Bonnie Woods vs. Scientology Court Case
[Part of Steve's UK Scientology Page.]
This page is presented as a source of information on ex-scientologist Bonnie Woods' successful attempt to get justice after being libelled by Scientology and its spokespeople. The latest additions to the page are details of Bonnie's final victory in the case, and a rapidly expanding section of [media coverage]. See also [the Big Guy's page] for commentary on the case.
News as of 22 June 1999:
There has been a flood of media attention in the case. We have linked as much of it as possible from this page.
On 8th June in the High Court, Scientology totally capitulated in the libel case brought by ex-member Bonnie Woods, settling for the following conditions:
- A profuse apology was read out in open court by Scientology's counsel, officially acknowledging that hurtful statements made about Bonnie were untrue.
- Damages of 55 thousand pounds and costs of a further 100,000 pounds have been paid to Bonnie from Scientology's account. Bonnie's bankrupcy is now discharged, so she gets to keep the money.
- Scientology has accepted an injunction which prevents them from repeating the libels. If they mount another hate campaign against Bonnie, they face prison and large financial penalties.
This represents a complete victory for Bonnie Woods in a case was has been going for six years. Informal estimates are that Scientology has spent 5 million fighting the case. Three counter-claims brought by Scientology were dismissed with prejudice last year.
This result is thanks to Bonnie's pro bono representation by the major City law firm Allen and Overy.
At 10.30 this morning, Bonnie, her husband Richard, her legal team, and many friends and well-wishers gathered in the High Court to hear the apology in an extremely brief session. The [full text of the apology] has been made available. As we came out of the court, Scn spokesman Graeme Wilson distributed an [official statement] which does not mention the apology and damages and clearly implies that Bonnie has apologised to Scientology. Outside the court, Bonnie was met by a crowd of TV and press journalists and happily posed for the cameras with her husband and her cute baby granddaughter.
Bonnie and Richard now plan to take a long holiday, the first they have had in a long time. The legal fight with scientology is still ongoing, though, in that Narconon have an outstanding libel suit against them and just last week a scientologist filed suit against Bonnie for false imprisonment. (Anyone who has knows the Woods and has visited their house knows how absurd this allegation is.)
Bonnie sends her love and thanks to all who have supported her.
See below for background information and media coverage.
From a picket of Scientology at Tottenham Court Road, London, 1996.
Bonnie is on the left of the front row.
Sunday Times, 19 January 1997,
[Hounded by the church of stars and hype]
"Of Ingram and the warrant for his arrest, a (Scientology) spokesman said: 'Jesus Christ was a wanted man. Just because he is wanted it does not mean anything.'"
The American, 6 March 1998,
Scientology's Campaign of Hate, by 'Cult-Busters'
"Woods was living communally in Los Angeles with other scientologists and working 70 hours a week for the church when she was diagnosed with endometriosis. Her condition required major surgery. [H]er working environment at the scientology headquarters and the church's strict diet of rice and beans might have brought on her illness."
The Express, 8 June 1999,
[Stars' cult pays out £155,000 over hate campaign]
"The cult favoured by Hollywood stars is to pay £155,000 for harassing a woman in a six-year campaign of hate."
The Times, 9 June 1999,
[Sect pays £55,000 to 'hate' victim]
"Bonnie Woods, 49, fought a six-year libel battle against the Church that is estimated to have cost £100,000 and involved more than 25 appearances in court."
The Guardian, 9 June 1999,
[Scientologists pay for libel]
"Mrs Woods said she was absolutely delighted with the outcome. The leading City law firm Allen & Overy took on her case free of charge at the request of the civil liberties organisation Liberty."
The Independent, 9 June 1999,
[Woman accused of hate campaign wins damages from Scientologists]
"Mrs Woods said demonstrators paraded outside the couple's home and the house was watched. A private detective working for the Scientologists encouraged a creditor to pursue a claim against her and she was declared bankrupt."
The Daily Mail, 9 June 1999,
[Cult pays £155,000 over hate campaign]
"The church, whose followers include John Travolta, Tom Cruise and wife Nicole Kidman, admitted it had waged a dirty tricks campaign against Mrs Woods."
The Express, 9 June 1999,
[My victory joy after six-year battle with cult]
"Often during the last six years I have wondered why am I doing this? Sometimes when it was very hard, if not impossible to carry on, I got so discouraged I didn't think I could go to one more hearing. What kept me going was the need to speak the truth about Scientology as I understand it to be,"- Bonnie.
St. Petersburg Times, Florida, USA, 9 June 1999,
Scientology apologizes, settles British libel suit
The Lawyer, 14 June 1999,
[A&O defeats Scientologists]
"(Ian) Thomas says: "Bonnie was unable to pay the costs from the beginning. That is why we were charging her nothing. I don't understand why the Scientologists are using this as a reason to admit liability now."
Allen & Overy Press Release, 16 June 1999,
[A&O Secures Settlement in Scientology Case]
The Independent, 22 June 1999,
[Going ten rounds with Goliath]
Ian Thomas writes about the significance of the case.
