The Strange Case Of The Cop And The Cult

Source: The Independent
Date: October 24, 2006

I don't know a great deal about Chief Superintendent Kevin Hurley. He wears a cheerful smile in the picture on the About Us section of the City of London Police website and, reading his brief biography, he would seem to be one of those characters whose impulse towards public service has found most congenial expression in uniform. He's seen service in Iraq with the Territorial Army and has completed a six-month attachment to the Foreign Office as the senior UK Police adviser to the Iraqi police force.

But I do know one thing about him that makes me call his judgement into question - and that's his appearance the other day at the gala opening for the Church of Scientology's new London headquarters. He was, the City of London Police press office confirm, there in an official capacity, attending as "Force Liaison, Faith", just as he would "with any other group".

According to our own news report, the Chief Superintendent's remarks at the ceremony were "wildly applauded" by attending devotees. And it's hardly surprising, given the Church's less than harmonious encounters with senior figures in the British establishment in the past. In 1984, Mr Justice Latey concluded a custody hearing involving Scientologists and former Scientologists by declaring that the organisation was "corrupt, sinister and dangerous", citing the Church of Scientology's "infamous practices" with regard to anyone who dares to criticise it or question its methods - though his rebuke appeared to have little effect on the Church's attack-dog approach to any kind of threat, however marginal.

In 1999, they apologised and paid [pound]55,000 in legal costs to Bonnie Woods, a former member of the church who had been subjected to a dirty-tricks campaign after she offered counselling to disenchanted Scientologists and potential recruits. And in the same year the Charity Commission declined to extend charitable status to the organisation because it was not convinced the Church of Scientology had been established for public benefit or "for the moral or spiritual welfare or improvement of the community". So, even setting aside the deranged extraterrestrial theology, the bogus quasi-scientific therapy speak and the nakedly acquisitive approach to spreading its gospel, you might have thought this was an institution a senior policeman might be wary of endorsing. It's not just "any other group".

Chief Superintendent Hurley apparently doesn't agree. The Church of Scientology's website proudly claims that on Sunday he said, "he knows with 'complete personal certainty' that the members are 'raising the spiritual wealth of society' with their charitable works". It's always possible of course that the Church of Scientologists' excitement got the better of them, and Chief Superintendent Hurley never offered quite such a glowing testimonial to their civic virtue. But if he did, he has given an invaluable boost to an irrational cult. Who can doubt they will have another crack at charitable status with that quote on file?

I asked the City of London Police press office whether Chief Superintendent Hurley was a Scientologist himself. "No," said their spokesman, with a speed and firmness that suggested I wasn't the first person to ask the question. I suppose we should take comfort from this: for the time being at least it suggests there is an upper limit to to the Chief Superintendent's credulity.