FOR Samantha Domingo the past week’s stories of Katie Holmes’s split from Tom Cruise amid claims that the actress does not want their six-year-old daughter Suri to be caught up with the Church of Scientology brings back a lot of memories. She insists that Katie will never regret her decision.
“Katie Holmes should fight to leave,” says the 45-year-old who lives in Keston, Kent. And Samantha should know, having escaped the organisation three years ago.
“I know the truth. I was forced to have an abortion at 24 and eventually the cult broke up my family.”
Samantha, who has three children aged 16, 14 and 10, has sought refuge here after fleeing from the religion’s base in America. Her husband is Placido Domingo Junior – the son of the opera singer.
She says: “Here in Britain we don’t think we are vulnerable but they are actively recruiting in the UK and claim to have 118,000 members here.” The headquarters of Scientology in the UK are at Saint Hill Manor in East Grinstead, West Sussex, and for a while Samantha’s children attended Greenfields School there.
Yesterday lawyers acting for Cruise, who turned 50 this week, accused Holmes, 33, who was pictured out with daughter Suri, of “playing the media” and said of his estranged wife that she “was totally committed to Scientology. She had enthusiasm for it and would voluntarily and gladly participate in it when Tom was off shooting movies. This is not a fight over religion. It’s being used as a way to hurt Tom”.
Former British members insist that Scientology supporters are only too aware of its dubious reputation. “The organisation in the UK hides behind other names,” claims Sharone Stainforth, from Hastings, Sussex, who was involved from the age of six. “As Scientology is such a dirty word over here they call their offices the Dianetics Centre or Narconon and claim to offer counselling and spiritual help when really they are looking for new members to indoctrinate.”
SHARONE, who is 55, has two children and works as a pub manager. Driven close to suicide by the religion, she campaigns to reveal the truth behind the “spiritual” organisation. Both Sharone and Samantha have been declared “suppressive persons” by Scientologists because they are willing to speak out.
“Suri Cruise would have been in real danger if Tom had made her join the Sea Organisation, the elite offshoot of the movement,” Samantha
says. “I know because I was part of it. During my time there I was forced to have an abortion, locked up and sent to work down 3ft high tunnels beneath the ship’s kitchens as a punishment, among the cockroaches. At the time you just accept it because you are so brainwashed and isolated. When you are a Scientologist you aren’t allowed to read any newspapers or have contact with the outside world. You are locked up in a bubble and your thoughts controlled. You are made to ‘disconnect’ from family members who are not Scientologists.”
Samantha joined at 21. “I was looking for something more spiritual in my life and I started reading up about Scientology. I went to Saint Hill and was told I’d have this fantastic lifestyle if I signed up. But it was all lies. There was no money and I worked 100-hour weeks recruiting new members and managing the staff. We had appalling living conditions, washed our clothes in the bath and were given no income.
But Scientology becomes your world. After a while a couple of my friends ran away because they couldn’t stand it any longer and I was made to disconnect and told they had committed horrific crimes.
“Then I was transferred to Los Angeles and put to work in the celebrity centre. I married another member and at 24 became pregnant. But you weren’t allowed to have children in Sea Org so I was told my husband didn’t want this baby and I had to abort it, which I did but was brokenhearted.”
The marriage ended and she married Placido Domingo Jnr.
Disillusioned and frightened she repeatedly tried to leave. “I endured months of interrogation in which they tried to find out every little thing about me which they used when I wanted to get out. Because I had told them I’d once smoked pot they branded me a dope-head and an unfit mother. They used all kinds of psychological ploys and character assassination to try to stop me leaving.”
Eventually she escaped. “Even today I feel very threatened and frightened. My computer has been hacked and I know they are watching me. When my children were in Greenfields School the other pupils said, ‘We can’t talk to you, your mother is a suppressive person.’”
Sharone became involved in the movement when her father joined Saint Hill. “I grew up in Scientology and witnessed all manner of appalling things. On the Sea Org ship in Tunisia, where I was a junior commodore’s messenger, in the practice of ‘overboarding’ people would be thrown over the side of the ship in a kind of ritual ceremony. The purpose was humiliation. They could then swim round to the boarding jetty and climb back in.
People, including children, were routinely locked up in cupboards for transgressing.”
When she was 11 her father went missing. “I was told he was on a mission but he never came back. I managed eventually to find him but he was a broken man, his mind gone. I was told to forget him and that Scientology was my family now.” She claims children as young as two are taken from their parents and brought up separately so they can be properly “instructed”.
AT 12 she was allowed to return to the UK to live with her Scientologist step mother. “When I left Sea Org I was told never to speak about the things I had seen. I was told I’d be locked up in a mental asylum.
I was scared witless.” She was put to work babysitting Scientologists’ children by her stepmother until she ran away and was put into care.
“Scientology ruined my life,” she says. Now she lives alone and says: “I’m still looking for love.”
Pete Griffiths, 57, who lives in Ireland, has formed an organisation to raise awareness of the “abuses” of the religion. He joined at 32 and for four years ran a mission in Cumbria.
He says: “There are missions in London, Brighton, Poole and Bournemouth. Basically it comes down to money. They want your money. I lost at least £30,000 to the Scientologists and when I wanted to leave they spread rumours on the internet that I was a fraudster and child molester. It was unbelievable.
“This is a movement which carries out enforced imprisonments, coerced abortion and defrauding of members. Scientologists don’t recognise any laws apart from their own. Members are indoctrinated, controlled and abused. Yet they are told this is the way to true spiritualism and the meaning of life.”
Sharone says: “This is happening right now in our country and they are getting away with it. Right now there will be people, quite possibly children, locked up inside Saint Hill. What they are doing is illegal but they think they’re above the law.”
Yesterday the Daily Express made repeated efforts to contact the Scientology movement for a comment on these claims but received no response. The organisation has refuted similar previous allegations, saying they come from “disaffected members” who have a grudge and are perpetuating “religious bigotry”.
It insists members are free to leave whenever they wish.
THE CALIFORNIAN ‘OASIS’ WHERE L RON HUBBARD’S FOLLOWERS AWAIT THE LEADER’S REINCARNATION
THE international headquarters of the Church of Scientology is the Gold Base, a desert outpost near the town of Hemet, 80 miles south east of Los Angeles. Church leader David Miscavige and other senior figures live and work there.
The complex is a former resort called Massacre Canyon (named after an Indian tribal battle) which the Scientologists bought in 1978. For decades its location was unknown even to many insiders and Hollywood director Paul Haggis (a prominent defector) visited the place only once in his 35 years with the church. He has said the landscape suggested a “beautiful and restful” spa but he found the atmosphere sterile and frightening.
The 700-acre compound is surrounded by razor-sharp fences with protective spikes pointing outwards and inwards. There are motion sensors on the perimeter and a camouflaged sniper bunker in the hillside above.
The site, an oasis of well watered greenery in an arid landscape, features comfortable villas for the leaders, a film studio built to look like a Scottish castle where Scientology propaganda is produced, a huge church, a swimming pool, a golf course and a mansion called Bonnie View which is kept fully staffed and furnished in apparent readiness for the reincarnation of Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard.
It also houses about 800 members of Sea Org, the militarystyle group that Tom Cruise reportedly wanted his young daughter Suri to join.
Ex-members have claimed that they were forced to work 20-hour days. They are also required to sign billion-year contracts – if you believe in reincarnation the future is infinite.
Discipline is fierce. Defectors say that as many as 100 Scientologists at any one time are sentenced to do group confessions day and night in a detention centre on the base called the Hole.