Mirror: Inside Cult Castle

Source: Mirror
Date: November 4, 2005

Mirror investigates: Inside cult castle The weird rituals at Scientology's Sussex HQ

by David Edwards

The trainee Scientologist clasps two tin cans which are connected by wires to an electric dial.

A second, more senior member reads from a prompt card.

"Have you ever destroyed a culture?" he asks. "Have you ever bred bodies for degrading purposes? Did you come to Earth for evil purposes?''

Down the corridor, another sect member listens to a series of lectures on how, 75 million years ago, an alien prince killed millions of people with atom bombs.

We are inside St Hill Manor, a small fortress in the West Sussex stockbroker belt, a rambling mansion that houses the British nerve-centre of the controversial Church Of Scientology.

Last weekend, 10,000 members from around the world congregated at the site in East Grinstead for a glittering charity gala.

They included John Travolta, who delighted the audience with an impromptu dance, and fellow actor Tom Cruise who won a standing ovation for contributing £1.4million since joining.

At the same time, cheques were handed to charities including Age Concern.

The International Association of Scientologists has always generated enormous publicity - but today the Daily Mirror can reveal the star-studded event coincides with the sect's plan to launch a massive recruitment drive in Britain.

Over the next few months, church members will mount an all-out attempt to sign up followers in an effort to win mainstream respectability.

Victoria Beckham - a good friend of Cruise - was last week spotted reading one of the sect's books, Assists For Illnesses And Injuries, which "teaches" how to heal by the power of touch.

The Church is also spending £10m on a new London HQ from where they plan to launch their "Golden Age Of Technology" on London.

Announcing the new drive, Scientology chief David Miscavige said: "History is about to be made in one of the most important... cities on Earth. We are about to drive home the message 'This Is Scientology' like you have never seen."

According to former Scientologist Bonnie Woods, 56, who now runs a counselling service for ex-members, Britain is seen as ripe for conversion.

"Make no mistake, the people at the top of Scientology see us as a huge untapped well of easy converts, where many people are apathetic to mainstream religion and have large disposable incomes.

"These are exactly the sort of people they want. They're called 'raw meat'."

A spokeswoman for the charity Inform, which runs a helpline for people concerned about new religious movements, adds: "There is much more activity around the church's centres and it seems they are recruiting harder than before."

But anyone thinking of joining the sect - once described as "corrupt, sinister and dangerous" by a High Court judge - should arm themselves with a few facts before signing up for a series of courses - courses that could cost them up to £200,000.

The sect's elite staff study and work at St Hill Manor. At its heart is a sweeping castle set next to the three-storey mansion that was once home to the sect's founder, L Ron Hubbard.

In this huge house, the former science-fiction writer made a series of "breakthroughs" that now form the sect's belief system. As members progress to the highest level they learn Hubbard's great mystery...

Millions of years ago, according to Hubbard, an intergalactic ruler called Xenu rounded up the populations of 76 planets and sent them to Earth where their bodies were dropped in volcanoes and vapourised with nuclear bombs. Their spirits now cling to human beings, causing all mental traumas.

And it is the belief in that that drives the sects millions of members.

Although the sect now has its international headquarters in LA, Scientologists from around the world go on pilgrimages to St Hill, which employs around 200 members.

Mother-of-three Jane Kay (not her real name) spent five years there, working from 9am to 6pm six days a week.

She was paid £50 a week - but spent £25,000 on Scientology courses.

Jane, who lives in Crawley, West Sussex, says: "I joined when I'd just suffered a bereavement and was feeling a bit vulnerable. A friend invited me up to St Hill where there was an event trashing psychiatry, one of their big enemies. They made such a fuss of me that after just a few minutes I really felt at home."

Jane, now in her fifties, gave up her job as a secretary and went to work for the church in 1990.

She was employed in the Castle, a single-storey building of more than 30 rooms where members recount traumatic experiences, using a crude form of lie detector. It is called "auditing".

"My husband was very concerned about what I was getting myself into but I didn't listen. I thought I was saving the world," says Jane.

She saw at first hand how the centre's staff were treated.

"If people weren't performing well on their courses, they would be put on something called the Rehabilitation Project Course. If the figures got really bad, there was a Condition Of Danger.

"The people affected would never talk about what went on, but they always seemed so sad.

"They were forced to walk around in black and do menial work such as cleaning the kitchen floor or the toilets with a toothbrush."

It's a side to the Church Of Scientology that celebrity members including John Travolta or Tom Cruise never see.

Jane remembers Travolta visiting St Hill in the early Nineties where staff were told to line the approach road and applaud as his car swept past.

"When Tom Cruise came to visit, all the staff were allowed to go home at 10pm that night. That was considered a real privilege.

"Some staff members would work from 9am until midnight with just one morning off a week. They always looked so pale and exhausted."

During one visit to the Castle's basement she discovered the control the church held over its members. "Everything that anyone says during auditing is written down and stored under lock and key in the basement. I saw 78 folders for just one person."

Jane left the church in 1995.

Richard Ford spent seven months at St Hill, and by the time he left in 1995 he was so depressed he considered suicide.

"You had to work and you didn't get much sleep," he says. "You had to confess your sins all the time. It was an absolutely crazy, authoritarian atmosphere.

"I would have loved it if the police moved in and let us all go. I'm sure almost all of us, even the top people doing the shouting, would have breathed a huge sigh of relief.

"You're not even allowed to have nightmares, so you have to fight against them which involves more conflict and more pressure.

"I developed ulcers and my hair started falling out and I became suicidal.

"I had to leave." But leaving the cult was not easy. Richard, now 42, was taken to see a senior member of staff who screamed abuse at him.

"Before they let me go, they gave me some security checking and fed me lots of vitamins which made me feel very strange and I entered in a very dreamlike state," he says.

"It was not quite like having hallucinations but I couldn't tell between thoughts and reality.

"I went into a very passive state, I felt I had committed bad acts - what they call 'overts'.

"I went to past lives and got into a very, very strange but euphoric state.

"I wrote lots and lots of confessions and was videotaped while this was going on...

"Only then was I allowed home."

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