All of them, those in power, and those who want the power, would pamper us, if we agreed to overlook their crookedness by wilfully restricting our activities.
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|At the end of the longest libel action
in recent legal history,
Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith, M.P., was cleared
yesterday by a High Court jury of libelling the Church
of Scientology of California.
After a 32-day trial and a 100-minute retirement, the jury found that words spoken by the Conservative M.P. for East Grinstead were not defamatory of the sect.
The Church of Scientology of Saint Hill Manor, East Grinstead, Sussex, was ordered to pay costs unofficially estimated at £70,000. [About 170,000 in 1970 USD, or over 900,000 in 2007 USD—R. Hill ref, ref]
It had alleged that in an interview on the B.B.C. television programme 24 Hours, Mr. Johnson Smith implied that it was a harmful organization. The jury found that what he said was substantially true and that he was not activated by malice.
Mr. David Gaiman, spokesman for the Scientologists, said there would be no appeal.
During the continuation of his summing-up; started last Thursday, Mr. Justice Browne referred to love letters written to a scientologist by a woman under treatment in a mental hospital. He said they were "quite heartbreaking".
"You may think it is absolutely disgraceful that these letters should ever have got into the hands of the scientologists, or been used in this case", he told the jury.
However much one might disapprove, the jury had to give the letters the weight they felt right.
They were from Miss Karen Henslow to Mr. Murray Youdell, an Australian scientologist.
Mr. Justice Browne said the jury might wonder what had happened to Mr. Youdell.
"Apparently he has not been near the Henslow family since Autumn, 1966, when he went off ostensibly to buy a wedding ring for Karen", the judge added.
Of Mrs. Henslow, the girl's mother, who gave evidence for Mr. Johnson Smith, the judge commented, "you will remember that little figure, in her coat of many colours. You may think she picked up all the stones thrown at her in the witness box, and threw them back with equal force".
Counsel for the sect had commented unfavourably on Mr. Johnson Smith's nervousness about the likelihood of having a writ slapped on him by the scientologists, the judge said. "Apart from anything else it is not much fun for someone like Mr. Johnson Smith to be involved in a six-week libel action, even if he wins", he said.
Mr. Johnson Smith's case rested on the impression he made in the witness box, the judge went on. "Did he strike you as a shifty, cowardly man, wrapping up his own opinions in someone else's? Or are you satisfied that he was an honest man, with a high sense of his duty as an M.P., sincerely trying to do that duty in difficult circumstances?"
If the latter was the jury's view they should reject the allegations of malice out of hand.
The scientologists thought Mr. Johnson Smith's remarks "a wicked and vicious" libel which had caused them a great deal of injury. They were entitled to recover damages for injury done to their reputation by defamatory words. They could not recover damages for any hurt to their feelings because they were suing as a corporation, not as individuals.
"We really know remarkably little about the Church of Scientology", the judge said. "We know they were incorporated in California and have their world headquarters at East Grinstead, but beyond that we know very little".
If a monetary loss was suffered by someone it could be recovered in damages. But in this case the sect had not suggested, much less proved, they had sustained any financial loss as a result of the broadcast. "Nor has it been suggested or proved they have fewer students, or 'preclears' as a result of the broadcast.
"You may think the sect has collected pretty substantial fees from its students but it may have been difficult for them to put their case on a sordid financial basis when they say they are a religious organization subject to persecution."
After an absence of an hour and 40 minutes the jury returned a verdict that Mr. Johnson Smith's remarks were not defamatory. Mr. Justice Browne accordingly entered judgment for him with costs.
The jury also found that Mr. Johnson Smith's remarks in the broadcast were substantially true, and he made them in good faith and without malice. They were fair comment.