Ex-RAF officer who won his home back from a cult has spoken out for the first time
A former RAF officer persuaded to give his home to a spiritual healing centre has spoken out for the first time.
Richard Curtis, 53, won his house back last month after bringing a court case for undue influence against the Self-Realization Meditation Healing Centre.
The Somerset-based centre, a registered charity, is appealing against the ruling.
Mr Curtis, from Brecon, told the BBC’s Inside Out West programme he wants the law on charity donations to be changed.
He said: “I am fighting a battle not just for myself but for all the other people that have given all to god and guru and been left with nothing.”
‘Presumption of influence’
Mr Curtis had been a follower of the centre’s guru, Rena Denton, who goes by the name Mata Yogananda Mahasaya Dharma.
A statement issued by the centre, which is run by a group of members called the Alpha-Omega family, said: “The court found only that the failure by Mr Curtis to seek independent legal advice meant…
that the presumption of influence could not be rebutted.
“This is a far cry from the allegations of brainwashing and cultism which Mr Curtis, and now the media, sought to portray.
“Since (2004) the centre has introduced a requirement that anyone wishing to donate to the centre must first seek independent legal advice.”
The centre, based in Queen Camel, near Yeovil, has lodged an appeal against the High Court judgement that its “undue influence” had been present when Mr Curtis signed a declaration of trust gifting the family home in Edwinsford near Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, in 2004.
“We didn’t seek legal advice, because we were enraptured,” said Mr Curtis.
“We had a guru working with us and for us who had a direct link to god. What she said was good enough at the time.”
An investigation by Inside Out West has uncovered a number of similar complaints made against the centre by former members.
Lizzie Davies, from Bath, was given an out-of-court settlement for £690,000 by the centre in 1996 after she claimed she had handed over her savings to the centre while under undue influence.
It accepted no liability in agreeing the settlement.
She said of her decision to leave the centre in 1993: “I had nothing. I had absolutely nothing and I found the courage to leave.”
A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said: “(In 1995/6), we identified areas of significant concern with the apparent lack of management control by the entire trustee body over the charity’s affairs.
“We advised that the trustees must ensure they have direct controls over all funds…and that the charity’s book-keeping be improved.”
The centre also has associated but independent organisations in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
In 2003, Helen Williams left the centre in Christchurch with NZ$330 and a few personal belongings after agreeing to donate her property and savings to the centre.
She said: “I can only speak for the Christchurch centre but anyone throughout New Zealand who joined had to bring everything they owned.”
Alistair Mclean, of the Fundraising Standards Board, said: “The use of undue influence in soliciting donations from beneficiaries is quite simply unacceptable.”
The full story features on Inside Out West on BBC One in the west of England and on X-Ray on BBC1 Wales at 1930 GMT on Monday.
The programme will also be available in the UK on the BBC’s iPlayer for seven days.