Woman suing Scientologists feared private life would be made public

Irish Times/December 7, 2002

A woman who is suing the Church of Scientology was photographed by a man while she was on a licensed premises early last year, the High Court was told yesterday. Ms Mary Johnston said that incident occurred in January/February 2001. Ms Johnston (40), who operates a sports equipment centre at Westwood, Foxrock, Dublin, also said a friend had told her in her shop earlier that a man had been on the premises and had made derogatory remarks about her.

Her attention was later drawn by a work colleague to a man in the bar area of the Westwood centre. The man was queuing up to buy something and then sat by the window and photographed her.

Ms Johnston said she had a disposable camera which she gave to a friend, Ms Catherine Hamilton, who took a picture of the man, which she produced in court. The man had stared at her for about 10 minutes.

She followed the man out to the car park and he jumped a wall. She took a mental note of the registration of a car he was driving and called garda. The man concerned had come into her shop on a number of occasions.

Ms Johnston was continuing her evidence in her action against the Church of Scientology Mission of Dublin, and three of its members, Mr John Keane, Mr Tom Cunningham and Mr Gerard Ryan. She is seeking damages for alleged conspiracy, misrepresentation and breach of constitutional rights.

After leaving the Church, Ms Johnston said she had nightmares, sleeplessness and anxiety attacks, which she had not experienced before. Asked by Mr Michael Cush SC, one of her legal team, whether, in the two years after leaving the Church, she had ever felt free of it or scientologists, she said she did not.

From May 1994, having left Scientology, Ms Johnston said she lived in dread and fear because she knew what she had told the movement in confidence "risked being breached". She believed her private life in some way was going to become public.

Towards October, she began to have very bad and prolonged headaches and was dizzy. She went to a doctor. She linked the headaches to Scientology.

She was invited to speak at a meeting in Clonliffe College in late 1994. Afterwards, a letter was sent by Mr Gerard Ryan to Stephen O'Brien, a journalist then with the Irish Independent. The letter came into her possession shortly afterwards. When she read it she was gutted because she knew then that the fears she had were well founded. She was grieved by what she read and she also felt betrayed.

Mr Michael Collins SC, for the defendants, opened his cross- examination of Ms Johnston by reading a nine-page article about Scientology, written by Prof Brian Wilson, of Oxford University. Ms Johnston agreed this was a reasonable summary of what Scientologists believed.

She agreed she became friendly with Mr Cunnigham in the early 1990s. There was never any romantic relationship between them. They moved into a house in Firhouse in late 1991. In early 1992, she began dianetic auditing.

She agreed she had "let fly" at Mr Cunnigham over the state of the house once, and later apologised. Mr Cunnigham suggested she try a session of dianetic auditing and she "reluctantly" agreed. Mr Collins said Mr Cunningham's recollection was that she was very enthusiastic about it.

She could not recall asking Mr Cunnigham to destroy notes of sessions where she had divulged "my secrets".

The hearing continues.

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