“Brainwashed” ex-RAF officer wins back £800,000 house he gave to guru
A former RAF officer who was ‘brainwashed’ into signing over his £800,000 home to a religious guru has won his property back.
Military intelligence specialist Richard Curtis, 53, and his wife joined the controversial Self Realization Meditation Healing Centre after he retired from the services.
Mr Curtis and wife Fiananda, 48, also a former RAF officer, gave their luxury country home to the cult and self-styled guru leader Rena Denton.
But a court heard Mr Curtis left the Somerset-based religious group after discovering his wife was having an affair with another man.
He sued the healing centre to get his house back – claiming he was ‘brainwashed’ into handing over the £800,000 farmhouse in the Welsh countryside.
A judge yesterday ruled Mr Curtis had been ‘unduly influenced’ into giving his home away – and is entitle to his share of the converted farmhouse.
Mr Curtis will now enter a mediation process with the healing centre where his estranged wife is still a member.
It is expected the property known as Edwinsford near Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, will be sold with the proceeds shared between Mr Curtis and his wife.
Cardiff Civil Courts of Justice heard the couple had been members of the cult for 11 years when they decided to give their countryside converted farmhouse home away.
The religious healing centre, based in Queen Camel, near Yeovil, planned to use the house in Carmarthenshire, as a ‘sister centre’.
Guru Ms Denton – who prefers to be known as Mata Yogananda Mahasaya Dharma – gave the couple a book where she wrote: ‘There’s so much more to give. As you give you receive. Produce, land or money can be given to help or feed others.’
The healing centre spent over £40,000 renovating the farmhouse on the banks of the picturesque River Cothi.
The court heard mother-of-one Mrs Curtis wanted to concentrate on working for the religous group full time at their home.
Judge Milwyn Jarman QC said: ‘Mrs Curtis considered setting up special healing clinics and workshops at Edwinsford.
‘Rena Denton had given her blessing to it becoming a sister centre and everyone was very joyous and emotional about the news.
‘In April 2004 the declaration of trust was drawn up and signed by Mr and Mrs Curtis – they had not taken legal advice.’
The court heard the agreement meant the group had financial rights to the house and began using it for meditation groups and workshops.
But in 2008 the couple decided to divorce after Mrs Curtis had an affair with another man, not a member of the cult.
Mr Curtis later left the cult and began proceedings to win back his house claiming he was unduly influenced into signing it over.
Judge Jarman said: ‘Mr and Mrs Curtis were giving away all they had – in my opinion the agreement was manifested to be disadvantageous.
‘When he signed the declaration of trust in 2004, the group was in the position of spiritual adviser to Mr Curtis.
‘Mr Curtis claims there was an undue influence on the behalf of the centre and I accept this but on the evidence I have heard there’s no clear indication of brainwashing.’
Mr Curtis, a specialist in Arabic languages, declined to comment after the hearing.
A doctor who claimed he was brainwashed into handing over £750,000 to the Self Realization Meditation Healing Centre lost a £2m damages claim in the High Court last year.
Dr Yehu Azaz, 50, gave evidence that he was ‘unduly influenced’ by Rena Denton into signing away his entire estate to the healing centre in the early nineties.
He claimed he gave up his medical career to join her band of followers and the gifts were loans which he expected to be repaid when he left.
His Honour Judge Seymour QC dismissed the overwhelming majority of Dr Azaz’s claim on the basis that these claims had been brought many years too late.