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Has the native council of a sleepy Sussex city fallen beneath the spell of Scientology? Civic leaders in East Grinstead have been dazzled by Tom Cruise – and even given pink carpet remedy to the church’s controversial chief

Has the native council of a sleepy Sussex city fallen beneath the spell of Scientology? Civic leaders in East Grinstead have been dazzled by Tom Cruise – and even given pink carpet remedy to the church’s controversial chief


An opportunity to rub shoulders with Hollywood stars and royals at movie premieres can be past the goals of most native council officers or pen-pushers. However for these representing the sleepy market city of East Grinstead in Sussex, attending glitzy superstar occasions and assembly A-listers is seen as a perk of the job.

Take, as an example, the image of yoga instructor and former East Grinstead mayor Julie Mockford ‘simply chillin’ together with her ‘pal’ Tom Cruise on a Mission: Unattainable movie set in 2018.

Or extra lately, the snap of the present mayor of East Grinstead, Frazer Visser, with Cruise final yr. ‘I had the unforgettable expertise of attending the premiere of Tom Cruise’s latest Mission: Unattainable movie in Leicester Sq., together with some earlier mayors,’ he stated.

Nobody would wish to rob civic dignitaries of superstar moments, however such photo-opportunities are beginning to increase eyebrows.

For Tom Cruise is in fact closely concerned with Scientology, which has lengthy been established in East Grinstead. And the cosy relationship between Scientologists and native politicians is inflicting mounting concern amongst critics and council insiders.

The church of Scientology has had a base in East Grinstead ever since L Ron Hubbard bought Saint Hill Manor just outside the town in 1959. The Georgian country house served as its worldwide headquarters until 1967 and still plays a significant role in its global operation

The church of Scientology has had a base in East Grinstead ever since L Ron Hubbard purchased Saint Hill Manor simply outdoors the city in 1959. The Georgian nation home served as its worldwide headquarters till 1967 and nonetheless performs a big function in its international operation

Current mayor of East Grinstead, Frazer Visser, right, met Tom Cruise at the Mission: Impossible premiere in Leicester Square in July last year

Current mayor of East Grinstead, Frazer Visser, right, met Tom Cruise at the Mission: Impossible premiere in Leicester Square in July last year

Present mayor of East Grinstead, Frazer Visser, proper, met Tom Cruise on the Mission: Unattainable premiere in Leicester Sq. in July final yr

They declare that city, district and even county councillors are ‘tapped up’ by Scientologists the second they’re elected, whereas the mayor is dazzled and made to ‘really feel like he is Sadiq Khan’.

They allege that the Scientologists use flattery and inducements to extend their affect over the council, and there are fears that some councillors could also be sympathetic in direction of the controversial faith.

East Grinstead City Council final night time denied there was an inappropriate relationship between councillors and any ‘group group’, and stated all hospitality it receives from such teams is said correctly.

For its half, the Church of Scientology, which is taken into account an ‘anti-constitutional sect’ by the German authorities (though it has not been banned), stated it has been ‘deeply concerned’ in East Grinstead life for many years and seeks solely to ‘make issues higher for all’.

A spokesman added: ‘To counsel that there’s something flawed with a non secular organisation doing this, or working intently with elected officers and plenty of different individuals of goodwill isn’t solely ridiculous, it’s frankly bigotry.’

Scientology maintains that it’s a real non secular motion.

Regardless of the case, a Mail investigation has established that the Scientologists have definitely change into concerned within the affairs of native politicians in East Grinstead to a substantial diploma.

Native council representatives have attended numerous Scientology occasions; the church’s controversial chief David Miscavige has been given a guided tour of council workplaces; the native hearth service has been utilizing the Scientologists’ headquarters for coaching and was provided £50,000 by the church; and the Scientologists had been concerned in operating East Grinstead’s Christmas lights switch-on ceremony in addition to a celebration for the Coronation of King Charles.

After all, the church is a big organisation and, as such, could also be anticipated to participate in civic lifetime of the city the place it’s primarily based.

However within the eyes of some it is usually deeply contentious.

Scientology is a set of beliefs and practices dreamt up by sci-fi author L Ron Hubbard, who based the church in 1952.

