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The 30 Second Skinny The Church of Scientology will often change its story to best suit its audience. By comparing publicly available reports these "economies of truth" can be placed under the spotlight. Narconon London for instance has suggested to regulators that they do not offer a residential rehab service but suggest to the public and to the Charity Commission that they do.
The Church of Scientology is often accused of saying whatever suits its purpose from one moment to the next. For instance it will distance itself from the work of its Way To Happiness Foundation, declaring to schools and government bodies that it is a completely independent organisation that just happened to have been set up by some scientologists, yet during its New Year celebrations takes on any of WTHF's successes as its own. These kinds of deceptions tend to be deemed allowable by Scientology dogma due to the "ends justify the means" basis of its ethics.
How far this disconnection from the truth goes can be quite breathtaking, and nowhere more so than the paper trail that lies in the wake of the UK arm of its drug rehabilitation program, Narconon London.
At St Leonards on Sea, Narconon London have a facility that, according to its website, provides space for 40 students.
This Tudor mansion provides the perfect distraction free environment for students to progress through the programme. In the relaxed and comfortable atmosphere many friendships are built between students.
Facilities include a small gym, pool room, sun lounge, TV and video room, all based in beautifully kept gardens.
The facility was opened to the usual level of pomp and ceremony in March 2005. They got the Mayor of Bexhill to cut the ribbon. But did the facility hit the ground running? This is a controversial drug rehab program, after all. Its demanding exercise regime, use of potentially damaging overdoses of vitamins, and its incorporation of Scientology doctrine and pseudoscience all give cause for worry. You can add to that a growing list of people who feel they have been conned by the organisation; stories of students who have paid several thousand dollars to participate in the program being dumped in multi storey car parks with just a few dollars in their pockets.
Whether or not Narconon London has had any impact is a difficult thing to find out. Luckily, because Narconon London is a registered charity and limited company we can check its publicly available accounts. Here are some choice clippings that paint the picture that Narconon London is hard at work changing the lives of addicts for the better:
It was a progressive year. We were successful in getting students through the Narconon programme who thereafter had drug-free lives to the benefit of themselves and the community.
...we expanded resources to facilitate the delivery of services over the long-term.
Our desire to expand and improve facilities placed a strain on our financial budget. We were materially helped by Narconon International who donated £197,077.
...the reason most often given by staff and volunteers for their dedication was "Narconon is immensely valuable, it is needed and wanted, and we can see for ourselves that it very definitely works."
...We have embarked on a new outreach programme successfully implemented by other Narconon Centres abroad. This is a "first step" programme for those who cannot fit residential addiction recovery training into their availability of time and/or finance. Assistance is given to support students unable to totally fund themselves.
...As previously reported, analysis has shown that the pricing policy was inadequate and steps were taken at the end of 2007 to rectify this point.
These words were signed off by Sheila Maclean in 2009. Like many Scientology organisations, they are a little slow in getting their paperwork in order. The period covered is some two years after the facility opened, and was signed off two years after. If the above is taken at face value then Narconon is thriving, albeit not without resistance. Its concerns here are that they don't price correctly for their programme, and that it needs to resource an outreach programme for those addicts who cannot afford the course.
Now here's the niggle.
Because Narconon London offers residencies to people undergoing a specific rehabilitation treatment it falls within the scope of the Care Quality Commission. That means the facility has to be registered, and becomes vulnerable to surprise inspections. The accounts previously quoted run up to December 2007. Here's what the CQC had to say about the facility some two months later when one of its inspectors came acalling.
Under conditions of registration we learn that the facility serves a maximum of three people. Three. It was not offering these three residencies as of February 2008, and had no plans to do so. But a look at the testimonials provided in the facility's newsletters suggest that people are staying there. Students speak of "arriving at Narconon" of being kept busy, of being at Narconon for months, of looking forward to getting back out into the real world. Here's a quote from a January newsletter:
I arrived on 1st April 2007. I met Dale, we had a chat and I decided to stay. At least here I would be learning and dealing with my addiction and yes I could smoke. I spent 23 hours in withdrawals and I was drink and drug free. It was here I met my twin, Fiona. I came down from withdrawals the next day and was introduced to the mad house and I moved into the dormitory with a great bunch of individuals.
So is the website right, or is the inspection report right? Does Narconon
The inspection report says the following:
The Centre is located in St Leonards-on-Sea near Hastings, East Sussex. The registered unit is set in the grounds of an already established residential drug rehabilitation centre (though this part of the endeavour is not registered with the CSCI [CQC]) and provides accommodation and support with personal care for 3 resident students.
Could the answer to the disparity lie here? It seems clear that Narconon are offering a residential rehabilitation program and that it was active, and should be registered with the CQC. Was the inspector hoodwinked into thinking that the "already established" centre was not residential? And if so, why? Does Narconon not cut the regulatory mustard? And what of the accounts? How is it that Narconon can rack up £223,994 in accommodation costs as a direct result of running their courses? Do they book their students into the local Stakis? And how is it that they can describe their provision of courses as charitable activities when their main "activities for raising funds" involves charging the students for the courses they're taking.
It seems to be in the interests of Narconon to present the impression to regulators that their residential course is not even fully staffed, let alone up and running; and to present to the Charity Commission the impression that they are a vibrant and vital resource for recovering drug addicts. But they can't be ill and go to the party.