A cassette tape which claims members of a religious commune are brainwashed was at the centre of a row between two churches this week.
The Bugbrooke based Jesus Fellowship Baptist Church claim the tapes are libellous and want them withdrawn. They have sent a solicitor's letter to a Northampton pastor who has been distributing the tapes which contain a series of statements supposedly from ex-members of the Fellowship.
The pastor - who has asked us not to name him - has been operating a counselling service to help former members re-adjust after leaving the community. On the tapes which warn people off joining the ex-members give alarming accounts of experiences they say happened when they belonged to the community.
They talk of brainwashing techniques being used. And one ex-elder says the only way to get people out of Bugbrooke is to hire a helicopter and kidnap them.
The tapes are being sold for £3 each to people thinking of joining the group - which is affiliated to the Baptist Church. The Pastor told us 'I've received many letters from all over the country from parents who claim they have lost their children'. 'Other people have contacted me asking about what is happening at Bugbrooke and I have sent them the tape'. 'It is simply the accounts of personal experiences'. 'The Fellowship contacted the local ministers of Northampton when the tape was first produced about a year ago, asking me to withdraw it'. 'I am in no doubt they will take me to court unless I do as they wish.'
For the time being the Pastor has stopped selling the tapes. Instead he says he may put people directly in touch with the ex-members who talk on it.
Mr David Hawker, Press Officer for the Jesus Fellowship, said 'We are a Christian Church affiliated to the Baptist Union and well respected by several nationally known Christian leaders.' 'We have a proven record in helping many in need, such as drug addicts, one-parent families etc. The church upholds Biblical and historical Christian truth.' 'The tape contains around 70 statements which are wholly untrue, and many more which present a distorted view of the community.' 'We have approached the Pastor, concerning the propagation of the tape, and have attempted to settle the matter through discussion with him, but he has refused'. 'We are saddened that a Christian Minister should act in such a manner towards another Christian Church. We believe Christians should not quarrel'
The Archdeacon of Northampton Bazil Marsh has now voiced his fears about the Bugbrooke Fellowship - which owns some property in the village and runs several businesses in Northampton. He has promised that he would be holding a meeting with all local ministers to which Noel Stanton, leader of the fellowship, would be invited. 'Rumours about Bugbrooke have been going on for years, but the time to get to the root of what is happening there is now' said the Archdeacon. 'A year ago, all Northampton ministers were invited to Bugbrooke. They were shown around, given tea, but there was not time to ask questions'. 'I shall be inviting Noel Stanton on a return visit to answer some of our worries and queries about his fellowship.'