Its accusers say it’s a profit-hungry enterprise moderately than a faith, charging giant sums to members for ‘self-improvement’ programs.

The Church's controversial leader David Miscavige has been given a guided tour of council offices

The Church's controversial leader David Miscavige has been given a guided tour of council offices

The Church’s controversial chief David Miscavige has been given a guided tour of council workplaces

The Church of Scientology allowed West Sussex Fire and Rescue to use Saint Hill¿s grounds for training, although the fire service did turn down its offer of a £50,000 donation

The Church of Scientology allowed West Sussex Fire and Rescue to use Saint Hill¿s grounds for training, although the fire service did turn down its offer of a £50,000 donation

The Church of Scientology allowed West Sussex Hearth and Rescue to make use of Saint Hill’s grounds for coaching, though the hearth service did flip down its provide of a £50,000 donation

Its ‘revelations’ about existence embody the declare that Earth was populated 75million years in the past by billions of extra-terrestrials led by Xenu, a ruler of a ‘Galactic Confederacy’, who then annihilated each dwelling soul on Earth – or ‘Teegeeack’, because the planet was then identified – by dropping them into volcanoes earlier than blowing them up with hydrogen bombs.

Their spirits are stated to stick to people, and to be the supply of lots of our issues.

The church has confronted accusations of exploitation and abuse from former members, in addition to ‘brainwashing’, though has at all times denied all such allegations, arguing that it’s unfairly misrepresented and maligned.

In September final yr, the US actor Danny Masterson, a former Scientologist, was sentenced to 30 years in jail for rape. He was a member of the church when he dedicated the offences in 2003, and prosecutors alleged he used his prominence within the organisation – the 2 girls he was discovered responsible of raping had been additionally members – to keep away from dealing with justice for many years.

Scientology officers have denied ‘scandalous allegations that the church harassed the accusers’, saying the claims have been ‘debunked’ and that parts of the Masterton trial testimony relating to the organisation had been ‘uniformly false’.

In the meantime, within the US, David Miscavige is dealing with a lawsuit on behalf of three former members of the church accusing him of trafficking them into his organisation as youngsters and forcing them to work for little to no pay. The church and Miscavige have repeatedly denied the allegations.

The church has had a base in East Grinstead ever since L Ron Hubbard purchased Saint Hill Manor, surrounded by 60 acres, simply outdoors the city in 1959. The engaging Georgian nation home served as its worldwide head-quarters till 1967 (it’s now in Florida) and nonetheless performs a big function in its international operation.

Why East Grinstead? Regardless of speak of the realm’s ley strains – historic alignments within the panorama believed to have non secular significance – the most probably rationalization is that the city is simply an hour on the practice from London and near Gatwick airport.

And the home got here up on the market at a second the Scientologists had been intent on growth past America. Tom Cruise is a frequent visitor at Saint Hill, whereas Grease star John Travolta, one other distinguished Scientologist, made headlines when he tried to ebook a desk for his entourage at a close-by department of KFC.

Scientology’s presence in East Grinstead largely goes unnoticed by residents, however campaigners and council insiders more and more concern native dignitaries are excessively in thrall to the church’s cash and superstar potential.

Scientology is a set of beliefs and practices dreamt up by sci-fi writer L Ron Hubbard, second right, who founded the church in 1952. The writer pictured here with his wife Mary and four children Suzette, Quentin, Arthur and Diana in 1959

Scientology is a set of beliefs and practices dreamt up by sci-fi writer L Ron Hubbard, second right, who founded the church in 1952. The writer pictured here with his wife Mary and four children Suzette, Quentin, Arthur and Diana in 1959

Scientology is a set of beliefs and practices dreamt up by sci-fi author L Ron Hubbard, second proper, who based the church in 1952. The author pictured right here together with his spouse Mary and 4 youngsters Suzette, Quentin, Arthur and Diana in 1959

Scientology¿s presence in East Grinstead largely goes unnoticed by residents, but campaigners and council insiders increasingly fear local dignitaries are excessively in thrall to the church¿s money and celebrity potential

Scientology¿s presence in East Grinstead largely goes unnoticed by residents, but campaigners and council insiders increasingly fear local dignitaries are excessively in thrall to the church¿s money and celebrity potential

Scientology’s presence in East Grinstead largely goes unnoticed by residents, however campaigners and council insiders more and more concern native dignitaries are excessively in thrall to the church’s cash and superstar potential

For it was not simply city mayor Frazer Visser who attended the Mission: Unattainable premiere. (He is described the church as a ‘valued and huge a part of East Grinstead’.) Three representatives of the city’s county and district councils had been additionally pictured on the Could 2022 premiere of Prime Gun: Maverick, which was attended by the then Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate.

