Last weekend a conference was held in Dublin by former members of the Church of Scientology, who told of their alleged experiences of fraud and abuse at the cult. But one woman who stayed far away from the conference is Zabrina Collins (36), a formidable, high-ranking member who acts as part-spokesperson, part-stormtrooper for the group, which first set up an office in Ireland in 1956. Collins is currently at the centre of a bitter legal dispute with two former Scientologists who campaign against the organisation, with plenty of mud being flung on both sides.
There are some admirable qualities in terms of what Scientology purports to do, such as the search for truth and helping people who have suffered trauma in their lives. The problem is that there can be a heavy price to be paid – not just in a monetary sense – to be a member of this controversial cult. And frequently, when people leave Scientology, things tend to get nasty.
In 2003, for example, a former member named Mary Johnston sued the Dublin Scientology mission in the High Court for psychological and psychiatric injuries inflicted upon her during her time as a member in the 1990s. The case was settled out of court. More recently, another ex-member, Kevin Stevenson, lodged High Court proceedings against Scientology in 2012 for alleged fraud and infliction of emotional suffering (see The Phoenix 22/3/13). Stevenson claimed to have been duped out of around €100,000 by the Scientologists, although he withdrew his case last year. Another frequently made criticism of Scientology which is thought to only have around 50 committed members in Ireland, where it is headquartered a premises on Middle Abbey Street, Dublin 1 – is that it encourages its followers to cut off contact with non-Scientologist family members.
The cult’s staunchest critics tend to be former members. Leading the charge against Scientology in Ireland is former member Pete Griffiths, who lives in Mayo and spends much of his time campaigning against Scientology. (Griffiths organised the recent conference about Scientology, which featured among others BBC reporter John Sweeney, who made a well-known documentary about Scientology in 2007.) Griffiths, who is British, joined Scientology in 1987 in England together with his (now ex-) wife.
He and his wife later joined the organisation’s staff and even spent short stints working for Scientology in the US, before eventually leaving in 1994 and subsequently relocating to Ireland. He became involved in the anti-Scientology movement in 2008 after meeting someone on their way to protest at the Scientology mission in Dublin.
In May 2013, Griffiths visited St David’s CBS, a secondary school in Artane, Dublin, where, according to a court document, he gave a talk “warning about the dangers of cults in general and Scientology in particular.” It is claimed that two days later, Collins emailed the school principal and referred to herself as a “concerned parent.” The email allegedly described Griffiths as “an avid hate campaigner against Scientology in Ireland” and continued, “By welcoming such a character into your school and allowing him a platform to propagate his hate mongering both you and he have grossly violated the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act.”
The email also allegedly stated that Griffiths’ aim was to “instill hatred and support criminal activity” and claimed that he was being kept under surveillance by the Gardai and had caused criminal damage to “our property just a few weeks ago.” According to a court document, the email also implies that Griffiths (who is gay) is a paedophile and “poses a threat to children.”
Griffiths issued defamation proceedings against Collins in the Circuit Court last year, which look set for a full hearing later this year. But there is now another case linked to the defamation action, in which Collins is suing Griffiths and another former Scientologist, John McGhee, for alleged assault.
The assault case has its origins in incidents in Dublin‘s city centre last December. In the High Court that month, Collins and another Scientologist, Michael O’Donnell, obtained restraining orders against Griffiths and McGhee, after telling the court that they had been harassed and intimidated by the former Scientologists while handing out anti-drugs leaflets, as part of a campaign known as ‘The Truth About Drugs’.
The cult’s members are now suing Griffiths and McGhee for alleged assault in the Circuit Court, which made an order last month that the assault case and the defamation case are to be heard at the same time. In an affidavit, McGhee – who is representing himself- denied claims that any assault had taken place, but admitted taking some leaflets from Collins’s carrier bag and putting them in a rubbish bin. (Griffiths also denies assaulting the pair.) Zabrina Collins is originally from Co Donegal and is the daughter of nightclub owner Frank Shortt, who was framed by Gardai in the 199os and who was wrongly convicted of allowing drugs to be sold in his nightclub, for which he was awarded more than €4.5m by the State in 2007. His daughter first became involved in Scientology while in Australia in 2000 and became active in the Irish branch the following year, after returning home. She later married another senior member, Ger Collins, whose title is ‘Mission Holder,’ which effectively makes him the most senior Scientologist in Ireland. Zabrina Collins has acted as ‘Ethics Officer’ in the cult. In an affidavit sworn as part of the assault case, McGhee claimed that Collins’s duties as Ethics Officer “included disciplining Scientologists who were not living by the rules of the cult and ordering the disconnection of family members who may be hostile to their loved one’s choice of religion.” Collins was later promoted to the ‘Office of Special Affairs’, a role that involves dealing with Scientology critics, and former members of the cult in particular.
Collins’s commitment to Scientology is clearly a fulltime job, although she and her husband also own a chiropractors, Abbey Chiropractic and Wellness Center, on Parnell Street, Dublin 1. (This company showed accumulated losses of €42,000 in its most recent accounts, made to the end of 2012.)
Meanwhile, a considerable amount of Collins’s time this year is likely to be spent on her legal duel with Griffiths and McGhee. At a court sitting last month, the Circuit Court’s Judge Jacqueline Linnane warned the two sides that they potentially faced a massive legal bill if the cases went ahead. But neither side look set to back down. Representing Collins in both cases is a British solicitor, Peter Hodkin, a card carrying Scientologist whose firm acts for the Scientologists in the UK.