Ex-alleged cult members 'sleep well' with court case over

Byron Shire News, Australia/October 11, 2014

Former members of alleged Burringbar cult Universal Knowledge said they would "sleep very well" after winning a defamation case brought against them on the first day of court.

Carli McConkey and Michael Greene faced a four-week jury trial with two of Australia's biggest media organisations on their side.

The woman they once looked to as a spiritual leader, Natasha Lakaev, bowed out of the legal battle she herself initiated just a few hours after the first day in court ended.

The legal team for media companies News Ltd and Fairfax sat down at the negotiating table with a powerful bargaining chip on their side.

Ms Lakaev had been denied an adjournment, likely to last 18 months, and claimed she could not afford to hire a $4000-a-day barrister for a four-week trial.

A month earlier, Ms Lakaev and her then lawyer had opposed an adjournment application the defendants sought in an attempt to apply financial pressure to force the defendants to offer her money.

All parties agreed to pay their own legal costs and were free to discuss the settlement terms after Ms Lakaev failed in her attempt to impose a gag order.

No money changed hands between the parties.

Ms McConkey and Mr Greene said they could not be happier. Nor could their son Sebastian McConkey-Greene, who watched from the public gallery as the judge ruled in his parents' favour.

"We're relieved. We're thrilled," Ms McConkey said.

"We've been in this court case for three years.

"A lot of hard work and effort has gone into this. It has been physically and mentally draining."

The negotiations started at 5.30pm after the first day of the court case and ended at 11.30pm.

Ms McConkey first became involved with Ms Lakaev as a 21-year-old after meeting a recruitment agent for Universal Knowledge, which then existed under the name Life Integration Programmes, at the 1996 Mind Body Spirit Festival in Sydney.

She became one of the group's closest disciples and remained a member for 13-and-a-half years.

She also met her husband, a fellow member, through the group and together they had three children.

One of the articles which sparked the defamation case spoke of mind control techniques, claims the world would end in December, 2012, and Ms McConkey being convinced to under go sterilisation in the belief she was an unfit mother to her sons.

Members paid $10,000 to undergo courses supposed to lead to spiritual growth.

Both Mr Greene and Ms McConkey now hold stable jobs and were eager to get back to work.

Ms McConkey plans to write about her experience.

"We're very happy the judgment was handed down to dismiss her adjournment, because that would have put undue stress on us that we didn't need," Mr Greene said.

"I will sleep very well tonight.

"We might go out, have a really nice dinner to celebrate our success and let it all sink in."

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