Scientologist 'Cult' sets up HQ in Birmingham

Birmingham Mail, UK/April 3, 2008

A controversial religious sect which has Tom Cruise and John Travolta among its followers is to open a new multi-million pound church headquarters in Birmingham.

The Church of Scientology has bought a plush, Grade II listed building in Moseley.

The church has been described by some critics as a "cult" but has always strenously rejected the term, insisting that it is a religious group.

The church, known for its belief in aliens, is thought to have stumped up as much as £4.25million to buy the old Pitmaston building in Moor Green Lane, to use as its Midlands HQ.

It will become the organisation's second biggest base in the UK.

Today, several residents living in the shadow of the four-storey block said they were worried and feared it would target young and vulnerable new recruits.

"In my opinion they're crackpots," said 81-year-old retired engineer Gerald Evans, whose detached house in Goodby Road overlooks the back of the 1920s-built offices.

"They claim to be a religion but they're not as far as I'm concerned," he said.

"They won't affect me but I think they target the vulnerable members of our society."

The Church of Scientology has made little public about its plans for Pitmaston, which has been empty since an insurance group moved out two years ago.

It will become the group's second biggest premises in the country behind Saint Hill Manor in East Sussex which founder L Ron Hubbard bought in the 1950s.

The church declined to say how much they had spent, but last year the property changed hands for £4.25million.

Church leaders issued a brief statement but have yet to respond to a series of questions from the Birmingham Mail.

The statement, from public affairs director Graeme Wilson, said: "Parishioners of the Church have donated funds for the freehold of Pitmaston and they intend to make it into a new church.

"Similarly, new much larger premises for our churches have been or are being procured in many cities around the world."

The Church of Scientology first moved to the city in the 1970s when it ran a small shop on St Mary's Row in Moseley and has since thought to have recruited scores of members.

Its current base in Ethel Street was the scene of a protest by an internet pressure group calling itself Anonymous last month.

The same group is thought to be behind a poster campaign in Moseley where notices reading "Stop Scientology moving to Moseley" have been plastered on trees.

Coun Martin Mullaney said he would be keeping a close eye on the site. He helped to have the building listed in 2002.

Planning permission was granted in 2004 for the previous owners, Ideal Benefit Society, to transform the site into flats, although it was ruled that its ornately marbled hallway and oak-panelled board room could not be altered.

Records show that the building was later bought by Isle of Man-based Woodview Properties Ltd last October.

Goodby Road resident, Pat Singh, aged 28, said: "I remember when I was younger, I was walking along New Street and they asked me to fill in a questionnaire.

"The next thing I knew, I was in their church and they were trying to make me take a personality test and sell me a book. I'm not sure people want that round here."

Fiona Adams, from the Moseley Society, added: "With the reputation of Scientology we would all be very worried that we have got them in our midst."

A Birmingham City Council spokesman said: "If the Church of Scientology is going to use it as a place of worship they will have to apply for change of use. However, if they are going to use it as a headquarters, no application would be necessary."

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