Founded by a science-fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard, the Church of Scientology has its own vocabulary, hierarchy, rules, regulations and agenda. It boasts a worldwide membership of more than 4 million people and one of the biggest computer databases of personal information in existence. For my investigation, I was to be recruited into the Poole "mission" of the church, in South England. My producers chose Poole because it was one of the most successful Scientology operations in the world. My task was to work my way into headquarters of the elite "Sea Organisation" (Sea Org), where mainly young members work for the church and live in a mansion on England's South Coast. The Sea Org's stated goal is to save the world. As a result, a standard employee's contract is for one billion years - that is, your life and all your lives to come.
My story, for British television company Twenty Twenty, was to be aired in a current-affairs series, The Big Story. But I never imagined the lengths the Church of Scientology would go to in its effort to stop the program from being broadcast. Nor the way it would deal with those involved.
I also studied how to cheat the E-Meter, a primitive lie detector widely used within the Church of Scientology for, among other things, security checks. Holding two cans in your hand, it passes an electrical current through your body and your emotional responses are assessed by a scientologist who monitors a dial with a needle. Interrogations can include questions like "Are you or have you ever been involved in the media?" and "Have you ever had unkind thoughts about L. Ron Hubbard?".
For those who make it further into the church's hierarchy, there is the "Whole Security Check", which demands answers to questions like "Have you ever destroyed a culture?", "Have you ever bred bodies for degrading purposes?" and "Did you come to Earth for evil purposes?".
I practised using a micro-camera lens hidden in a pair of spectacles. Recording and sound equipment was strapped to a corset. A psychologist came to assess my personality. His findings would be compared with those of the scientologists' well-known, 200-question personality test, "The Standard Oxford Capacity Analysis", which soon would be used on me. As a final safeguard, I signed a contract giving my permission to be forcibly removed from the Church of Scientology's premises in case I was brainwashed.
The Scientology personality test asks curious questions like "Are you a slow eater?", "Do you often whistle or sing just for the fun of it?", "When unexpected things happen, do some of your muscles have jerking motions?", "Do you consider too much money is spent on social security", "Are you opposed to the probation system for criminals?" and "Do you browse through railway timetables, directories or dictionaries just for pleasure?". Its results are drawn on to a graph, which invariably shows personal problems, requiring the need to spend money on taking Scientology courses to improve one's life. As expected, the findings of my earlier, professional psychological test contrasted strongly with their results.
That evening, at the "college", I had my first taste of the skilful and hard-sell techniques of the church's recruiters, who are given targets to be reached at the end of each week. Most people at Poole appeared to work long days, at least six days a week. One ex-scientologist told me he earned £90 ($A180) a week. However, if targets were not met, this could fall to as low as £2.50 ($A5) a week. Graphs charting the financial and membership status of the Poole mission were pinned to walls in the building. I learnt Scientology "missions" compete to beat the others found throughout the world.
I arrived at the college at 9pm. By 10.30pm, I had been in the "public contact" secretary's office for over an hour. I was feeling vulnerable and depressed. Although I was determined not to sign up for anything during the marathon session, or hand over any money that evening, I ended up signing up just to get away. I handed over the special half-price fee of £32.25 for five hours of "auditing".
"Auditing" sessions typically would start with understanding and friendship from the Scientology staff as they discussed problems and offered solutions. Then they would question the effectiveness of outside forms of help, and suggest that only by undertaking a Scientology course would an improvement be achieved.
To cancel all one's "engrams" usually takes at least 200 hours, although it can take thousands. Each session costs money. The evidence of a "clear" person is apparently someone with near-perfect memory and glowing health: radiant personalities free from disease. My "auditing" entailed describing a negative event in my life to my auditor over and over again, in order that I could talk about the event free from any emotion connected with it.
The auditor spoke in a slow, soothing monotone in a method similar to that used in hypnosis. He wrote down everything I said. After my auditing was completed, I was congratulated before it was recommended I do a "Purification Rundown". Through massive doses of vitamins and an average of five hours of sauna a day, along with running activities, the program is claimed to release you from all legal and illegal drugs and alcohol which otherwise would linger forever in your system.
I refused to do this course so it was suggested I do the "Success Through Communications" course, as my personality test had shown I had problems communicating. I agreed to this, paid £58 and endured three days of inane work and drills. I spent two, boring hours sitting, staring at a scientologist. There are other strange drills, including ignoring anything your partner is saying, pretending to sound interested, changing the subject and answering a question by ignoring it.
The mission head suddenly was interested. He persisted with suggesting ways I could get the money as soon as possible, so I could get started with future courses. One costing £2000 was deemed best for me. I was lucky though and ended up paying only half of another course which cost only about £100. It has been well documented by the media that other people who have become involved with the Church of Scientology have not been so fortunate.
Sometimes I was even followed into the toilet and asked questions. On my second visit, when I went to move my car, I was escorted there and back.
When I decided it was time to make my run for the church headquarters, the Sea Org, I entered on the pretext of visiting a mansion formerly owned by L. Ron Hubbard. After discussions, I was asked if I'd be interested in joining the staff. There, I found members were working and studying from 8am to 10pm.
I had become used to filling out questionnaires, surveys, writing testimonies and being asked security questions. But at Sea Org headquarters, I was introduced to the "Life History" questionnaire, which topped them all.
I was asked to list all people I knew who had expressed any opinion against Scientology. I had to detail all my friends; their jobs and previous jobs and the communication I'd had with them since joining Scientology; to list all the drugs and medicine I'd taken, when and for how long; to give a complete sexual history, from the earliest experience, of both heterosexual and homosexual activities and the names of all involved, the number of times of the activity and any perversions engaged in. I objected but was told the information was totally confidential and would be used only by my counsellors to help me. I do not believe this is the case.
When I returned to the Sea Org headquarters, I was left alone in a room. It was there I saw a pile of photocopied documents marked "strictly confidential". They included the names of some ex-members who had been involved in litigation with the church. I wanted to read the material and film it, so I put one of the papers in my bag. Meanwhile, the "Special Affairs" director was filming my activities with two concealed cameras. The police were called and I was arrested for suspicion of theft.
As I left the building, the corridors were suddenly lined with scientologists, some of whom photographed and videotaped me. I was taken to the local police station and later released on bail. My main fear was that the scientologists would get hold of my real name. It is widely documented that people who have spoken out against the church and its activities have been harassed. Although the police assured me they didn't release my name, it wasn't long before the cult was visiting my family in rural South Australia.
She admitted she was from the Church of Scientology and said I had been arrested, that I would get a criminal record and never be able to work again. She urged him to contact me and convince me not to proceed with the program. Meanwhile, the man had been at my primary school, masquerading as the husband of one of my friends, looking through my school records. The campaign to stop the program from being aired gathered momentum. This involved demonstrations and the distribution of a Scientology magazine called Freedom. An article in Freedom accused me and my producers of dishonesty, deceit, violating codes of television journalistic ethics and committing criminal acts.
Everything built up to broadcast night. Predictably, Carlton TV had many phone calls the evening the program was aired, complaining about biased reporting. But one of the most telling things of all, was that many of them were made before the broadcast even went to air.
The Church of Scientology also issued summonses for "obtaining services by deception". My lawyers applied to the London Magistrates Court for a hearing to halt these proceedings.
The case hit the media spotlight. My lawyers argued the summonses should be dismissed as they were issued solely to prevent the broadcast of the program, to punish and embarrass the defendants for making the program and to dissuade other journalists from publishing any material critical of the church. The case ended in the withdrawal of the summonses late last month, although the church still has the right to appeal.