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, “ 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.

Thursday 11 April 2013

R.J. Ellory: a reluctant Scientologist?

British crime writer R.J. Ellory's 27-year-long association with Scientology made the news in France earlier this month. But how committed is he?1

Now here's a twist in the tale: English thriller writer R.J. Ellory, who only last year had to apologise for an egregious lapse of professional ethics, turns out to be a long-time Scientologist.

British crime writer R.J. Ellory
Britain's Daily Telegraph reported in September 2012 that Roger Jon Ellory had been caught using “sock-puppet” accounts to write glowing reviews for his own books. As one wag at the New York Times put it a couple of days later: “His Biggest Fan was Himself”.

That might have been laughed off as a sad combination of vanity and desperation – except he used the same trick to rubbish books written by his rivals. Ellory was forced to issue an apology regretting his “lapse of judgment”.

In December, the Telegraph came back with a second helping of humble pie.

This time, he had been caught trying to edit unflattering references to the previous scandal from his Wikipedia page. Wikipedia confirmed to the Telegraph that it had banned Ellory from any further intervention (just as they did to Scientology back in 2009).

A page archived at Wikipedia, where editors exchanged information on the controversy offers an insight into their editing process – and Ellory's growing frustration at not being able to control it.

Media coverage of the affair was extremely misleading, he protested to the editors:

The facts are very simple, and - as you say - I have publicly apologised for this. Over a span of ten years, ten reviews were left on amazon, either self-penned or penned by a family member, one for each book I have published to date. Two negative reviews were left by me, and only two. The newspaper reports have created the apparency that I had used multiple false names and accounts to post 'dozens, if not hundreds' of reviews. This is entirely false...

But as one bemused Wiki-editor observed: “The impression that I got was that Roger Ellory... genuinely believed that he owned 'his page, his life, his bio, his career...'”

The same editor added: “I want to assume good faith, though this may have been feigned. This would explain the bizarre and frustrating one-way conversations and not being able to get through to Ellory.”2

Now French journalist Julien Bisson has unearthed the extent of Ellory's involvement in Scientology in an article for Lire magazine. The French monthly ran the piece in its April edition (which, appropriately enough, was devoted to crime fiction).
Lire broke the story 

Such is Ellory's profile over here, the news weekly L'Express picked up the story, running Bisson's original article and adding his interview with Ellory.

Ellory told Bisson that he had got into Scientology in 1986 after his brother introduced him to the “purification program”, which had helped him with his drugs problem. He had decided to give it a try because he too, had problems with drugs, he said.

“I stopped taking drugs immediately, and I honestly believe that if I hadn’t done that program I would have been dead before I was 25,” he added. (Our thanks to Bisson for the original English version of his quotes.)

Ellory is presumably referring to the Purification Rundown – the controversial Hubbard-devised programme involving aerobic exercise, long sessions in the sauna and massive amounts of vitamins. Ellory said the “program”, as he called it, helped people with drugs problems make spiritual progress.

The Rundown, of course, is a core part of the service offered at the we're-completely-independent-of-Scientology drug rehab service, Narconon, currently in meltdown across north America because of a series of deaths there.3

In the interview, Ellory was careful to mention his work for Foundation for a Drug-Free World. Their website reeks of the heavy-handed earnestness characteristic of Scientology's work in this field, together with shock facts about drugs, some of which look about as credible as – well, as certain online book reviews I could mention.4

Ellory also praised Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's “humanitarian” work not just in drug rehabilitation but helping develop literacy, a reference to Hubbard's Study Technology. His work with Scientology had also involved “...some fundraising for humanitarian programs etc. – all fairly self-explanatory,” he added.

In 2002 and 2006, a Roger Ellory appears on the Honor Roll in Impact, the magazine of the International Association of Scientologists. Generally that means that someone has contributed significant sums of money to Scientology or recruited a lot of people into the movement, Bisson noted. So, he asked Ellory, which was it?

