Revealed: Secret war on the Scientologist 'mafia' launched by Wilson government in 1970s

Mail, UK/August 7, 2011

The Church of Scientology was considered such a threat to the UK that in 1975 the Government put its members under secret surveillance, according to newly released files.

Previously classified documents reveal that Ministers wanted to undermine and discredit the group because it was said to be ‘mafia-like’ and its activities ‘harmful and evil’.

They believed senior Scientologists were inflicting ‘barbaric’ punishments on followers and drove them away from their families.

The papers show the Government held clandestine meetings to discuss how to reduce the activities of Scientologists in the UK, which included moves to tax the church’s income and turn down visa applications from foreign members.

Today, the Church of Scientology attracts a celebrity following, particularly among Hollywood’s elite. Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and John Travolta are among its supporters.

However, it has been claimed it is a cult that defrauds its followers by charging them exorbitant fees.

The documents, contained in secret files on Scientology and placed in the National Archives, reveal that in July 1975, the then Home Secretary Roy Jenkins hosted a summit on how best to rid Britain of the group.

Ministers of Harold Wilson’s Labour Government agreed to begin undermining the group, and a 1976 document entitled Action To Curb Scientologists reads: ‘Police forces should build up as detailed a composite picture as possible of the organisation’s activities.’

Scientology, founded by American sci-fi author L. Ron Hubbard in 1954, was the subject of much scepticism at the time. A 1968 exclusion order, based on the idea that followers of the so-called religion were ‘socially harmful’, banned foreign members from entering the UK.

In 1975, internal correspondence from the Home Office said: ‘The Church of Scientology does not merely persuade people to part with their money. It is a harmful movement with an evil reputation.’

It classified the group as ‘an organisation designed to make money, and perhaps also to gain power’ which targeted ‘the anxious, the lonely, the inadequate, the credulous and deluded’.

The papers added: ‘It is obtaining large sums of money for its courses on the strength of wild claims that they will cure all sorts of physical and mental ills.’

Further Government material said to be based on Scientology documents claimed there was evidence of abuse.

It says: ‘Members have been imprisoned for 48 hours in a hatch which was too small to allow them to lie down or stand up and a water hose was frequently turned on them.

'Others have been ordered to work for 48 hours in the bowels of a ship in darkness, chipping away rust with a 15-minute break every six hours.’

One police report sent to Scottish Office Ministers noted: ‘The organisation is mafia-like in its hold on adherents and rarely, if ever, does one relinquish voluntarily his membership.’

The Church of Scientology sent The Mail on Sunday a seven-page response denying the alleged abuses and providing 45 pages of additional information.

Spokesman Graeme Wilson said the archive papers were a ‘snapshot’ of ‘government harassment’, adding: ‘The Government of the United Kingdom owes the Church of Scientology an apology for this atrocious treatment.’

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