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Robinson v Church of Scientology of California and Others
Before Mr Justice Ackner
Mr Kenneth Robinson, former Minister of Health, is to receive a substantial sum from the Church of Scientology of California as damages for libel in respect of statements published in various of its broadsheets. He sued the church; Mr Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, its founder; and Mr Peter Ginever, editor of the broadsheets.
Mr F. P. Neill, QC. and Mr Michael Curwen for Mr Robinson; Mr James Comyn, QC, and Mr Alan Newman for the defendants.
Mr Neill, announcing the settlement, said that Mr Robinson was a member of Parliament from 1949 to 1970 and Minister of Health in the Labour Government from 1964 to 1968. He had directed a great deal of his energies to mental health. When his party was in opposition he was spokesman on health matters and a leading supporter of the Mental Health Act, 1959. Before he became a minister he had been a vice-president of the National Association of Mental Health.
The Church of Scientology of California published and circulated in this country what might be called broadsheets styled variously as Freedom Scientology, Freedom and Scientology, Freedom. Some of the broadsheets had international editions. Mr Ginever was the editor of the broadsheets. Mr Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology claimed the copyright in what was published in the broadsheets.
About the autumn of 1968 the defendants commenced a campaign against Mr Robinson through their broadsheets. The reason for the campaign was that the defendants very strongly objected to political decisions in which Mr Robinson as a Minister of the Crown had been involved and which led to a ban being placed on the admission to this country of people coming from abroad to study Scientology.
In the campaign extravagant allegations were made against Mr Robinson which were of a gravely defamatory nature. Put shortly, it was alleged that Mr Robinson had instigated or approved of the creation of what were called "death camps", likened to Belsen and Auschwitz, to which persons (including mental patients) could be forcibly abducted and there killed or maimed with impunity. It was further alleged that Mr Robinson had abused his position as a minister in relation to government grants made to the National Association of Mental Health.
The broadsheets containing these grave allegations were each distributed to about 100,000 persons, including people in public life (such as MPs) and editors of newspapers and journals. Although the allegations were extravagant, Mr Robinson felt that, in view of the virulence and extent of the campaign against him, he could not allow their publication to pass without taking action.
Accordingly he launched the present libel proceedings. Counsel was glad to be able to say that the defendants had now redeemed themselves to the extent that they now acknowledged that there was no truth in what they said about Mr Robinson and they greatly regretted that they ever made such allegations.
They had agreed to pay Mr Robinson a substantial sum to mark the gravity of the libels and to indemnify him against his costs. They had further undertaken not to repeat the same or any similar libel.
In an otherwise distasteful affair it was a matter for some pleasure that the defendants appeared in court by their counsel to confirm what he had told his Lordship and to offer their apologies to Mr Robinson.
Mr Comyn said that he confirmed everything which Mr Neill had said, and on behalf of the defendants he offered their sincere apologies to Mr Robinson for the wrong which they bad done him.
The record was, by leave, withdrawn.
Solicitors: Goodman, Derrick & Co; Mr Stephen M. Bird, East Grinstead.