Sujan Wickremaratchi, the vice chair of West Sussex County Council, posted images of the occasion on social media alongside the remark: ‘Nice to see Tom Cruise and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Strolling on the pink carpet with my daughter was simply wow.’

Rex Whittaker, a former mayor of East Grinstead who’s now a Mid Sussex councillor, additionally attended. Mr Wickremaratchi declined to remark when approached by the Day by day Mail, and Julie Mockford, a present Mid Sussex councillor, didn’t reply to requests about her time with Cruise on the Mission: Unattainable set. Nor did Mr Whittaker.

Nothing flawed with that, many will say. However such largesse from the church seems to be a part of a sample. Again in 2012, it was accused of ‘grooming’ Metropolis of London Law enforcement officials with items value 1000’s of kilos – together with invites to movie premieres – forward of the opening of a brand new central London Scientology headquarters. Once more, the church denied it had performed something flawed. 

Within the late 2000s, MPs expressed considerations that the church had made donations of 1000’s of kilos to each the Labour and Tory events as a part of an intensive lobbying operation to advertise its drug remedy programme, Narconon. The church stated informing MPs about its programmes was ‘a duty of ours’ and maintains that Narconon is efficient.

In the meantime, in East Grinstead, native apparatchiks look like devoting a big period of time to Scientology occasions.

This consists of the annual gathering of the Worldwide Affiliation of Scientologists, which sees 1000’s of members flock to Saint Hill annually to listen to Mr Miscavige converse. Final yr’s occasion, held from November 3 to five, was attended by representatives of Mid Sussex and West Sussex councils, in addition to the present mayor and 5 former mayors of East Grinstead.

Mims Davies, the minister for disabled individuals, well being and work, additionally attended, telling this newspaper it was in her function as native MP: ‘Doing so would not convey my assist past my gratitude for cash raised in support of quite a few native good causes handed on at this occasion which takes place yearly.’

Mayor Frazer Visser gave a speech and took to the stage to obtain a £50,000 donation for the native Queen Victoria Hospital the place he works as a medical photographer, in response to his LinkedIn web page.

There’s, in fact, no suggestion he or any attendees of the occasion did any flawed.

Mr Visser additionally switched on Scientology’s Christmas lights at Saint Hill on November 25. He stated he has attended round 100 occasions for ‘all kinds of organisations, communities and teams’ as mayor, including: ‘Solely three of which had been hosted by the Church of Scientology and open to most people.’

Data present that 9 present or former East Grinstead councillors plus a clerk have accepted items or hospitality from Scientology since 2019, with every of those declared as value greater than £40. A church consultant additionally attends each full council assembly, that are in fact open to members of the general public. 

Anti-Scientology protesters at the entrance gates of the Church's UK headquarters in East Grinstead last November

Anti-Scientology protesters at the entrance gates of the Church's UK headquarters in East Grinstead last November

Anti-Scientology protesters on the entrance gates of the Church’s UK headquarters in East Grinstead final November

Scientology chief Mr Miscavige was given a guided tour of the attractive Grade II-listed, 18th century mansion that serves because the council’s headquarters and he even provided to pay for a set of sash home windows that wanted changing.

In step with the group spirit, the church additionally allowed West Sussex Hearth and Rescue to make use of Saint Hill’s grounds for coaching, though the hearth service did flip down its provide of a £50,000 donation.

Such is the priority amongst some locally that they’ve described Scientology as ‘having a grip’ over the city council and stated the church’s involvement with public occasions means they’re ‘virtually companions’.

