Revealed: How thousands of London children are exposed to Scientology group in schools

Evening Standard, UK/January 5, 2017

By Benedict Moore-Bridger

Tens of thousands of schoolchildren have been exposed to a Scientology organisation through drugs education presentations, the Standard has learned.

An investigation found increasing numbers of pupils, some as young as 10, at primary and secondary schools have sat through lectures inspired by Scientology and its leader L Ron Hubbard.

In the past year alone 35,000 children have taken part in the Narconon anti-drugs programme, including more than 16,000 in London.

Recently it emerged two schools in Camden hosted Narconon talks.

Narconon, which does not employ doctors, is funded and run by the Church of Scientology.

It states its programme is “based on the research and writings of L Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Scientology religion”. Its parent organisation, the Association for Better Living and Education, was established by the Church of Scientology and staffed by members of Sea Org — the Scientology equivalent of monks.

Former employees have since claimed Narconon has been used to convert people to the religion, which the Church and Narconon deny.

Narconon’s theories about drug dependency and treatment have been described as potentially dangerous and dismissed by some scientists as lacking medical evidence. Critics say the lectures provide a “soft introduction” to Scientology.

Scientology has been championed by stars such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Part of its doctrine is the belief that humans are haunted by the spirits of aliens brought to Earth in spaceships and massacred with hydrogen bombs by a galactic warlord called Xenu 75 million years ago.

It has been accused of being a cult and a money-making business. The Church denies the allegations.

Professor David Nutt, who chaired the government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs until 2009, said: “We have known for years that Scientologists have been targeting schools through drugs education packages. They are the main provider of teaching aids to schools, as neither government nor local authorities put any money into this topic. It’s an outrage.”

Professor David Touretzky of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, who has written extensively about Scientology and Narconon, said the organisation targets pupils “any chance they get”.

He called Narconon “a money- making scam and a source of potential new Scientologists” adding: “The first step is to get people to see L Ron Hubbard as a benevolent authority figure instead of a sociopathic cult leader. The drug education programme is just about taking that first step.”

Many schools are seemingly oblivious to the link between Narconon’s programme and Scientology.

Hosts Camden School for Girls and Brecknock primary in Camden said that they were unaware of it and that teachers supervised the talks, which focused entirely on drug awareness. But one pupil present reportedly said students were alarmed when the speaker quoted Hubbard and described him as a “great humanitarian”.

A spokeswoman for Brecknock said: “We were completely unaware. If we had known there would have been no way we would have let them in.”

Retired schools inspector Patrick Hargreaves, who works with the Home Office and Department for Education, said Narconon was “very dangerous”, adding: “When this organisation approaches a school with glossy pamphlets and money behind it saying, ‘We can do your drug education for free’, that is enormously appealing.”

Harry Shapiro, director of information service DrugWise, said schools had a duty of care to research any offer of education services. He added: “Narconon’s drug information is not scientifically accurate, nor is their programme in line with evidence-based health education practice.”

Camden council said it advises schools against using Narconon. The Department for Education said it was down to schools to check the appropriateness of their speakers.

Narconon, which advocates Hubbard’s methods, insists its treatments and lectures are “evidence-based and backed up by decades of peer- reviewed studies”, saying its rehabili- tation programme has had consid- erable success. It says as a result of its work in schools “many thousands of young people have resisted the lure of dangerous street drugs”.

Noel Nile, president of Narconon UK, said its lectures were focused on drug prevention and had been almost entirely positively received by students, teachers and parents.

He added: “We’re in the business of saving lives. The lectures are not concerned with religion. They’re popular and successful because they communicate a clear message which is easily understood by young people.”

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