Ellory said he had helped with some fundraising in the past but he had not earned the Honor Roll status because of money donated, “...and the Church has never been a financial burden to me or my family.”

He is quite a deep person”

Bisson had done his homework before approaching Ellory – not unreasonable, given Ellory's proactive approach to the truth.

He turned to the Suppressives and Merchants of Chaos over on the message boards for help – and they delivered, hooking him up with some of Ellory's former colleagues.

Haydn James, who ran Scientology's “org” in Birmingham, England, between 1990 and 2005, told Bisson that Ellory had worked there both as an auditor, providing Scientology's version of therapy – and then as a senior recruiter.

To Infinite Complacency, James added: “I worked closely with Roger for 15 years (1990 to 2005). Roger and his wife were at Birmingham org when I arrived. They were both staff there. Pretty much the only staff there.”

John Duignan, a Sea Org veteran who worked out of Birmingham, has known Ellory for more than 20 years. He told Bisson that Ellory's talk of anti-drugs work was a smokescreen. His real job, he said, was as a registrar, hard-selling new recruits expensive packages of auditing.

"I like him": John Duignan
Some of you may recall Duignan's book The Complex, an account of his time inside Scientology. If you've read it, you'll know he is not shy of speaking his mind. We asked Duignan to elaborate.

“His actual title was Hubbard Executive Secretary... and then he moved to Chief Registrar,” he said. “But he was basically in charge of all sales. That was his job – it was to get money into the building.”

Before moving into sales, Ellory was already an auditor, trained up to a fairly high level, he added – and that gave him a certain gravitas among his fellow Scientologists. “He used that technical insight into the auditing process to get people to cough up money.”

Bisson, in his interview, acknowledged that Ellory had been very open about difficult events in his life: he has written of a brief spell in jail for poaching and his drug use when younger, for example. Why then had he kept so quiet about his adherence to Scientology?

Ellroy replied that when on tour to promote his books, he just answered the questions he was asked. “If someone had asked me, then I would have answered those questions, of course,” he added.

John Duignan doesn't buy that.

“I know Roger very well and to be honest with you I like him,” he told us. “But there are two sides to the coin.

“I was always irritated as a Sea Org member that he never promoted that he was a Scientologist. Obviously, now that I'm out on the other side ot the fence I'm still irritated – but for a completely different reason.”

Haydn James got a similar impression.

“I am sure that Scientology changed Roger's life but that was in the early days,” James told Infinite ComplacencyIt was clear to me back in 1990 that by that time his personal desire for Scientology services had already waned.

“Besides what he told me, the concrete evidence was the fact that in all the years I knew him he did very little if anything by way of Scientology services and I pretty much respected that wish...

“I think he was still motivated to help people, but by 1990 his big wish and focus was to become a writer. I know, because he would stay up late writing at home and fall asleep, often at his desk, in the org the next day.”

Duignan is not even convinced that it was Ellory who answered the questions that Bisson had put to him.

“The interview pretty much looks like Scientology PR from OSA,” he told us, referring to the Office of Special Affairs, the movement's public relations/intelligence/dirty tricks wing.

“It wasn't Roger talking and I think that's unfortunate and maybe a weakness in the interview, because if it had been Roger it would have been a better interview, as he is quite a deep person.”

Bisson has confirmed to us that it was not a face-to-face meeting but an exchange of emails and he was good enough to send us the original text. It does look a little odd that Ellory's answers veer between and American and English spelling (program/programme).

The French connection

So why all the fuss about Ellory in France? Two reasons.

First, you'll have noticed that Scientology is not terribly popular over here. The 2009 convictions of several Scientologists and two of its organisations on fraud charges were just the latest in a series of run-ins with the French courts over the years.

On the other hand however, the French do like their thrillers – and Ellory seems to be doing good business here. At least four of his 11 books have been translated into French and one of them, A Quiet Belief in Angels, picked up a couple of French awards.

