Thursday, 18 April 2013

Settlement rejected in Irish lawsuit

A former Scientologist who is suing the movement in Ireland alleging their hard-sales tactics ruined him, has rejected a settlement offer.

A former Scientologist who is suing the movement in Ireland, alleging he was pressured into spending nearly 100,000 euros, has rejected an initial offer to settle his case.

Ex-member Kevin Stevenson
Kevin Stevenson, a graphic designer from Donegal, in the northwest of the Republic, is suing the movement for the money (US $130,000) he says he paid out between 2005 and 2009. His lawsuit, which was filed in June 2012, targets the movement's Dublin mission.1

He is also claiming damages for “undue influence, conspiracy misrepresentation, fraud, fraudulent misrepresentation” as well as the deliberate and/or negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Scientology's Dublin mission contacted his lawyer, Cormac O'Ceallaigh, over the Easter period to propose a financial settlement.

Stevenson rejected the offer on the grounds that they had insisted on a response by the following Thursday; that it involved some form of gagging clause; and that the offer was too low.

“The Thursday deadline was never going to fly in the first place,” Stevenson told Infinite Complacency. “But I think the confidentiality clause – I think there's an obligation there.

“For me, part of the healing process of the whole thing is to deal with it the way that I see is correct, and I think you have got an obligation to point out the trap that Scientology is.”

He also had a responsibility towards people to whom he had become indebted during his time inside the movement, he added: the sum offered would not have enabled him to meet those obligations.

In addition, the offer was formulated in such a way that Scientology would not have had to admit any fault, he said.

Now that its settlement offer has been rejected, Scientology has to file a defence to the allegations set out in the lawsuit.

Stevenson got involved in Scientology 2004 after sending off for a copy of Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. In January 2005 he visited the movement's Dublin premises in Middle Abbey Street, took a personality test and on the strength of its results, started taking courses.

“The initial course involved reading texts in silence for three nights a week while being closely observed by invigilators, who would challenge the Plaintiff [Stevenson], if at any stage he blinked, yawned or stared into space,” says the statement of claim filed on his behalf.

“[Stevenson] would also face severe challenge and reprimand if he was even momentarily late.”

His then partner was not happy with Stevenson's involvement with Scientology. When his fellow Scientologists found out, he was handed a “handle or disconnect” note by the org's “Ethics Officer”, the lawsuit alleges.

What that meant was that either he had to bring his girlfriend around to his way of thinking or break with her. The “Ethics Officer” advised him to leave his partner, the lawsuit alleges.2

By the end of the year, their relationship was over.

In January 2006, two Scientologists from the Dubin mission turned up at Stevenson's house to tell him he had been approved for auditing (Scientology's version of therapy). But they told him they would have to “work together” to find a way to pay for it, the lawsuit alleges.

Stevenson told them he was the sole owner of his house, which had a relatively small mortage. He wrote a cheque for 1,894 euros and they signed him up for the Purification Rundown and the Objectives course that night.3

Over the next three years, he paid out more and more money to the movement. Under pressure from the Dublin office staffers, the lawsuit alleges, he switched his mortgage to another company to free up money to pay them.

A member of staff moved into his house and lived there for about year entirely at Stevenson's expense, the lawsuit adds.

Stevenson was encouraged to keep attending the courses, which included hours in the sauna at the Dublin mission as part of the Purification Rundown. He was told he had to get to the state of Clear, a crucial step in Scientology's programme, the lawsuit alleges.

His Scientology sessions mainly took place between eight and ten in the evening on week-nights. He would attend after finishing his day job at an advertising agency.4

“The sessions were frequently exhausting and almost hypnotic as they involved repetitive questioning, on occasions the same question being asked over and over for up to two hours, with [Stevenson] hooked up to a lie detector,” says one document filed by Stevenson's lawyer.

This is a reference to the electropsychometer, a device used in Scientology auditing.5

“During these sessions, [Stevenson] would go through strange feelings. At the end of a session he usually felt relieved that the ordeal was over and often elated.”

But, the document added: “The heavy counselling sessions were frequently and immediately followed by demands for money.”

Hard sell

After the sessions, staff members would be waiting for Stevenson to put pressure on him to agree to pay more money or find a way of refinancing in order to get more money, the document alleged.

“Any reluctance to pay was dismissed as an 'abberation'[sic].”

Aberration is a special term used in Scientology: the movement defines it as “...a departure from rational thought or behavior. It means basically to err, to make mistakes, or more specifically to have fixed ideas which are not true.”6

“The demands for money were intense...,” the legal document filed by Stevenson's lawyer alleged. Mission staff called Stevenson several times a day when he was at work to keep up the pressure, it added.

When Stevenson refused to take calls at work, staff members from the mission turned up at his office, the lawsuit alleges.

The mission officials also made it clear to Stevenson that “...he would be heavily penalized within their organization for missing a payment deadline of 2:00pm Thursday, as all statistics... were apparently calculated on a weekly basis.”

