Fears as 'life-change' firm recruits in Brum

Sunday Mercury/April 18, 2004
By Fionnuala Bourke

Young Midland professionals are being recruited by a controversial American company which claims to provide life-changing coaching sessions.

But concerns have been raised about Landmark Education, a firm which has previously been investigated by the Cult Information Centre.

The majority of its growing army of members are aged between 25 and 44, and work in professional, technical or managerial roles.

The organisation, which has links to a Californian group which folded in the 1980s, recently met at an address on Smallbrook Queensway in Birmingham.

And the Sunday Mercury has learned that introductory home visits are now available for Midlanders who want to take the Landmark courses, called Forums, which cost £150 to £275.

One concerned reader, a friend of someone who had joined Landmark, rang the Mercury to tell us about the Birmingham meeting.

"Those who take the courses all seem so nice and happy afterwards, but I'm worried that it takes over their lives," she said.

"The person I know travels to London every week to meetings and members call them as soon as they get home.It's like you can never get away from them."

Ian Howarth of the Cult Information Centre (CIC) said his group had received complaints about Landmark Education, which first arrived in the UK in the 1990s.

Last week our reporter phoned the group on two occasions, posing as a would-be recruit. The first time she spoke to a worker named Angus who asked questions about which areas of her life she wanted to improve.

He urged her to sign up for the first Forum course which costs £275. Further courses cost £150.

The second time our reporter called, she was put through to a David Boothman, who said that home visits could be arranged in Birmingham.

More than 125,000 people participated in Landmark courses around the world in 2002. In Britain alone 1,050 people are said to undergo the training courses each month.

The first course takes three days, lasting up to 13 hours per day with few breaks, and involves intensive discussion sessions about how to improve delegates' lives.

Landmark Education is said to be linked in its teachings to "est" (Erhard Seminars Training), a self-awareness movement that took California by storm in the 1970s.

Founded by Werner Erhard, a former car and encyclopaedia salesman, it once counted Diana Ross, John Denver and Yoko Ono among its devotees.

But est later folded following an alleged sex scandal and was accused of using harsh control techniques on members.

Erhard is not involved in Landmarkbuthisyounger brother Harry is said to be its chief executive officer.

Many people who have done the Landmark Forum course have raved about the benefits.

And a number of psychology experts have also undertaken the course and given it their backing.

But Mr Howarth said: "People have phoned us expressing concern about friends and relatives who have undertaken these courses.

"They say the sessions change them, making it more difficult to connect with them afterwards."

When the Sunday Mercury contacted Landmark, we were called back from America within minutes and a statement was issued.

It read: "We take strong issuewith the fact that you gave us less than two hours to respond to allegations to be made in your article on Landmark Education that will clearly damage our business.

"The experts agree, as you will see from the enclosed documentation (which you never took the time to request), that Landmark Education is neither a cult nor brainwashes people."

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