East Grinstead Town Council retract censorship of Scientology concerns, but still no apology

Following a lengthy complaints procedure brought by Scientology Business Editor Alexander Barnes-Ross, East Grinstead Town Council have retracted its censorship of the public record after concerns were raised over its close ties to the Church of Scientology.

After former Mayor Frazer Visser was photographed accepting a £50,000 cheque for his charity at the annual gathering of the International Association of Scientologists (IAS) last November, local residents expressed concerns on social media about the Council’s relationship with the controversial group. At Council meetings held on 8th and 29th January 2024, several members of the public asked the Mayor to clarify the local authority’s stance on Scientology and explain the steps it has taken to ensure safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults from abuse, only to find their questions removed when the recordings were uploaded to the Council’s official Youtube channel.

It was also discovered that several Councillors feature in Scientology’s promotional films on their website lauding their work in the community, with one former Mayor explaining the Council “works very closely with the guys at Saint Hill”, despite its elusive leader David Miscavige facing multiple lawsuits in the US alleging human trafficking and harassment, and a well documented history of abuse and fraudulent activity. The story made national headlines in April after the Daily Mail published its lengthy investigation into the scandal, concluding “Civid leaders in East Grinstead have been dazzled by Tom Cruise – and even given red carpet treatment to the church’s controversial leader”

The Council also removed all mention of Scientology from its public minutes of one meeting, fuelling speculation it had fallen victim to ‘Safe Pointing’ – a tactic used by the Church to assert control over local opinion leaders. The Council issued a statement strongly denying any “inappropriate relationship with any community group” and claimed it had been advised by the Sussex Association of Local Councils (SALC) that it was “not appropriate for the comments to be published and/or shared on video sharing platforms” and the redactions were made “in order to protect” those raising concerns.

Mayor Frazer Visser accepting Scientology cheque
The Mayor of East Grinstead was photographed accepting a cheque from Scientology for his charity

A formal complaint was then lodged with the Council and was due to be heard by a panel consisting of individuals who had been involved in making the redactions. In the interests of impartiality, the panel members were swapped out but were instead replaced by officials currently featured in propaganda on Scientology’s website. A second panel revision was then made and the complaint was finally heard by Councillors Tracy Hughes and Craig Pond, who were two of only a handful of officials who had not previously endorsed Scientology or attended events at Saint Hill.

On April 12th, the panel ruled that the “redaction of the You Tube video recording and associated recording transcript of the East Grinstead Town Council meeting of the 8th January 2024 was valid based on both Legal and SALC advice but was incorrectly applied.” It continued, “the redactions should have been specifically in relation to the Legal and SALC advice given, which was relating to the allegation of illegal activity or perceived defamatory content which could be used in legal proceedings” and that only specific elements of the questions raised should have been redacted. For consistency, it was determined this should also apply to the recording and transcript of the meeting on 29th January as well as “any and all future meetings”.

The adjusted recordings were uploaded to the Council’s Youtube page several weeks later on 15th May, however an apology is yet to be made for the distress and impact caused on victims it acknowledged “have bravely spoken out but feel shut down.”

At the Annual Town Council meeting held on 13th May, newly-elected mayor Steve Ody referred to the request for an apology as an “additional request” which was “not a matter concerning the complaint itself and therefore cannot be considered by the panel” but noted “these requests had been fed back to the council.”

The other requests included “the removal of any Church of Scientology publicity material (especially digital) to be redacted so no current Town Councillors are seen to be supporting or validating the organisation” and a briefing on Scientology’s impact in the community and the concerns of local residents.

The panel noted “a number of learnings have been made and subsequent recommendations will be made back to the Town Council, which should aim to tighten or enhance a number of policies and create new procedures as required”

It is unclear whether East Grinstead Town Council intends to issue an apology.


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Alexander Barnes-Ross https://www.scientologybusiness.com

Scientology Business provides analysis and commentary on the Church of Scientology's corporate structure, business operations and functions in the United Kingdom and Europe. The website looks at Scientology's shell companies, financial records and maps the web of international corporate entities responsible for their UK and European activities.

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