Alexander Barnes-Ross, a former Scientologist turned campaigner in opposition to it, stated: ‘If you happen to have a look at Scientology coverage, it is rather clear that the purpose is not to assist the local people, it is to claim management over the native authorities and affect choice makers.

‘That’s precisely what Scientology has been attempting to do since they arrange store in East Grinstead in 1959. Now it’s got to the purpose that it’s so embedded within the native councils that it’s beginning to get very worrying.’

He added: ‘Nearly all of the council are principally beneath the affect of Scientology.

‘If it is not stopped now this management will develop over the approaching years and it is solely a matter of time earlier than they’ve somebody able of authority.’

These claims are unlikely to chop a lot ice with public servants resembling former city mayor Dick Sweatman, who’s now a Mid Sussex councillor.

Judging by emails obtained beneath the Freedom of Info Act, Mr Sweatman is joyful to assist the Scientologists when applicable – he inquired, as an example, about having a street closed on behalf of the church after it turned obvious that protesters had been planning to carry a rally outdoors Saint Hill.

Why should not he, he asks – explaining that he made his inquiries to search out out who the church ought to greatest converse to concerning the street closure, and that he would ‘level anyone in the precise course’ in related circumstances.

Neither is it the primary time he has provided his help.

A former chair of the district planning committee, he has been concerned in choices when Saint Hill was granted permission for main constructing work, together with in a single case a 2017 retrospective utility that angered locals, who claimed it had introduced noise and light-weight air pollution and what they stated was the destruction of wildlife habitats.

There isn’t any suggestion that Mr Sweatman did something flawed. Mr Sweatman has featured in slick Scientology PR movies and in one in all them says the city is ‘extraordinarily grateful to the church’. 

He isn’t alone in pondering so, provided that others – together with former mayor Julie Mockford and two different councillors – had been joyful to characteristic in the identical video. One other former mayor, Rex Whittaker, is in it too, standing subsequent to Mr Miscavige at a Saint Hill occasion.

‘Saint Hill has given us nothing however assist,’ enthuses one Mid Sussex councillor who thanks the church within the video for its friendship and heat, saying it’s ‘tremendously appreciated’.

And but, the query stays. Are the councillors too near the church?

Certainly, East Grinstead council has now been accused by Scientology critics of censorship. Earlier this yr, it eliminated a piece of a recorded city council assembly during which members of the general public raised considerations about its relationship with the church.

The council insisted this was performed for authorized causes ‘to guard these people making the allegations’, however critics are unconvinced.

Mr Barnes-Ross, who joined the church in 2011 aged 15 and left in 2014, is the primary British former member to talk out in additional than a decade. He stated the councillors’ ‘shut relationship’ with the church is deeply worrying and their heads had been being turned by superstar occasions.

‘Scientology is in search of any form of declare to legitimacy. They play the lengthy sport,’ he stated.

‘They principally took over the city of Clearwater in Florida,’ he stated, including that they’ve purchased up many buildings within the space. ‘They began very slowly and supported the campaigns of Scientology-friendly council candidates. They’re doing precisely the identical factor right here in East Grinstead.’

An East Grinstead council spokesman is adamant that nothing is amiss: ‘Councillors interact in a yr with lots of their group teams… Group teams typically volunteer to assist with the supply of city occasions and the Church of Scientology has additionally performed so. They haven’t been a part of the organisation of any occasions.’

As for the church itself, it dismissed Mr Barnes-Ross’s claims and insisted: ‘We assist our native councillors in performing public service as they provide quite a lot of their very own time to serve their city and county and so they deserve assist in what they do. We aren’t conscious that attending a charity fundraiser at Saint Hill is taken into account a ‘perk’ however usually are not stunned that it’s an gratifying occasion.’

Extra gratifying nonetheless for councillors, although, would be the subsequent pink carpet photo-opportunity with Tom Cruise.



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Written by bourbiza mohamed

Bourbiza Mohamed is a freelance journalist and political science analyst holding a Master's degree in Political Science. Armed with a sharp pen and a discerning eye, Bourbiza Mohamed contributes to various renowned sites, delivering incisive insights on current political and social issues. His experience translates into thought-provoking articles that spur dialogue and reflection.

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