Soon a major film?
Ellory reports on his website: “The book was also optioned for film, and Roger has recently completed the screenplay for Oscar-winning French director, Olivier Dahan.”

It's early days yet: for the moment, the project does not feature as in production at the International Movie Database. But Dahan is certainly a hot property in the film world, even if he hasn't actually won an Oscar as Ellory seems to think. (That was his leading actress Marion Cotillard in the 2007 Edith Piaf biopic La Vie en Rose.)

Before we light the torches, hand out the pitchforks and march on the castle, it's worth remembering that there is another side to Ellory.

“He's not a shallow person,” says John Duignan. “He is much more multi-dimensional than the typical Scientologist. He has got two lives: a Scientology life and then he has got a life where he loves literature – he is very, very well read.

“He is not as judgmental as the typical Scientologist, who typically would be a fairly poorly educated person who was pulled in and made into a production-line robot. Roger didn't fall into that, he had this whole life that I admired – and envied to be honest with you...

“I admired him because he was able to bridge that gap – because he had those two worlds. I knew the guy for 20 years and he broadened my literary world. He had this bit of himself that was himself, not the Scientology self.

“That was a conflict to some degree, but he was able to straddle those two worlds quite effectively. He was able to have this personal world that he developed and nurtured and kept going that whole time despite the pressure that Scientology put on him – and I really admire that and still
admire that.”

In other words, he had the mindset of a Scientology Celebrity even before he was a celebrity.

Rock and a hard place

Haydn James reminded us just how strong the pull of Scientology, the Scientology community, can be.
Haydn James: Ellory
is "between a rock
and a hard place"

“One of the most potent things about the cult of Scientology... is the fact that there is very much a cult community, a culture – no different to any other cult in that respect. By the '90s it was the only community Roger and his wife knew.

“When his first book started to sell, many of his readers were Scientologists. So he was between a rock and a hard place. If he decided to forsake Scientology, all his initial fans would be obliged to disconnect from him – they might even go so far as to write nasty reviews or hurt his fledgling career.

“At the same time he was embarrassed by Scientology, hence his initial book covers spoke in very vague terms about what he had done in life. I remember him blushing when he showed me his first book cover.

“I think the hard place got harder and the rock became heavier as the years went on. He is still in the place he was back in the '90s, but it is harder and heavier for him.

“Roger was always a 'keep the peace' type person: try to smooth things out and don't make too many waves. Hence he stayed on staff all those years while working like crazy on his own time to get his career as an author going.

“I believe he is pretending to be a dyed-in-the-wool Scientologist to keep the peace with his family and his fan base,” James added.

“He knows what Scientology would do to him if he spoke out or even tried to distance himself. All Scientologists tend to know the consequences of those type of actions.

“But, since his career is now much bigger than it used to be, if the movement against Scientology starts to put him in the spotlight and his connection with Scientology starts to adversely affect his career he may be pushed to take action.

“Being an author is his big love. I don't think he would say anything too heavy against Scientology – he was never that brave – but I think he would distance himself from it if push came to shove.”

We have left a message at Ellory's website, offering him a right of reply. That offer remains open.
1   This is an extended version of the piece I wrote for Tony Ortega's The Underground Bunker, published yesterday (April 10, 2013).
2   Thanks to “Captain Howdy” over at the Underground Bunker, for digging up this link. You can see how they eventually resolved the issue at Ellory's Wikipedia page.
3   See “Narconon: an introduction” elsewhere at this site, for details of Scientology's link with this operation.
4   You won't find much about either Hubbard or Scientology at that site: on the other hand, Scientology promotes the foundation enthusiastically at its website.

Thursday 4 April 2013

A Death in France

In 1987, a French court convicted two Narconon staffers after a woman died at their centre having suffered repeated epileptic seizures. Was it their fault alone, or did their negligence spring from Scientology's teachings?