He now believes, his lawyer argued, that “...the moneys sought from were sought in a manner that ensured he was at his most vulnerable when the request/demand for money was made...”

The real point of the push to get him to the state of Clear, was to “extract as money out of him as possible,” the document concluded.

By 2009, as Stevenson's money began to run out, the Dublin mission's officers subjected him to increasingly aggressive demands for more payments.

On one occasion at the Dublin mission, the lawsuit alleges, one of its employees swung a chair against the ground, shouting: “Pay me 700 euros or fuck off!”

Stevenson met with one mission executive to discuss his finances on a number of occasions, his lawyer wrote.

This man convinced him that at the end of it they would have a “working financial plan”. Stevenson took this to mean that he would be solvent “and almost certainly better off”.

But when his finances became unsustainable and he told this same executive that he was heavily in debt, he was told: “You got yourself into it, you can get yourself out of it.”

Stevenson also alleges that he was misled at meetings of the International Association of Scientologists (IAS), says one case document. There, he alleges, "...presentations were screened showing... imaginary threats to the Organization.

“'Donations' were very actively sought at these closed-door events, where servants or agents of the Defendant would work through the crowd to ascertain what was the maximum 'donation' that could be made that night,” the document alleges.

Stevenson had himself written out cheques at such IAS fundraising events.7

Scientology “built on a fraud”

Stevenson only managed to disentangle himself from the movement with the help of friends who helped him to move abroad, his statement of claim says. He now lives and works in France.

He now believes that the “entire organization is built on a fraud,” his lawyer said in one case document.

He feels that the Dublin mission operated like a pyramid scheme, “...in which members progress through the ranks of the organisation by recruiting new members who have fresh funds to plunder.”

He believed he was encouraged into the organisation so that its officials could get his money; and that the 'training courses' were not aimed at educating him but increasing control over him.

Stevenson's lawsuit also contends that part of the fraud and misrepresentation was Scientology's claim that the materials it sold him – books, CDs and DVDs – had the “inflated values” they claimed for them.

“They are in fact simply another mechanism of extracting money...,” one case document argued.8

The books Stevenson had bought in 2006 were reissued in 2007, said the lawsuit. “The instruction to destroy all previous versions was given as they were 'out-tech'.”

Stevenson destroyed the old materials and bought the new ones.

This case has some similarities with the successful 2009 French prosecution in Paris, inasmuch as the basic practice of Scientology is being characterised as fraudulent.9 The lawsuit also targets Scientology as an organisation, as the French case did.

This case however is a civil case brought by an individual, rather than a criminal case brought by prosecutors.

“I just can't see the authorities here pursuing it,” Cormac O'Ceallaigh, Stevenson's lawyer, told Infinite Complacency. “They are just not interested. There are so many more pressing things.

“Here, the Church is pretty much left to its own devices.” But because Scientology is not recognised as a charity in Ireland, it is not properly regulated, he argued.

Now that his client had rejected Scientology's offer, the ball was in their court, he said. “We are waiting for them to file their defence.” Even if Scientology filed it immediately however, he did not expect the case to reach court before next year.

From what he gathered from colleagues, Stevenson's story was far from being an isolated one, said O'Ceallaigh.

His feeling was that, as Stevenson's case became better known, other disaffected former members might come forward.

“I would be delighted to take more cases on,” said O'Ceallaigh.

Scientology's Dublin mission is represented by law firm Noel Smyth & Partners. Contacted for a comment on the case, they have not so far responded.

The last major lawsuit against Scientology in Ireland was when former member Mary Johnston sued the Dublin mission and three of its senior officials in 1995. That case finally got to court seven years later, in December 2002.

Among those who testified on her behalf were Professor Stephen Kent, of the sociology department at the University of Alberta, Canada. He argued that the auditing techiques to which Johnston had been subjected had created a dependency in her.

Professor Michael Ryan, head of pharmacology at the University of Dublin also gave evidence, dismissing Scientology's Purification Rundown as neither scientifically verified or medically safe.

The last witness to appear before the case was settled was Dr Peter Naish.

Naish received a doctorate in experimental psychology from Oxford University. A lecturer in cognitive therapy for the Open University, he had also written extensively on hypnosis.

He began his testimony in March 2003, 30 days into a case that had originally been expected only to last two weeks.

He took the view that Ms. Johnston had been hypnotised while undergoing auditing and that she had been subjected to dubious therapy techniques.