Previous news and background
Following an application for discovery of the OT and other advanced materials, the Church of Scientology has discontinued its counter-claims, with prejudice (ie. those claims cannot be brought again). This means that Bonnie has legally established her right to talk about Scientology and to call it a cult.
The Woods are ex-Scientologists; Bonnie formerly a Sea Org'er on staff in LA and Richard a former public member who took the Communications course, the Personal Integrity Course and some Book One auditing. They have done exit-counselling work and are the main point of contact for almost anybody with a problem with Scientology in the UK. Since 1995 they have been involved in a hefty court battle: Scientology has passed out defamatory leaflets about them in their neighbourhood, as well as regular venomous articles in "Freedom". Saint Hill's one-time spokesman Peter Mansell went into an extremely hostile verbal denunciation of Bonnie on a programme on Irish TV, when she was not present and had not been mentioned. (You can watch that programme in RealVideo by clicking on links at the foot of Roland's [streaming video page] Most bizarrely of all, when Bonnie and Heber Jentsch were both guests on This Morning with Richard and Judy, a live TV show in the UK, Heber fired off a salvo of defamatory accusations, to the astonishment of the presenters.
Bonnie sued Scientology and some of its spokespeople for libel and for other harassment and fair-gaming which she and her family have had to put up with over the years. (Regular Scientology-watchers will recall that the Woods had their home in East Grinstead picketed in 1996). Scientology in turn fired off three libel writs (a lot in UK law, even by the standards of a very litigous organisation) for occasions on which Bonnie has called Scientology a dangerous cult.
One of those writs came because Bonnie and Richard handed out an [anti-Scientology leaflet] as part of the [Families Under Scientology Stress] campaign.
For a while, the situation of the case was familiar from followers of net-related cases: Bonnie and Richard had their friends and the law books from their local library while the cult hired the best lawyers money could buy. Working regularly on their case was their friend Ron Lawley (he of the "Great NOTS-pack Robbery"). Ron's case was supported by some very kind donations from netizens, and since Ron and Bonnie were sharing resources, the kindness of ARS'ers helped Bonnie out at a time when she had trouble even buying the train ticket to the court.
A huge boost to their case came when Dave Bird recommended the case to the Liberty Panel, and a very prestigious legal firm agreed to give pro bono help. The legal humiliation that Scn is going through now is no doubt a direct result of that.
(Text below mixes an announcement from a friend of Bonnie and Richard's with my comments).
> The Judge had indicated that he would order that advanced materials
> held by COSRECI to be disclosed. To avoid the consequences of any such
> order, that Church of Scientology applied for leave to discontinue
> its claims in two actions. The Judge granted leave subject to
So having spent millions on legal fees, and having put the Woods through hell with a ridiculous weight of litigation, the cult now withholds key evidence and then dismisses its own claims with prejudice. It seems that the cult knew as well as anyone else did that its claims were meritless- yet another example of the infamous Fair Game.
> As a condition of being allowed to discontinue, COSRECI has given
> undertakings to the Court that it will not sue Richard and Bonnie
> again in respect of any future publication of the materials complained
> of in the discontinued claims.
This is important news for the following reasons:
Press coverage of the case will now be able to focus on Bonnie's allegations against the cult, rather than there being two parties suing each other.
There has already been one extremely damning opinion on the cult from a High Court judge [(Judge Latey's comments that Scn is "corrupt, sinister and dangerous" with explanations of why each of those terms applies)] and it would be very nice to have another one, which might arise from this case. You can bet that if the judge does make such damning comments, the press will pick up on them, causing huge damage to whatever public image Scn has left.
> it demonstrates how much Scientology want to hide the OT levels
> (probably because they are ridiculous).
> a legal precedent may have been set, the OT levels were asked to be
> provided as part of the discovery to prove that "Scientology is a
> bogus religion?" Rather than show the OT levels Scientology dropped
> these claims (which they had previously spent years pursuing in court
> at great expense).
> Richard and Bonnie Woods can now speak about the true nature of the
> OT levels. Bonnie has personally done OT 3.
It's a pity that so many acts of hard work and of kindness had to go into granting someone free speech, but I think all involved would say that it is worth it.
> The history of the case is that Bonnie and Richard Woods made a claim
> against Scientology when an allegedly defamatory leaflet was posted
> through neighbours doors. Scientology then counter claimed several
> times. Now all Scientology have left is their defence against the
> statement of claim against Bonnie and Richard Woods. In October Bonnie
> and Richard Woods appear in court as they are litigating against the
> Church of Scientology and it is probable that they will win this case,
> estimated damages are in the range £10,000 to £70,000.
This is all great news for us suppressives in the UK. Real venomous hatred has been incited against Bonnie, as we have seen from the way she is treated by scientologists personally and in their publications. When she has attended pickets at Tottenham Court Road, she has kept a good distance away from the Org itself, but some of the scientologists have hassled her with such a barely concealed menace that we were really worried for her physical safety.
The police arbitrate in a dispute between Richard Woods (right)
and an aggressive Scientologist
NOTE by archiver: This ends the work done by Martin Poulter.
Unfortunately I did not keep the nice layout work done by Martin. And the external URL's have been removed. Where you see this [ ] that would have contained a link. The original code, and all the links, are in this text file.