Jocelyne Dorfmann just wanted to get off her medication.

She had been taking drugs to control her epilepsy, but after eight years she had had enough of them.

Already, she had started cutting down her consumption, which had led to two fits within four days of each other. But she was determined to find a solution.

A day after the second fit, she phoned the Narconon centre at Grancey-sur-Ource, in the Burgundy region of eastern France, to ask about treatment. The very same afternoon – Thursday, November 22, 1984 – she turned up and was checked in.

A little over 12 hours later she was dead.

Dorfmann, a 35-year-old divorced mother-of-two arrived at the centre at around 2:00 pm with her partner. She had already spoken to the centre's deputy director, Bernard M. on the phone. He and a colleague, Philippe C., took her through how it worked.

The first month's care would cost 9,000 francs (a little over US $2,000 today), they told Dorfmann's partner.1

Once admitted, she was led to what was known as the withdrawal room: Dorfmann had said she did not want to eat, but just to rest.

She warned Bernard M. that as well as her epilepsy medication she had, up until a year ago, been taking hard drugs. She also told him about her epileptic fits.

At around 3:00 pm – an hour or so after her arrival – Dorfmann had her first seizure. According to Bernard M.'s account, it lasted 45 minutes.

It was Jean-Louis D., another patient at the centre, who recognised it as an epileptic fit: he suffered from the same condition. He described the symptoms as “spasms, trembling, vomiting, muscular tension, occasional drooling and a raw cough”.

Soon afterwards, Dorfmann had another fit.

At 5:30 pm, in a bid to treat her, she was given a Calmag mix, a combination of magnesium and calcium, the only medication given at the centre.

At 6:00 pm, she went into spasms again – but the staff took them to be withdrawal symptoms.

They stayed by her side until 7:00 pm when Bernard M. left to give a talk on Narconon at a nearby town.

At around 8:00 pm, Philippe C. heard a noise on the first floor of the centre, and when he went to check he found Dorfmann on her knees at the entrance to the toilets, twitching violently.

He led her back to her room and stayed with her, assisted by Dorfmann's fellow patient, Jean-Louis D.

Dorfmann's condition deteriorated: her fits became more intense and they came more frequently; she was sweating and having trouble breathing.

By the time Bernard M. got back to the centre at around 11:30 pm, she was already semi-conscious and she lost consciousness shortly afterwards.

Between 1:30 am and 1:40 am in the morning, Dorfmann's two carers noticed that she was having increasing trouble breathing, that her lips were turning purple. She slipped into a coma.

It was only then that they decided to call for a doctor.

There was a further delay while they hunted down the key to the office that had the only phone. The call finally went through at 2:15 am.

When the doctor arrived at the centre half an hour later, there was no one waiting for him at the entrance.

He went in, went up to the first floor, and found Dorfmann. The only person still with her was her fellow patient Jean-Louis D. She was already dead.2

The autopsy concluded that she had died as a result of the epileptic fits; that she had not been properly treated when the fits started, nor given adequate emergency treatment as her condition deteriorated.

One death, two convictions

Jocelyne Dorfmann died in the early hours of Friday, November 23, 1984 – about 12 hours after her arrival at the Narconon centre.

Two years later, in November 1986, the two Narconon staffers were tried for non-assistance to a person in danger. The judgment was handed down in January of the following year.

The court acknowledged that some clients of the centre had been referred there on medical advice and that they had had regular medical check-ups during treatment.

But that was not true of Dorfmann – and at the time she checked in, only one of the three clients there had a medical certificate.

More troubling still was that shortly before Dorfmann's arrival another client who suffered from epilepsy had had fits – a direct result of his having stopped taking his medication.

On that occasion, he had had to call the doctor himself.

The trial had also established that neither Bernard M. nor Philippe C. had any medical credentials for their work: their only qualification appeared to be that they had themselves completed a course of treatment at Narconon.

