The Mayor of East Grinstead has voiced his support for the Church of Scientology, describing them as “a valued and large part” of the town after receiving a £50,000 cheque for his charity at the International Association of Scientologists (IAS) event earlier this month.
Responding to criticism on Twitter, Cllr Frazer Visser said “I’m non political as mayor and support all members of our community. I’m not a Scientologist but they are a valued and large part of East Grinstead.” However according to the 2021 census, 768 Scientologists live in the town and surrounding areas, meaning they represent just 0.18% of the local population.
The criticism comes after it was announced the Mayor would be attending an event this weekend to switch on the Christmas lights at the Scientology’s headquarters in Saint Hill. “Switching on their Christmas lights will be fun” he stated, going on to apologise for the “fireworks affecting pets”. He offered no apology or comment on the human trafficking, child labour and harassment cases currently ongoing in the United States against the Church and its leader David Miscavige.
Protocol laid out by East Grinstead Town Council explains the Mayor is considered “the foremost citizen of the town” and “should be treated as a dignitary”, out-ranked “only by the sovereign.” This makes Cllr Visser a prime target for ‘safe pointing’, in which Scientology attempts to influence and control local law enforcement, politicians and opinion leaders. The policy, written by founder L. Ron Hubbard states: “carefully and painstakingly find out who exactly are the top dogs in the area in financial and political circles, and their associates and connections, and to what each one is hostile … Viability [of Scientology] depends on having all areas and persons who could affect or influence the operation under PR control.”
In an article on his website The Underground Bunker, journalist Tony Ortega explains: “While it’s not unusual for organisations to engage with the wider community as part of their outreach activities, it is notable that Hubbard describes safepointing entirely in terms of protecting Scientology and makes no mention whatsoever of any benefit to society.”
Safe pointing is clearly in effect here and worryingly, it’s working.
In another Tweet posted yesterday, the Mayor defended his involvement with Scientology, writing “as a legal religion in the UK I represent all evenly,” The problem is, there’s no such thing as ‘a legal religion’ under British law.
In 1999, the Charity Commission determined that Scientology does not benefit the public and more specifically, it did not pass the religion-specific public benefit test, a decision it upheld earlier this year in a statement to Scientology Business. The only legal recognition Scientology has under British law is in relation to its buildings. In 2013, a Supreme Court ruling recognised their Chapels, which are single rooms inside much larger Church buildings, as places of worship. This gave Scientology the ability to perform religious wedding ceremonies and was followed more recently by a January 2023 tax ruling in which specific additional rooms were designated ‘places of public worship’ and thus exempt from Business Rates.
When we approached East Grinstead Town Council for a statement on the Mayor’s comments, they told us “Scientology are a registered religion and are treated as such.” However, after we provided further information on the Church’s legal status and its rejection by the Charity Commission, the Council decided to remove this sentence and instead referred to the group as an “organisation”. They did not provide comment on how this may affect their treatment by local government.
Concerningly, this suggests Scientology’s tactic of ‘safe pointing’ has managed to influence the way the group are perceived by the Council. Despite recent US lawsuits that allege human trafficking, child labour and harassment, the Mayor has continued to support Scientology and has attended a number of Church-run events since coming to office earlier this year.
In a post on his blog in July 2023, Cllr Visser revealed he was invited to attend the premiere of Tom Cruise’s latest Mission Impossible film in London along with several previous mayors. In the post, he describes the day as an “unforgettable experience” and said “walking the red carpet and meeting Tom Cruise was an extraordinary day out.”
On Sunday 5th November, the Mayor was pictured delivering a speech at the Saint Hill Charity Concert during Scientology’s IAS event weekend. He was later seen on stage next to Scientology Public Relations Officer Liz Ostermann receiving a £50,000 cheque on behalf of the East Grinstead Mayor’s Charity, which this year is Queen Victoria’s Hospital.
The hospital has received backlash in the past for taking Scientology money, after the national press labelled it “completely inappropriate” to accept a similar donation in 2017. At the time, a spokeswoman said the decision to accept the money was “considered in the context of all relevant guidelines” but the donation drew criticism from ex-Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb MP, who said it was “completely inappropriate for an NHS trust to accept funds from this organisation.”
Despite the controversy and allegations of human trafficking, child labour and harassment, East Grinstead Town Mayor Cllr. Frazer Visser is set to continue his support for Scientology at an event this weekend as he switches on the Christmas lights at their headquarters in Saint Hill. According to the official event page, the ceremony will take place on Saturday 25th November and features fireworks, live entertainment and a “magical trail with lights.”
Considering Scientology’s policy of asserting control over public figures through its policy of ‘safe pointing’, the Mayor’s support and attendance at Scientology events has raised doubts over East Grinstead Town Council’s integrity. Government policy requires all public officials, including the Mayor, to uphold strict ethical standards, stating “holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work.”
This is exactly what Scientology sets out to achieve through ‘safe pointing’ and its success in influencing local government was evidenced by the fact we had to explain to the Council that Scientology lacks charity recognition due to failing the public benefit test.
Locals have voiced their concerns on Twitter with one commenter calling for a full investigation into Scientology’s influence on the Council: “Many Town Councillors regularly accepting high value hospitality- Frazer Visser, Dick Sweatman, Julie Mockford, Rex Whittaker, Adam Peacock, Steve Barnet, Steve Ody and John & Margaret Belsey and EGTC Clerk – full investigation needed. Well done to those who say NO.”
Local resident Lucy Doyle wrote “The point I raised about the leader being chased around the world for child trafficking claims is an integrity thing. All [councillors] who attended [the Scientology event] are turning a blind eye for a lavish freebie, irrespective that its CoS. What did our town gain from 8 of them attending, including our MP? … and in turn support a man who has gone to great lengths to avoid being served legal documents for child trafficking for a considerable amount of time. Quite worrying, no matter your title it’s always a choice.”
Local pressure is mounting against the Church of Scientology, with protesters gathering outside Scientology’s headquarters earlier this month calling for an end to abuse inside the Church. The demonstration happened as parishioners gathered to hear leader David Miscavige speak at the anniversary of the ‘International Association of Scientologists’, which was attended by Tom Cruise and other Scientology celebrities. The demonstration was the largest in recent UK history.
After contacting the Mayor, East Grinstead Town Council issued the following statement:
We treat all organisations with good faith and the Town Mayor makes his/ her own decision as to whether they wish to attend events.
The East Grinstead Town Council has previously stated that the Church of Scientology is part of the town. The Church has no influence on the workings of the Town Council, however they do support community events often volunteering at Council organised events, for which the Council values their contribution in the same way as the Lions, Rotary and other volunteers.
The Church of Scientology has raised money for many charities over the years, they don’t always choose the Mayors charity but often are supporting local charities. The Town Mayor and Council are mindful that the contributions have been important for these charities to continue to support the wider towns folk in the delivery of local services. To this end, this years’ Town Mayor has chosen to attend some events at St Hill in order to acknowledge and receive a cheque on behalf of his Charity.
The Council does not endorse nor promote any religion, nor belief system, but does acknowledge that many are active in the town and, are by their nature interested in supporting the wider community. This is the view and the practical experience that the Council has as to the Church of Scientology in East Grinstead. The Council will not comment on any matters which may be subject to legal processes concerning members of the Church nor the Church as a whole.
There really is nothing further that we can add.
East Grinstead Town CouncilEast Grinstead Town Council statement, 23rd November 2023