'Cult' church plan opposed

South London Press/June 6, 2003
By Peter Harrison

The church that believed evil spirits possessed child abuse victim Victoria Climbié is set to be refused permission to move into a disused south London cinema.

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG) applied to turn the former ABC cinema in Catford into a place of worship, conference centre, meeting hall and library.

But next week councillors are expected to refuse the application because the loss of the leisure facility - although closed - is contrary to council policy.

The report states: "It is considered that it would have a detrimental impact on the vitality of Catford town centre.

"The proposed use is considered to have a limited appeal for the general public, inappropriate to such an accessible location."

Members of the Finsbury Park-based Pentecostal organisation appeared as witnesses at the trial of Victoria Climbié's great aunt, Marie Therese Kouao, and her boyfriend Carl Manning.

During the trial they said they had taken Victoria to a UCKG branch in the last week of her life because they believed the eight-year-old was possessed by demons.

Staff at the church agreed and suggested a special service would save the little girl.

The UCKG application has been recommended for refusal.

A series of objections were received by the council including, says the report, a number of letters referring to the applicants as "a religious cult."

But the report states this is not an issue that could play a part in the planning consideration.

Councillor Carl Kisicki opposes the application because the building was the borough's last remaining cinema.

He added: "There is a lack of facilities for young people where they can enjoy an evening out. The building is a community asset and with a bit of imagination should be preserved for the whole community, not just a narrow sector."

The Lewisham West planning committee makes its decision on Thursday.

If it decides against the application the organisation will be advised of its right to appeal.

A UCKG spokeswoman said most of the centres were based in town centres and contributed to the vitality and economy of the area.

She added: "The UCKG Help-Centre is open to all and we are happy to embrace close relationships with other organisations to work towards a better community.

"We seek to develop both social work and spiritual assistance."

She said the aim of the centre was to provide a drop-in centre with a wide selection of training opportunities.

She refused to comment on any speculation over the council's future decision.

She added: "The UCKG Help-Centre is not a religious cult. We are a bona fide organisation.

"Our benefits do not differ from other Pentecostal churches - a denomination that is a well accepted form of mainstream Christianity."

Note: Also see "Confusion as Climbie church cleared over exorcisms." The Universal Church Kingdom of God ultimately did renovate and now occupies the former ABC cinema in Catford, despite earlier controversy about this project.

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