- and -
(1) SHEILA CHALEFF
(2) GRAHAM WILSON
(3) CATHY SPROULE
(4) CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY RELIGIOUS EDUCATION COLLEGE INC. - Defendants
STATEMENT IN OPEN COURT
The Plaintiff in this action for libel is Bonnie Woods. Mrs Woods is an American by birth who now lives in East Grinstead. During the 1970s and early 1980s, when she was living in the USA, Mrs Woods became a member of the Church of Scientology and completed a number of higher-level courses. In 1982 Mrs Woods left the Church of Scientology and in 1985 she moved to England with her husband, Richard Woods.
In 1991, Bonnie Woods converted to Christianity. Some time later she and her husband began to provide information, operate a call line and offer advice about Scientology to families and friends of members of the Church of Scientology.
Mrs Woods also publicly criticised the Church of Scientology and spoke to the media about her experiences as a member of the organisation. Several times she attended vigils outside the Church of Scientology bookshop in East Grinstead and handed out a document which was very critical of the Church of Scientology.
As a result of her activities, in June 1993 the Fourth Defendant (which is Church of Scientology Religious Education College Incorporated, the body responsible for the propogation and practice of Scientology in the United Kingdom) produced a leaflet showing a photograph of Mrs Woods above the words "Hate Campaigner Comes to Town". A group of Scientologists put the leaflet through the letter boxes of those living on the Woods' road and handed it out to members of the public on East Grinstead High Street during one of their vigils. The leaflet described Mrs Woods as a "hate campaigner", that is, someone motivated by hatred and religious intolerance, and as a "deprogrammer" who tried to force people away from their chosen faith. It also cast doubt on the sincerity of her claims to be a born-again Christian.
As the defendants now accept, the allegations in the leaflet about Mrs Woods were untrue. Bonnie Woods does not hate any religion and would not take any step to force people away from their chosen religion or encourage others to do so. While the Woods have on occasion met with Scientologists and their families at the request of their families and discussed the Church of Scientology with them, the Woods have not put pressure on them or the Church of Scientology to prevent them continuing in Scientology. Mrs Woods is sincere in her Christian faith.
The publication of the allegations to her friends and neighbours in the local community was deeply distressing to Mrs Woods. In order to clear her name, in December 1993 Mrs Woods sued Church of Scientology Religious Education College Incorporated and the individual members who had published the leaflet for libel.
The Defendants have now acknowledge that the allegations about Mrs Woods were untrue. They are here by their Counsel today to withdraw them and to apologise to the Plaintiff. They have agreed to pay Mrs Woods a substantial amount of money in respect of her claim for damages for libel, and to undertake to the Court that they will no longer make these untrue accusations against her.
On behalf of the Church of Scientology and all the Defendants I wish to associate myself with all that has been said by counsel for the Plaintiff. The Defendants regret that when responding to Mrs Woods' criticisms of the Church of Scientology they went too far in attributing to her conduct and motives which they now accept were not correct. Through me they apologise to Mrs Woods and undertake (in the terms of the draft Order before Your Lordship) not to make any such allegations again.
In those circumstances, the Plaintiff is vindicated and content to let the matter rest. I ask for leave to withdraw the record.