Residents furious at “shameful” East Grinstead Town Council after calling Scientology activist a “bully”

Local residents have described East Grinstead Town Council as “shameful” after it accused Scientology Business Editor Alexander Barnes-Ross (aka Apostate Alex) of “employing bullying tactics” against Councillors and denied a Freedom of Information Act request for a transcript of a recent Council meeting.

The accusations were made in a letter dated 16th February, in which the Council stated they have “been advised on instruction” to “decline to respond on the basis that this and any further requests for data or complaints relating to this subject [Scientology] are vexatious”. The local authority claim submitting four FOI requests caused “disruption and distress” and firmly shut the door to further correspondence, concluding “As such, we decline to respond to you any further on this matter.”

When Scientology Business called the Town Clerk’s office after receiving the letter, the phone was hung up after they were asked when a more convenient time would be to discuss the matter. Local residents have taken to X (formerly Twitter) to voice their concerns over the Council’s handling of the situation, with one person suggesting “they’ll have Scientology whispering in their ear” and another saying “I cannot believe that a local public funded authority is accusing anyone of being a bully, absolutely shocking and shameful. If you can’t ask public figures questions about their behaviours and make legal FOI requests then they’ve definitely got something to hide”

The rejected Freedom of Information Act request was for a copy of the transcript and video recording of a Council meeting held on 29th January, during which several members of the public raised questions and concerns about the close relationship between East Grinstead and the Church of Scientology’s nearby Saint Hill headquarters.

All mention of Scientology was redacted from the published minutes and the entire public questions portion of the meeting was edited out of the video recording uploaded to their Youtube channel. According to East Grinstead Town Council, the censorship was necessary “due to the sensitive nature of the conversations and to protect any person in respect of any potential allegations that could result in legal action in the future.” However the full recording and transcript are still held on record and subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

A number of local residents have voiced concerns on social media since this issue was first raised in November and a petition asking for the Council to review their relationship with Scientology has received over 1,200 signatures. Despite the clear public interest, the FOI request submitted shortly after the meeting was rejected by East Grinstead Town Council on 16th February as “vexatious.”

The Information Commissioners Office (ICO), the government watchdog overseeing data rights “promotes openness by public bodies” and cites a court ruling on its website which explains “the starting point is that vexatiousness primarily involves making a request which has no reasonable foundation, that is, no reasonable foundation for thinking that the information sought would be of value to the requester or to the public or any section of the public.”

Section 14(1) of the Freedom of Information Act allows authorities to refuse requests however guidance clarifies they cannot do so “on the grounds that the requester themself is vexatious,” suggesting the request itself must have been made with the intent of causing “a disproportionate or unjustified level of disruption, irritation or distress.”

Dear Town Council,

The minutes to the Council meeting 29th January 2024 contains no record of the questions asked, or the answers given during the public question time. The meeting was recorded on Zoom, but that has been redacted also with the public question time removed from the EGTC’s Youtube page.

Please could you provide any and all records of the questions asked and the answers given, including the video recording, of the public questions segment of the Council meeting held on 29th January?

Please also supply any and all internal email and/or written communications, call logs and meeting records/minutes in relation to the questions raised at this meeting that have been held internally or with other internal & external parties.

Thank you and kind regards

Alexander Barnes-Ross MCIM

Freedom of Information Act request submitted to East Grinstead Town Council on 1st February 2024

In its response, East Grinstead Town Council, which promotes itself as a ‘Civility and Respect Pledge Council’ said “Your requests, complaint, attempts to disrupt council meeting question times as well as the bullying tactics that you have employed on members of the town council have met the threshold in which Section 14(1) can be applied.” They provided no evidence to substantiate their claims.

The scathing attack paints a worrying picture for the Council, who appear to be attempting to avoid accountability and attack former Scientologists seeking to raise awareness of alleged abuse occurring at Saint Hill. Alexander Barnes-Ross, who submitted the request, said “East Grinstead Town Council’s vicious attack was unexpected, unjustified and quite frankly upsetting. I have only ever attended one Council meeting in which my question was answered and that resulted in a follow-up email conversation with Mayor Frazer Visser. To say that I’m ‘attempting to disrupt council meetings’ is outrageous in itself, but to then claim I have bullied Councillors is abominable.”

“In my emails to the Council over the last 4 months I have sought to establish a collaborative rather than combative approach to addressing this issue and I’ve asked on several occasions for the chance to brief Councillors on why this is important. I do not seek to disrupt the good work they do for the community, but their close relationship with the Church of Scientology is worrying when you consider it is Scientology policy to infiltrate and bring local government under its control.” He continues, “The Council have made it very clear they will no longer respond to me on issues relating to Scientology and that the formal complaint I filed on 31st January regarding the censorship and manipulation of the public record will no longer be heard by a Complaints Panel.”

Barnes-Ross is seeking a public apology from the Council and is currently considering escalating the matter to the ICO.

The letter can be read in full below.

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