He began his testimony in the morning: by the time the court had reconvened after lunch, the two sides had reached a settlement.
---
1   The allegations are set out in the Statement of Claim in in Kevin Stevenson v Church of Scientology Mission of Dublin Limited, filed by Stevenson's lawyer, Cormac O'Ceallaigh.
2   For more on Scientology's disconnection policy, see “An Introduction to Disconnection” elsewhere at this site.
3   The Purification Rundown is a system devised by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, which is also used at the Scientology-linked Narconon drug rehabilitation centres. It involves aerobic exercise, long hours in a sauna and massive amounts of vitamins and minerals. It has been criticised by some medical experts as scientifically unsound and potentially dangerous. See elsewhere on this site: “The Purification Rundown” part 7 of the coverage of the 2009 Paris trial of Scientology; “Narconon: an Introduction”; opening the Narconon section of the site; and “The Rundown: a close call” in the same section. See also the Narconon Exposed website set up by Dave Touretzky and Chris Owen: in particular “Is Narconon Safe? Dangerous Detoxification”.
Scientology's Objectives course involves training routines that critics have said induce hypnotic states, that make the subject more vulnerable to manipulation. See “Never Believe a Hypnotist” by Jon Atack.
4   These details appeal in “Replies to notice for particulars” in Kevin Stevenson v Church of Scientology Mission of Dublin Limited.
5   For more on the controversy surrounding this device, see elsewhere on this site, part 13 of the 2009 Paris trial of Scientology, “The E-Meter Experts”.
6   Extract from the definition in the glossary at the What is Scientology? website.
7   “Further replies to notice for particulars” in Kevin Stevenson v Church of Scientology Mission of Dublin Limited.
8   “Further replies...” cited above.
9   For an analysis of the Paris judgment, which in all important respects was confirmed on appeal, see “Reviewing the Judgment” elsewhere on this site. Scientology has taken the case to France's supreme court, the Cour de Cassation.

15 comments:

  1. I'm so glad Kevin Stevenson didn't accept CoS's first, insulting, settlement offer. Good man. Kevin, I wish you so much luck and happiness :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. TheHoleDoesNotExist18 April 2013 at 19:53

    Saluting your integrity, Kevin Stevenson. The most ethical people on the planet are ones who have been sucked into the scientology experiment machine and not only lived to survive it, but moved to defy it. Even those who did not win in court won in the finals of the human race.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Very excellent article! I do hope that experts such as those referred to above can be brought to bear this time.
    Remember Bonnie Woods: accepted compensation, did not sign any gag order, got apology (from the organisation itself) and collected the money. That's how it's done!

    ReplyDelete
  4. That's true Jens, and it was a remarkable achievement. But she did have the backing of a top London law firm, which agreed to represent her pro bono.

    ReplyDelete
  5. There are so many other ex-C0$ to cowobowate (thank you Tommy Davis) these facts. I hope to see depositions coming from Sam Domingo, Peter Griffiths and many others.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Oh, yes, quite right. She and her husband had been representing themselves for years with quite a lot of success (considering...). However, old-school a.r.s. activism saved the day in persuading the National Council of Civil Liberties to promote her case as one for consideration for being taken on by a top law firm on a "pro bono" basis. And the rest is history. The big hairy grinning mountain of a man in the back of the victory photo on the steps of the high Court is David Bird, who was that a.r.s. activist. To this day I'm a paying supporter of the NCCL (aka. Liberty) for this reason.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Wow! Thank you for reporting on this. Mr. Stevenson is one of so many across the world who have been ripped off like this, yet he takes a stand that few know even how to begin. Good for him and for having a willing and diligent lawyer by his side to take this case to justice. If 20 other victims of Scientology had such lawsuits across world, as there are right now in the USA against Narconon, much could be done to shut this cult down. This is an inspiring case. Thanks for keep us posted about it.

    ReplyDelete
  8. DialogueIreland201321 April 2013 at 01:52

    http://dialogueireland.wordpress.com/2010/02/23/maeve-sheehan-meets-mary-johnston-mary-won-a-settlement-from-scientology-in-2003/

    Jonathan how did you form this opinion?
    10 The terms of Scientology's settlement with Mary Johnston were not revealed, but did include a confidentiality clause.
    As you rightly pointed out Richard and Bonnie Woods who assisted Mary got a pay out and significantly did not sign a gagging agreement.
    Mary Johnston had exactly the same arrangement.
    I know this because she told me.
    She has expressed the view she wants to take on Scientology in her own way!
    10 years on it is not clear what that means?
    Whatever her situation she is a pioneer who was selflessly engaged and risked all. She also obtained assistance from Fitzpatrick's and if she ever tells her story it will show what type of organisation we are dealing with.

    ReplyDelete
  9. You're right of course: my apologies. I think I must have misremembered
    the situation because when I approached her a few years ago for help writing
    her story for the book I was writing, I got word back from mutual
    contacts that she did not want to be involved. Have duly deleted the final note, #10. Perhaps now though, is the time to see if she has anything she would like to add.

    ReplyDelete
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  12. is this the same Kevin Stevenson as was sexually abused in the Scottish Buddhist retreat centre? I am doing some research on the case and desperately trying to trace this man [he was 18 ish in the year 2000, so he is 32 now?]

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