Scientology’s UK Narconon drug rehab centre under investigation: CQC ignored warnings

The Care Quality Commission is investigating Scientology’s Sussex Narconon facility after a damning report published by The Observer on Sunday revealed a string of complaints over “safeguarding failings” and “psychological abuse” went ignored.

The front-page article by Shanti Das by Shanti Das was the result of a nine-month long investigation and raises serious concerns as to how, despite working directly with vulnerable adults, the facility has been able to avoid regulation and continue its operation. In a statement the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which regulates drug rehabilitation centres, said Narconon’s program is regarded an “alternative” treatment and as such, “does not fall under its remit” – a defence that appears to be growing in popularity for authorities facing Scientology-related concerns after we reported last week that East Grinstead Town Council used the same excuse for censoring questions asked by the public at a Council meeting.

Since 2019, The Observer reports, the CQC has received 19 complaints about Narconon, of which 14 were never investigated. Scientology Business has obtained a copy of one complaint made in December 2023, in which the watchdog were informed of several deaths linked to a branch in the US and warned that if anybody is currently at Narconon UK and receiving treatment, “they would be at risk of harm and abuse.”

The facility was opened by former East Grinstead Mayor Dick Sweatman in 2015, who we recently revealed attempted to disrupt protest plans on behalf of the Church of Scientology at the November 2023 IAS event.

According to the CQC’s website, “accommodation for persons who require treatment for substance misuse” is a regulated activity that includes “managed withdrawal or detoxification, or a structured psychosocial treatment programme.” However, Narconon’s listing on the site shows it is only registered to provide “accommodation for persons who require nursing or personal care”.

Prior to The Observer‘s report, ‘substance misuse problems’ was listed as one of Narconon’s specialisms under the heading of ‘nursing and personal care’ rather than as a regulated activity; however in light of the recent press coverage, the CQC has since removed the specialism and added a warning box stating they have “suspended the ratings for this service”. Guidance explains “we may suspend a rating if we identify significant concerns that lead us to re-consider our previous rating. The rating will be suspended until we have investigated the concerns and/or re-inspected the service.”

Narconon’s listing on the CQC website prior to the Guardian/Observer article.

The Narconon program is based on L. Ron Hubbard’s Purification Rundown, which is the first step on the Scientology ‘Bridge to Total Freedom’, and involves taking dangerously high dosages of niacin and sitting in a sauna for several hours a day. Hubbard suggests the regime enables the body to ‘flush out’ residual drug toxins supposedly ‘stored in fatty tissues’, but his claims are based on no scientific evidence or research. Patients (or students, as Narconon calls them) are then required to undergo hours of Scientology TRs (Training Routines) and Objectives – which are psycho strenuous exercises such as sitting in a chair facing another person for up to two hours without fidgeting, but are marketed as “unique exercises” that “help bring a person’s attention off the past and into the present.” A former staff member quoted in The Observer explains “I would even compare it at one point to enhanced interrogation techniques.”

The article features harrowing accounts of former students who were left feeling “suicidal and traumatised” after participating in the £15,000 ($18,800 USD) program. The CQC have failed to investigate over a dozen complaints about the treatment centre, with Das raising the very valid question: “So who is accountable for safeguarding vulnerable people at unregulated rehabs such as Narconon?”

The centre was last inspected 8 years ago when it was rated as “good” overall, but noted that “documentation did not consistently reflect the information and knowledge held by staff on how to provide safe, effective and responsive care.” It was then listed as dormant by the regulators as it was not providing the regulated service it was being inspected on – ‘accommodation for persons who require nursing or personal care’… but how have the CQC failed to realise during its inspection that Narconon was in fact providing a different regulated service for which it wasn’t registered?

Carrying out a regulated activity without being registered is considered an offence and carries a £4,000 penalty. It is unclear whether Narconon will be issued such a fine. A source with extensive knowledge of CQC policies and procedures told us “I don’t think they should have been registered for personal care in the first place, but as they didn’t seem to meet the criteria to be the more medical substance abuse category, one wonders who exactly is regulating these non-medical treatments.”

“Getting a rating is a smart move because it’s transparency and makes everything look official and regulated, but if they say they are going to offer personal care, the CQC have to inspect just that part.”

As for the 14 unhandled complaints, our source explains “they can refer any adult safeguarding concerns and address anything within the scope of the regulations, but it seems to me there’s probably a few places like it on nobody’s radar at all.”

Scientology Business can reveal that In one complaint filed last year, the CQC was made aware of Narconon’s incorrect registration of regulated activities and that a number of patients had died while undergoing treatment at their Arrowhead facility in the USA.

Narconon UK’s registered manager, Sheila Maclean, is a high-level Scientologist

The complaint also raises concerns about Sheila MacLean, Narconon UK’s registered manager who is responsible for the regulated services provided at the centre. According to records published online, she received services at Scientology’s Flag Headquarters in Florida in May 2017, February 2018 and May 2023, which means she would’ve been unable to fulfil her duty to manage the day-to-day running of the centre. Although it is unclear how long she was overseas for during each trip, CQC policy requires a formal notification be submitted for absences of 28 days or longer. “There is no way she would have been on the Narconon facility”, the complaint reads. “Caller is concerned who was there to regulate things and make sure things were done properly.”

“If someone is currently there they would be at risk of harm and abuse”

The complaint is one of 19 that have been filed against Narconon UK since 2019, out of which 14 were never followed up, resulting in yet another Scientology-related public concern over the welfare and safeguarding of vulnerable people in Sussex.

A CQC spokesperson told us: “Given the length of time this provider has not been providing regulated activities for which they are registered, we are currently gathering information to determine our next steps. The rating has been suspended while this decision is made.”

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Alexander Barnes-Ross

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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