had to resort to seriously extreme methods to make that happen.
We normalised criminal behaviour, that was acceptable, that was every day. Several people, we made them get their inheritances early and then we take that inheritance. We had people selling houses, we had people re-mortgage their businesses.
This is something John feels ‘incredible guilt’ for being part of, adding: “I do feel guilt and shame, right, you can’t live with that every single day of your life.”
Pete Griffiths, 61, who spent seven years in the church summed up the sentiments of all of our interviewees about what Scientology ultimately did to them.
Scientology was devised to extract everything from people and it is simply a machine to do that and that’s its purpose and that’s what it does.
If you’re lucky a little bit of you will get spewed out the other end and there’s enough of you left to piece yourself back together.
The Church of Scientology responded to these allegations with the following statement:
The Church of Scientology is a worldwide religious movement with members in countries all over the world. Millions of people are helped through the Church’s humanitarian initiatives and social betterment programs. Anyone seriously wishing to understand the Church of Scientology should visit the Church, talk to a Scientologist or visit the Church’s website at www.scientology.org.uk.
UNILAD’s allegations of intentional misconduct are rejected as unfounded. Despite being given many opportunities to do so, their sources have failed to document or substantiate their claims. If their sources claim to have engaged in wrongdoing when they were church members, that fact alone would serve to illustrate why they were removed and dismissed. But in this case, even their “confessions” are utterly unreliable, as they are not accompanied by any independent evidence corroborating the statements. In some cases, the “corroborations” offered contradicts the original allegation.
The church further notes that during the preparation of this article the Church of Scientology sought to clarify allegations UNILAD intended to run to better enable the Church to respond. Contrary to normal accepted standards of journalism, UNILAD did not consider that they had any obligation to present allegations and claims to the subject of the claims in a manner sufficiently detailed to enable the Church to respond, or to challenge their sources when their veracity has been questioned. Should the resulting articles contain material sufficiently specific to be responded to, the Church reserves its right to further respond.