:: escape ::  helping families effected by Scientology

We have mainly collated media concerning our Court Action which lasted 6 years and ended in Scientology capitulating and making a public apology in open court.

Below is an extract from The Times Wednesday 6th June 1999

Today in the High Court, Scientology totally capitulated in the libel case brought by ex-member Bonnie Woods, settling for the following conditions: A profuse apology was read out in open court by Scientology's counsel, officially acknowledging that hurtful statements made about Bonnie were untrue. "Substantial damages", apparently in six figures, have been paid to Bonnie from Scientology's account. Bonnie's bankruptcy is now discharged, so she gets to keep all the money. Scientology has accepted an injunction which prevents them from repeating the libels.

If they mount another hate campaign against Bonnie, they face prison and large financial penalties. This represents a complete victory for Bonnie Woods in a case was has been going for six years. Informal estimates are that Scientology has spent 5 million fighting the case. Three counter-claims brought by Scientology were dismissed with prejudice last year. This result is thanks to Bonnie's pro bono representation by the major City law firm Allen and Overy.

At 10.30 this morning, Bonnie, her husband Richard, her legal team, and many friends and well-wishers gathered in the High Court to hear the apology in an extremely brief session. As we came out of the court, Scientology spokesman Graeme Wilson distributed a press release which does not mention the apology and damages and clearly implies that Bonnie has apologised to Scientology (this will also be posted separately).

Outside the court, Bonnie was met by a crowd of TV and press journalists and happily posed for the cameras with her husband and her cute baby granddaughter. There is already an article about the settlement in the Daily Express. Ron Lawley stated that the case would not have come this far if it had not been for the Internet. Several netizens have sent encouragement and financial help and Allen and Overy's involvement was a result of Dave Bird referring the case to the Liberty panel.

The Church of Scientology yesterday paid Pounds 55,000 in damages to a former member and apologised for carrying out a leaflet drop that branded her a "hate campaigner". Bonnie Woods, 49, fought a six-year libel battle against the Church that is estimated to have cost Pounds 100,000 and involved more than 25 appearances in court.

Her legal action began in 1993 when, after she spoke out against Scientology and offered counselling to its members, the Church hit back with a leaflet campaign delivered to Mrs Wood's friends and neighbours in East Grinstead, West Sussex. The leaflet, which showed a picture of Mrs Woods above the words "Hate Campaigner Comes to Town", described her as a "de-programmer", or someone who tried to force people away from their chosen faith.

In a rare capitulation yesterday, the Church of Scientology apologised unreservedly in the High Court and agreed to pay Mrs Woods Pounds 55,000 in damages as well as her costs. Michael Tugendhat, QC, representing the Church, told Mr Justice Eady that his clients "regret that when responding to Mrs Wood's criticisms of the Church of Scientology they went too far in attributing to her conduct and motives which they now accept were not correct".

The Church, which boasts more than 100,000 members in Britain, is best known for the Hollywood celebrities who are devoted to its teachings. They include John Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston; Tom Cruise and his wife, Nicole Kidman; Lisa-Marie Presley; and Kirstie Alley. Its critics, however, have accused Scientology of being a secretive cult that "love-bombs" its recruits and silences those who speak out against it.

The Church has been involved in a number of court cases with former members, most of whom have been forced to file for bankruptcy after losing against an organisation that had an income of Pounds 5.6million in 1995 and property assets of Pounds 8.1 million.

Mrs Woods became a Scientologist in the United States during the 1970s but left in 1982, moving to England with her husband, Richard, in 1985. In 1991 she converted to Christianity. Some time later Mrs Woods and her husband began to provide information and advice about Scientology through their organisation, Escape. It was this activity that provoked the Church's leaflet campaign, delivered through the letterboxes of those living in the same road as the Woods family and to members of the public on East Grinstead High Street.

Outside court, Mrs Woods said: "I am delighted that my reputation has been vindicated and relieved that this litigation is over." The Church said: "In deciding to settle the action, the Church bore in mind that Bonnie Woods would have been completely unable to pay the enormous costs of trial if the Church had won."





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