Man ‘appalled’ at behaviour towards Church of Scientology members
Peter Griffiths asks court to lift order preventing him harassing two church members
Peter Griffiths (63), living in Ballina, Co Mayo, told the High Court he did “not have a problem with Scientology or Scientologists”. File photograph: iStockPhoto
A former member of the Church of Scientology (CoS) said he was “actually appalled” looking at a video played in the High Court of him following two church members distributing booklets in Dublin.
Peter Griffiths (63), who is currently unemployed and living in Ballina, Co Mayo, told the court that looking back now at the video, he felt the two CoS members, Zabrina Collins and Michael O’Donnell, “are due an apology for what went went on”.
The video, shot by Mr Griffiths in December 2014, was previously found by a judge to clearly show Mr Griffiths had consorted with another former CoS member, John McGhee, from Clara, in Co Offaly, in assault and battery on Ms Collins and Mr O’Donnell as they distributed CoS-funded “Truth about Drugs” booklets to businesses and homes in Dublin.
“I hold my hand up and regret my role and I think it was terrible,” he said.
At the time the video was shot by him, in December 2014, he said he was “living it” but he believed now he should have stopped Mr McGhee from doing what he was doing. Ms Collins said at one point she was hit in the face by Mr McGhee when he reached over her shoulder to try to grab her booklets.
Right to protest
Mr Griffiths has asked the court to lift an injunction preventing him from harassing, besetting or interfering with Ms Collins and Mr O’Donnell because, he says, it is too wide and interferes with his legitimate right to peaceful protest.
Ms Collins and Mr O’Donnell say it should remain in place because, if not, they fear Mr Griffiths’s behaviour towards them will get worse.
Giving evidence on the second day of the case, Mr Griffiths said he joined the CoS in 1987 in England, working in their missions in Sunderland and Kendall. He said he was promised €200 a week by the CoS, but never received that kind of money and eventually ended up “starving” with a wife and child.
After organising an event in 1994 for 100 people in his hometown in England, where he had to pay for a meal for everyone but could not get paid himself, he became very disillusioned.
He started researching the CoS and discovered he had been hoodwinked and had been in a “mental prison”. He burnt all his CoS literature in a big bonfire and started working to inform others who he believed were being hoodwinked by the organisation, including by giving talks in schools and colleges.
It was one such talk which led him to bring a defamation case against Ms Collins, of The Boulevard, Mount Eustace, Tyrrelstown, Dublin, over a letter she wrote to a school principal, and for which he was awarded €5,000.
His goal in taking part in the December 2014 incident was to inform shopkeepers who were receiving the Truth about Drugs literature that the CoS was behind it. He believed some of the information about drugs in the pamphlet was incorrect.
Wanted to act lawfully
It was not his intention to harass or intimidate anyone, and he always wanted to act lawfully.
“I absolutely do not pose a threat to these people,” he said. He was a father and grandfather, and he did not like the idea of an injunction stopping him doing something “I am not doing anyway”.
Under cross-examination by Frank Beatty SC, for the plaintiffs, Mr Griffiths disputed having taken part in a protest last August outside an Edinburgh CoS mission, along with John McGhee and others, but said he had been there and had gone into the building because there was a sign outside saying “all welcome”.
He said he did not have a relationship with Mr McGhee anymore and may have met him just once this year. He had friends in common with John McGhee “but I can’t do anything about that”.
He disagreed that a number of other incidents, including one involving Ms Collins’s 11-year-old daughter and others involving promotions run by Ms Collins’s chiropractor practice, were intimidatory. He disagreed he was harassing Ms Collins and her husband Ger when they were having lunch in a Dublin city centre restaurant on one occasion.
While he had tried to ridicule the CoS in the past, he did not think he had tried to ridicule Ms Collins and Mr O’Donnell, of Cherrywood Lawn, Clondalkin, Dublin.
“I do not have a problem with Scientology or Scientologists,” he said.
Mr Justice Seamus Noonan, following submissions from legal counsel, said he would give his decision next week.