Scientology targets city

The Argus Lite, UK/July 9, 2008

The Church of Scientology is planning to increase its foothold in Sussex, The Argus can reveal.

Graeme Wilson, the director of public affairs, said the organisation was looking at the local property market and it is thought any new premises could provide a headquarters for members in Brighton and Hove.

Mr Wilson said: "The Church of Scientology internationally is very much expanding and to accommodate that expansion, new premises are being acquired for our existing churches worldwide.

"There is nothing concrete planned in the Brighton area currently, though we keep ourselves abreast of what is on the market that might be suitable."

The controversial organisation, which is not recognised as a religion under British law, paid £3.6 million in October last year for a disused distillery in Manchester and in 2006 opened its £23 million London headquarters in Queen Victoria Street. Its main British base is in East Grinstead.

Brighton Pavilion MP David Lepper said he had dealt with complaints from people about the way Scientology members approached people in the street.

He said: "I'm concerned about the stories I read about the ways in which that particular cult allegedly takes over people's lives.

"But of course if they are planning a new base in Brighton and Hove I suspect there to be issues on planning permission, depending on what the building is used for at the moment.

"I'm aware that many people are wary of involvement with them.

"I'm certainly aware of the criticism at the extent of which they attempt to control people's lives."

The news that the Church of Scientology is keeping an eye out for a new base in the city will not be welcomed by the organisation's many critics in Brighton and Hove.

Its current branch office in Brighton, North Street, near Churchill Square, is usually the scene of protests from a variety of groups opposed to the organisation.

On Saturday, members of an internet-based group called Anonymous donned Guy Fawkes-style masks and handed out flyers to shoppers and passersby.

Set up in the US in 1954, the Church of Scientology started to spread to Britain in the 1960s, according to Government files.

It offers self-improvement on the basis of the writings of the late sciencefiction author L Ron Hubbard.

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