Scientologists ditch plans to run stall in Kirkgate shopping centre

Edinburgh Evening News, UK/August 17, 2011

Controversial group the Scientologists have backed down on their plan to set up a stall every day for six months in a Leith shopping centre.

The group applied for a street traders' licence for a stand in the New Kirkgate Centre from 9am to 7pm every day from July 1 to December 31.

The application drew objections from local people, the area's community council, and from Leith Councillor Gordon Munro, who vowed to stop the group promoting what he called "its nonsense" in the shopping centre.

After the application was reported in the Evening News, the Scientologists received a letter threatening to set fire to their Edinburgh office, which was investigated by police.

Scientology public affairs director Graeme Wilson confirmed that the group had now withdrawn its application.

He said: "The purpose of our activities is to give help to the community so we of course took on board concerns about keeping the area as a clearway for pedestrians. There are no plans at this point for doing something similar elsewhere."

Cllr Munro said that he had received notification from council officers that the application had been withdrawn, followed by a letter from the Scientologists themselves confirming their decision.

He said: "They were saying they've decided to withdraw their application after consultation with roads department and with local shopkeepers and residents."

The group said at the time of its application that it wanted to use the stall to carry out "stress tests" and related activities with passers-by.

Earlier this year Scientology spokesman Gordon Reid joined an anti-drugs protest at the shopping centre by a group of young mothers, who used material from the Scientology-backed Drug Free World campaign - although the group said it was not directly affiliated with the Scientologists.

Cllr Munro said he thought the proposed stall was likely to have acted as a stepping stone to controversial courses and books offered by the Scientologists for a charge, and he was not convinced that the proposed stand would be have been used purely to help those in need.

"I think the reason for the application was not based on tackling the drug problem. It was more to do with fundraising for their organisation," he said.

"I think it's good news for the people of Leith because there are some people in Leith who have very little and to have even that taken away from them to increase the funds of a very rich organisation goes against the grain."

The Church of Scientology includes John Travolta and Tom Cruise among its followers.

It has a permanent centre on South Bridge called the Hubbard Academy of Personal Independence, where passers-by are invited to enter and take "personality tests".

A council spokeswoman confirmed that the application had been withdrawn by the applicant, and had received 11 objections, from local residents and the Leith Links Community Council.

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