Regulator opens case into charity with links to Church of Scientology

People who used drug rehabilitation services run by Narconon UK told The Observer newspaper they had been left damaged by the experience

Third Sector, UK/March 19, 2024

By Dami Adewale

The Charity Commission is looking into a charity with links to the Church of Scientology that allegedly left vulnerable people “panicking” and in “trance-like states”.

The regulator said it opened a compliance case into the drug rehabilitation charity Narconon UK in response to concerns raised by the media.

The Observer newspaper last month published the results of its investigation into an East Sussex facility run by the charity.

The charity said the article painted a “profoundly false picture” of its work.

The Observer investigation found allegations that patients were expected to follow repetitive commands for “hours at a time”.

The article said: “People were expected to follow repetitive commands, such as pointing at objects, sitting perfectly still or answering the same question ‘over and over again’.

“Some described suffering extreme reactions to the exercises, such as panicking, zoning out or going into trance-like states.

“One person said it felt like their mind had been ‘shattered into a million pieces’.”

Narconon was launched in the US in 1966 and is “based on the discoveries and writings of L Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Scientology religion”, according to its website.

The site says it is non-religious and a person does not become a Scientologist by completing its drug rehabilitation programme.

Narconon’s residential programme costs about £15,000 and lasts three to four months, according to The Observer’s investigation.

The newspaper said it spoke to people including ex-participants and staff who were put through “psychological drills” lasting up to five hours a day for several weeks.

The Care Quality Commission suspended its ratings for Narconon after previously rating the charity as “good”.

Lord Nick Markham, representing the Department of Health and Social Care in parliament, said the government was in “active discussion” with the CQC about the regulation of Narconon UK and appropriate next steps.

​​A Charity Commission spokesperson said: “We have opened a compliance case into Narconon United Kingdom following concerns raised in the press. We are currently engaging with the trustees.

“A charity should be a safe and trusted environment. As regulator, we are clear that keeping people safe should be a priority for all charities.”

Sheila Maclean, registered manager at Narconon, said The Observer article was “designed deliberately to mislead readers regarding the charity” and painted a “profoundly false picture” of the organisation’s work.

“The reporter’s so-called investigation included no visit to a Narconon, no review of the actual materials of the programme, no interview with any of the tens of thousands of people who have successfully completed the Narconon programme and who resolved their drug and alcohol addiction, no interview with any of the many experts who have actually examined the programme, no consideration of any of the accreditations that the programme has in different countries where it is delivered, and no review of a number of peer reviewed scientific studies of the programme.

“The reporter failed to have regard to the traumatic nature of any drug rehabilitation programme – where substance misusers have to wean themselves off the drugs which are literally destroying their lives.”

She said the Charity Commission requested a meeting with Narconon to discuss the article and the charity had provided it with “the accurate and fair information”.

This article was updated on 19 March 2024 to include a response from Narconon UK

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