They dress like naval officers.
But the uniforms, complete with epaulettes and brass buttons, are not what they seem.
These men and women do not belong to the armed services…they are Scientologists.
Most of us have only one view of cult members: Religious fanatics who pester shoppers in the street.
But behind the smiling face with a clipboard is the other side of Scientology: A cold, calculating, 300-strong military-style machine.
Few people in Britain outside East Grinstead, where the cult has its UK headquarters at Saint Hill, have seen or heard of the Sea Organisation.
Yet its leaders, and their counterparts in America, control the thousands of “civilian” Scientologists all over the world. Letters sent out to potential recruits who want to graduate through the ranks of Scientology to join this ruling elite promise: “Becoming a member of the Sea Organisation is the best thing that you could do in your life.”
But make no mistake: Dabble with these people and you will be entering a world:
Where many of your rights can be stripped away.
Where you can be punished for stepping out of line.
Where confiding in your family can be seen as violating the security of the regime.
And it is a world where you will eventually be taught that the spirits of extra terrestrials, who ruled the earth 75 million years ago, still inhabit the bodies of contemporary human beings and must be exorcised.
You could then spend years trying to achieve that goal.
In 1984, High Court Judge Mr Justice Latey used three different words to describe his philosophy: “Corrupt, sinister and dangerous.”
But Peter Mansell, director of public affairs at Saint Hill, hit back. He said: “We’ve been here in East Grinstead for something like 30 years. If there was something sinister or illegal going on, don’t you think the police would have done something?
“If Mr Justice Latey’s statement was a true reflection of what really happens here, don’t you think somebody over the past 30 years would have got a little bit of evidence?
“If people didn’t like it here, they can start walking and in ten minutes be somewhere else. It’s a completely voluntary organisation.”
Today Scientology claims a membership of millions worldwide and more than 300,000 in Britain.
In the United States, the cult was recently granted the tax exemption enjoyed by other churches.
It is now actively recruiting and expanding in Sussex.
Dianetic centres have opened up in London Road, Brighton, and in Station Approach, Chichester.
The self-styled church is also converting a former children’s home in Walshes Road, Crowborough, into a hostel for staff.
Now turn to pages four and five to find out what could lie in store for your son, daughter, or friend if they say yes to the question: “Do you have time for a survey?”
“Saint Hill, a place like no other on earth.”
The words and photographs in the glossy cult brochure conjure up a picture of peace and tranquility.
The manicured lawns. The smiling faces. The rolling hills.
But this is not paradise. Step behind the walls of the castle retreat, set in 55-acres on the outskirts of East Grinstead, and you will get a shock.
Everyone who works here wears a military-style uniform and everyone is expected to obey orders.
This is the secret world of the Sea Organisation. The group, the civil service of
Scientology claims it is a “force for goodness and freedom.”
But confidential cult documents obtained by the Evening Argus portray a different regime. They reveal in chilling detail how:
One official was ordered to clean out the sewer system after being told she spent too much time preparing for her own wedding.
Another woman was summoned before an internal tribunal for telling her parents about life inside the regime.
Children have been criticised for wetting their beds.
Staff work punishing hours for just a few pounds a week.
Recruits can be deprived of their beds – called “pig berthing” – and some have been forced to eat just rice and beans for weeks on end.
Anyone who fills in a personality test on the streets of Sussex could end up here or in the U.S. section of the cult.
The hierarchy mirrors the U.S. Navy: petty officers, midshipmen, warrant officers, ensigns, lieutenants, commanders and captains.
All The Crew are given military-style uniforms. Lower ranks wear peaked caps, white shirts, black or grey trousers, jackets, tie, and double- breasted overcoats.
Officers’ outfits can be more elaborate with gold epaulettes, campaign ribbons, braiding, and stitching.
They talk in jargon. Scientology has its own language which is incomprehensible to outsiders.
Staff can end up having little or no life of their own. They work an average 15-hours-a-day, sometimes 8am to 11pm, usually seven days a week, according to one cult publication.
One former Scientologist, who spent part of his time working in a bookstall in the castle, told the Argus his weekly allowance over two years ranged from 7.50 to 15.
Staff, as a cult application form points out, are motivated by religious commitment and conviction rather than “monetary gain, or other traditional commercial or financial motives or incentives”.
Peter Mansell, director of public affairs at Saint Hill, said the average weekly wage was about 30 but some staff were on less.
He said: “Most of the people I know in England, except for maybe those in a high income bracket, wouldn’t have much more than 30 spending money left over at the end of the week after all the bills had been paid.”
Most crew live in hostels in and around East Grinstead. The biggest is Stonelands, a ramshackle country mansion in nearby West Hoathly.
Staff are bussed to Saint Hill each day. On Saturday morning, everyone is allowed into East Grinstead — liberty time.
Nearly 200 people were listed as living at Stonelands on September 18 last year, including at least 24 children sleeping in dormitories separate to their parents.
Once a week, there is a white-glove inspection of the premises. An official runs his gloved-hand over surfaces to check for traces of dust or dirt.
Rooms with unmade beds, full wastepaper bins, or smells are singled out for criticism. The worst examples are photographed. No-one, least of all children, is spared any embarrassment.
The comment next to one girl’s name on an inspection sheet: “Smell of wet beds needs to be handled.” A boy on the list was also subjected to the same treatment.
Copies of the report were sent to the Watchdog Committee, the most senior management committee in Scientology, in Los Angeles and sent to at least 13 other officials and branches of the organisation.
This is acceptable in Scientology. In the eyes of L. Ron Hubbard:
“Cleanliness and neatness are the primary building blocks to respect in most societies.”
The quotation is printed in bold on the front page of the inspection results.
Mr Mansell said: “It’s a bit like when you’re a kid and your mother comes in and says ‘hey, tidy up your socks.’ Is that a massive infringement of your civil rights?”
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