Opening of the Conference
Tom Sackville, President of FECRIS and of The Family Survival Trust (UK):
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you very much, all of you, for coming. Sadly, we’ve lost our Italian delegation, we’ve almost all our Eastern European delegates. There were a lot of people sitting in airports yesterday who were not able to come because of the volcanic cloud!
Its not the first time that Iceland, this sulphurous small island, has exerted an influence over us. We’ve had banking crises fishing wars. But in fact, this turnout is remarkable given what we thought was going to happen, as of yesterday morning. Most of you have taken advantage of the EUROSTAR. The Channel Tunnel is of course the result of that remarkable day when Mrs Thatcher and Mr. Mitterrand decided to start digging towards each other, one from Folkestone, the other from Calais, and actually met in the same place in the middle. Given the history of our two countries, this was an extraordinary feat. So thank you all for coming, especially to the Irish contingent who, I think must have swum over.
Most of our speakers were able to be here and we have a very varied list of people from the UK from France, from Belgium, from Russia, from Italy (represented by Pietro Amati). We are sadly not going to hear Ursula Caberta from Germany unfortunately but still we have a varied conference which will cover many different aspects of the problem that we all have to deal with.
Just a few introductory remarks, before I start the conference. For me, as president of FECRIS, and also of our host organisation the Family Survival Trust and Audrey Chaytor, is going to speak to you in a minute, who is the person who has kept the flag flying in this country about cults for many, years. For me FECRIS is enormously important because it is a cooperation of people who are trying to put up some resistance to organisations which now have extraordinary power, in terms of their economic wealth and of their public relations possibilities: it is crucial that someone acts as the umbrella for those who try to resist the ravages of cults, whether that be the damage they do to individuals or to families. We see that some cults have had influence for quite a long time: the disgraceful incident in the early 90s in the United States when scientology acquired tax exempt status as a result, it appears, of bullying and manipulation of officials in the US government, gives a flavour … that was some time back, and I don’t think things have improved at all!
I think our institutions that are very vulnerable to the influence of cults who use, lets face it, in quite professional ways, legal and public relations expertise to get what they want. There are actually very, very few countries in the world where people have stood up to what the cults are trying to do. France of course, Germany, Belgium, Russia … there are others, but those ones stand out. I’m afraid in this country we’ve never really made any headway with the official sector, over cults. A long time ago, our government appears to have decided that this was something that they didn’t want to get involved with. It was too complicated, the officials concerned just wanted to shy away from it, because they saw problems about drafting legislation or definition. Whether through laziness, or incompetence or just cowardice we’ve had a situation in this country where Audrey Chaytor and her colleagues have really been a lone voice in trying to resist what is going in Scientology and other cults. So really, we can’t in this country give you any real lessons in how this should be done. But we continue to do our best to keep the flag flying, to make sure that somebody, somebody speaks up in opposition to cults because, otherwise it all goes by default, and that is very sad, sad at a human level and at a societal level.
So with that, I’d just like to make one personal comment of my own. I’ve always taken the view that we should take the tough line. There are an awful lot of people around the world who have concluded that maybe we should be polite about cults, and neither aggressive or confrontational. I don’t see it like that! For me, these organisations are not in the public interest, they do nothing that is good, or that helps anyone at all. They are entirely ruthless, they are entirely selfish, they damage almost everybody who comes into contact with them: indeed there are many people in this room who have been damaged by contact with cults, either personally or in their families. Why should we not say so?
And there are people around the world that we sometimes call “apologists”, many of whom are quite influential. I’ve never had any truck with them myself. I’ve always taken that line and I don’t see why anything is to be gained by being tolerant of what these people do. Their activities are harmful and we should say so. I hope most people in this room would agree with that view, but we have lots of time to debate this, as we have lost one or two speakers from the programme. It would be interesting to hear your views of how people should tackle cults in our society.
It is my great pleasure therefore to introduce our opening speaker: Audrey Chaytor, who is chief executive officer of the The Family Survival Trust, formerly called FAIR. We changed the name when we became a charity. This charity has the very limited aims of trying to support those individuals and families who are affected by cultic abuse, with a secondary aim of providing information about what cults do: most of your will agree that the public at large, unless they have been actually personally affected, generally do not know what cults are. But we do it, as I am sure Audrey will remind you, without any help or encouragement from official sources. In this country there has always been a totally agnostic line coming across from government, both central and local. So what Audrey and her colleagues have done over the years is commendable, and outstandingly courageous.
Audrey – welcome