Despite the obvious threat posed to the public, official UK action on cults has been, to Ian's mind, "woeful". "By European standards, Britain is a backwater — the government somehow still fails to recognize how dangerous they are. We lack even basic public education programs that would ensure citizens are aware of how cults operate and what to be wary of, to prevent people from becoming ensnared. Similarly, there aren't any state-funded rehabilitation structures for people who've escaped cults. We only need to look at other European countries to see what we should be doing," Ian told Sputnik.
In particular, he points to France as an exemplar the UK should follow. There, after the infamous mass suicide by members of the Order of the Solar Temple
in Switzerland in 1995, the National Assembly created a Parliamentary Commission on cults, which drew up a list of 173 questionable organizations operating in the country at the time, which included the Jehovah's Witnesses and Scientology.
Subsequently, the government created an agency — the Interministerial Mission for Monitoring and Combatting Cultic Deviances — that identifies and monitors religious sects the government judges to be dangerous. It issues regular reports on issues such as the financing of cults, and children who grow up in cults.
In 2001, the Assembly also passed a law that holds cult leaders responsible for the deaths of followers, and established a support group for cult victims, which can file lawsuits on their behalf. In 2009
, a French court fined the Church of Scientology US$888,000 after a couple were manipulated into buying up to US$73,000 worth of church products.
By contrast, Ian feels the UK government's approach to cults has been most unfortunate. The closest the country gets to an official organization dealing with cults is the Information Network on Religious Movements
(Inform), based at the London School of Economics. Founded in the latest 1980s by sociologist Dr. Eileen Barker, the organization explicitly eschews the very term 'cult', believing it to be a meaningless pejorative, instead speaking of 'new religious movements' (NRMs).
Dr. Barker is a controversial figure indeed. In 1984, she authored The Making of a Moonie
, which argued the Unification Church's alleged brainwashing activities were ineffectual, and the group in fact struggled to recruit and retain members.
The book has been strongly criticized for its sympathetic tone — leading cult researcher Janja Lalich has called
Dr. Barker a "procult apologist", and documented how she received payment from the Unification Church itself when writing the book, and attended 18 of the group's conferences.
Inform was previously funded by the UK Home Office, until in 1997 then-Home Office minister Tom Sackville scrapped this backing
. Within a year, the organization was on the verge of financial collapse — it is now funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government, and donations from the Church of England, among other big ecclesiastical backers. "It's perhaps inevitable officials aren't taking legislative action against cults with Inform on the scene, and it's hardly surprising I frequently hear from people who haven't heard of some of the most infamous cults in the world. It's appalling, and very dangerous. The government needs to take firm action, and it needs to do so now," Ian concludes.