Hypnosis sessions 'upset' plaintiff

Irish Times/January 16, 2003

A former member of the Church of Scientology claimed in the High Court yesterday that she had been subjected by the church to hypnosis techniques without her permission and had been upset by the procedures. Ms Mary Johnston (40) said that the procedures involved a countdown and prolonged staring for hours to induce a trance.

Ms Johnston, who operates a sports equipment centre at Westwood, Foxrock, Co Dublin, is suing the Church of Scientology Mission of Dublin and three of its members, John Keane, Tom Cunningham and Gerard Ryan. She is seeking damages for alleged conspiracy, misrepresentation and breach of constitutional rights.

Yesterday Ms Johnston agreed with her counsel, Mr Michael Cush SC, that she was given no warning that aspects of mind control would be involved arising from her participation in the church.

Earlier, cross-examined by Mr Michael Collins SC, for the church, Ms Johnston denied that she had a close connection with a trust which attempted to persuade people to leave Scientology. She said: "I don't work against Scientology. I simply say what happened to me. When people come to ask for help, I help them when I can."

She objected to being described by Mr Collins as a "deprogrammer" and said she was not in a conspiracy with anybody to do anything. Because of the length of the litigation and the stress involved in the court action, she said, she hated to see families coming near her.

The court was told that in May 1994 the plaintiff was persuaded by her family to leave Scientology. She described this as a major turning point and "a fantastic time in her life".

Elaborating on earlier evidence on why she had not sought medical or psychiatric assistance, Ms Johnston said she believed she had been healed through her relationship with God, which had given her a sense of peace, healing and joy.

Two witnesses gave evidence yesterday of a man so far unidentified by name who spoke to them about Ms Johnston.

Ms Mary McKeown, a legal secretary, said that Ms Johnston lived in the same house as her mother-in-law. A man had called to the house on the morning of February 2nd, 2001, looking for the plaintiff, and she had told him that Ms Johnston was probably at work. In the witness-box she was shown photographs which she believed were of the same individual although, she said, he looked younger in one of them.

Ms Ann Sexton, a personal trainer at Westwood Gym, also described a man unidentified by name who spoke to her in the restaurant area of Westwood in January 2001. He had asked her about "Ms Obnoxious Johnston", remarking that he had seen her sitting with the plaintiff.

The man had claimed that Ms Johnston had "diddled" a friend of his out of money. Ms Sexton said she had told him that he should discuss the matter with Ms Johnston if he had a problem.

The case continues next Tuesday.

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