'Problem' youth to sue over cult school

Local authority blamed for sending delinquents on foreign trips run by Humana charity exposed by Observer

The Observer, London/November 2, 1996
By Michael Durham

A £750-a-week school which organised eight foreign trips for a problem teenager - who is suing his local education authority for failing to prepare him for life - is linked to a suspect aid organisation under investigation by the Charity Commission.

Jason Cooper, now 23, claims his education, which included 'character building trips' to the Mexican jungle and Disney World in Florida, left him ill-prepared for adult responsibilities. Mr Cooper, from Rotherham, South Yorkshire, revealed last week that after leaving care he became a drug abuser and criminal.

He has now applied for legal aid to sue Labour-run Derbyshire County Council for neglect. The council paid for his nine years in care. A probation officer last year told a court where Mr Cooper was appearing on two burglary charges that his experiences in care 'have had a potentially lasting and damaging effect.'

Mr Cooper's globetrotting was organised by the Red House School, near Norwich, an establishment run by key people in the charity Humana, a pounds 1.5 million-a-year concern which recycles old clothes 'for the Third World'. Two weeks ago the Observer revealed that the Charity Commission had asked the receivers to take the charity over.

The Red House - together with The Small School at Winestead Hall, near Hull, which Mr Cooper also later attended - is a leading source of income for Tvind, a Danish cult estimated to earn up to £50m a year from a worldwide commercial empire which includes Humana.

The two British schools are paid £3m a year by local authorities. During two years at the school from 1986, Mr Cooper went abroad eight times - visiting many European countries, Zimbabwe, Mexico, the Caribbean and Florida. The school's Danish staff told him the expeditions were character-building. But the Observer has discovered that for much of the time Mr Cooper was put to work for the benefit of Tvind and DAPP (Development Aid for People to People), its supposed 'foreign aid' arm.

On trips to Denmark, Mr Cooper helped with building work on Tvind schools. In Zimbabwe, he worked on a 'vocational school' which turned out to be part of a farm and tobacco plantation. And in Sweden he was ordered to raise money 'for charity' at a flea market. In Florida, youngsters were forced to appeal on local television for accommodation and told to knock on doors in Miami at midnight.

Mr Cooper also described a harsh and humiliating regime at the Norwich school as 'like brainwashing'. He claimed any child who left the toilets dirty was made to run round a yard with a toilet seat round his or her neck, and any child who wet the bed was forced to wear a 'nappy.'

Teenagers had to take communal decisions when children misbehaved. 'It was like brainwashing. In the end everybody had to think the same. There was a feeling that even your best mate would go against you because nobody had a choice.'

The description matches accounts by scores of other young people from all over Europe who have voluntarily studied at Tvind schools. The cult has more than 40 schools in Denmark, Norway and America, most linked to supposed foreign aid projects.

There have been many other reports of bizarre and dangerous experiences while travelling abroad with Tvind. Anne Ellingsen, a Norwegian former Tvind student, says she was given no medical treatment when she fell seriously ill with typhus on a Tvind school bus trip through India. The teachers accused her of 'whining and faking.' The expedition leader was Mikala Gottlob, now a trustee of the Norwich school and until last month of Humana.

The Charity Commission is probing Humana's finances after visiting aid projects in Zambia. Humana, the British arm of DAPP, claims it spends hundreds of thousands of pounds supporting aid projects in the country, but the Commission found hardly any money had been spent. In reality, projects appear to be largely paid for by other bodies, including the European Union.

Since the Observer's investigation was published, Belgian police have launched a money-laundering investigation and parliamentary questions have been raised in several European countries.

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