The two defendants argued that they had not known how serious Dorfmann's condition was; they had thought her condition was due simply to withdrawal symptoms.

But the court was not convinced.

At no point had they advised Dorfmann to consult a doctor about coming off her epilepsy medication – who would have advised against it, the judgment noted.

Given what she had told them about her condition, “ is inconceivable that the victim could have been accepted without this [medical] examination and without a serious interview...,” the court added.

The defendants had themselves acknowledged that in the case of serious illness, medical treatment should not be interrupted, said the judgment.

The defendants might conceivably have failed to understand what was happening with the first fit, said the ruling: those that followed – and their growing intensity – should have made them think again.

Medical experts had confirmed to the court that such repeated fits could not be confused with withdrawal symptoms. The defendants had not even bothered to check with Dorfmann herself – while she was still conscious – as to whether these were like her previous fits.

Their failure to act was all the more difficult to understand given that a fellow patient, himself an epileptic, had told them her fits resembled his own, said the ruling. More serious still, was their failure to act immediately when her condition deteriorated.

Both defendants were convicted, given one-year suspended sentences, fined 10,000 francs and ordered to pay damages to the victim's family of a little more than 400,000 francs (allowing for inflation that's about $140,000 today).3

The Narconon centre where she spent her last hours closed later the same year and the organisation has not operated in France since.4

The two defendants had argued that they did know how serious Dorfmann's condition was – the court's judgment uses the word ignorer in the relevant passage.5 It is an interesting choice of word. In French ignorer means “not to know, to be ignorant of” – but it can also mean “ignore”.

In the event, the court did not have to decide which sense was more appropriate: they had enough for a conviction. Given the way the centre was run, Dorfmann's death was a disaster waiting to happen.

Had the court dug a little deeper however, it would have found that the defendants' criminal recklessness simply reflected the teachings of Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard.

Articles in the Ignoring Epilepsy series:
  1. A Death in France” (Jocelyne Dorfmann's 1984 death at a Narconon Centre as she tried to come off her epilepsy medication)
  2. Hubbard on Epilepsy
  3. Tory 'Magoo' Christman's Story
  4. The Death of Heribert Pfaff I”
  5. The Death of Heribert Pfaff II”
1   9,000 French francs comes to 1,372 euros; in November 1984 that would come to around $984; allowing for inflation, that comes to $2,230 at today prices.
2   This account is drawn entirely from the court judgment. The names of the two defendants are not given in full as their conviction will now be spent: nor did it seem necessary to give the name of the key witness.
3   415,000 francs comes to 63,300 euros; in January 1986 that would come to around $68,150; allowing for inflation, that comes to $141,604, give or take.
4   Narconon may not actually be banned in France, but with two members convicted over the first death, Scientology could be under no illusion about the vigilance of the French authorities.
There was talk in 2006 that one might open up again – or at least a line to that effect in an article in the August 3, 2006 edition of the news weekly L'Express (“D'une drogue à l'autre” by Solenne Durox).
In December of that year, deputies Georges Fenech and Philippe Vuilque presented a report to the French parliament, the National Assembly, on the involvement of “cult-like movements” in the health sector.
Citing the report in L'Express that a new Narconon might be in the pipeline they took the opportunity to outline the dangers of the Purification Rundown – as set out by Roger Gonnet in his testimony to the committee compiling the report.
The plans for the new Narconon centre never came to anything.
In 2008, Fenech was appointed to head up MIVILUDES, the government's cult watchdog, a position he occupied until 2012; Vuilque is currently head of the parliamentary working group on cults.
Note that the two deputies come from different sides of the political spectrum: Fenech is a member of the right-wing UMP Party, while Vuilque is a Socialist. But in France there has long been a cross-party consensus on the issue of cults.
5   “Attendu que les prévenus... soutiennent avoir ignorer son état de santé réelle...” (“Given that the defendants... say they did know know her real state of health...”).