Daily Notifications
Sign up for free emails to receive the feature story every morning in your inbox at


Steve Cannane wrote the book about Scientology in Australia — and now he’s on trial

From our perch here in the United States, it’s simply bizarre to see what is happening to journalist Steve Cannane in Australia. What he’s going through could never happen here, and we want to try and explain to you what we mean by that.

In 2016, Cannane published his masterful examination of Scientology’s history in Australia, titled Fair Game. Deeply researched and well written, it succeeds beautifully at what it sets out to do. And we told Steve that his recitation of L. Ron Hubbard’s history creating his movement is simply one of the best ever put on paper.

With its focus on Australia, Steve is able to dive deeply into chapters of Scientology history that hadn’t been fleshed out elsewhere. One chapter, for example, was about a controversy that made a lot of news in Australia in the late 1980s but was largely unheard of elsewhere. It involved a controversial “deep sleep” therapy used at Chelmsford Private Hospital near Sydney that erupted in headlines about doctors putting patients at risk with a practice that was declared unethical and dangerous. Patients were put into deep sedation with drugs and then were given electro-convulsive therapy, resulting in 24 deaths between 1963 and 1979.

A government inquiry in 1990 denounced the practice and referred three doctors for criminal prosecution. And Cannane revisited this incident because, he revealed for the first time, it was a group of Scientologists who had discovered what was going on at the hospital and first blew the whistle.


Scientology is fanatically anti-psychiatry, and most of the time that results in clownish attacks on any legitimate form of mental health practice. But in this one case, at least, Scientologists working to expose the Chelmsford hospital were in the right, and Cannane rightly considered it an important chapter in Australian Scientology history.

And Scientology isn’t complaining.

Instead, it’s the doctors who are taking Cannane and his book to court.

Yes, the doctors who were named and shamed in that 1990 government inquiry, which Cannane quoted from verbatim. Two surviving doctors who were denounced so thoroughly in 1990 for putting patient lives at risk are suing Cannane and his publisher for defaming them.

In 1990, the royal commissioner found that Dr [John] Gill, who was “de facto in charge” of Chelmsford, “must bear a large part of the responsibility for the consequences of Chelmsford both in terms of the suffering and sometimes deaths of patients,” according to reports at the time.

Dr Gill was later charged with manslaughter and maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm. However, a jury never heard the charges, because the High Court permanently stayed the proceedings when it ruled that the deaths had happened too long before. To prosecute would be an “abuse of process,” the court found.

Dr Gill continued practising.

Then-doctor [John] Herron’s treatment of a journalist who died in 1976 and a police officer who died in 1974, were also referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions, but no charges laid. A jury in 1980 awarded “compensatory and aggravated damages” against Mr Herron for “wrongful imprisonment, assault and negligence” against another former patient.

But Mr Herron and Dr Gill now say that these do not represent the “true facts” of the case, and that the new book defamed them.

(That’s a quote from this excellent piece on the lawsuit by Michael Bachelard at the Sydney Morning Herald.)

In the US, such a lawsuit would be immediately laughed out of court. After all, Cannane was simply (and thoroughly, and accurately) quoting from a government case file that detailed how these doctors had done horrible things. But an Australian judge has ruled that Cannane has to prove in court that what he said about them was true, as if the government inquiry never happened.

This is only happening because Australia doesn’t have a Bill of Rights or a First Amendment. There’s no protection for a journalist like Cannane who did what every journalist is told to do — report from government documents and get the facts down cold.

To give you some sense of what Steve is up against, imagine if Scientology sued the Underground Bunker because we quoted from the FBI sentencing memorandum in the Snow White prosecution, which meticulously detailed the spying and infiltrating of government offices that Scientology did in the 1970s. And imagine a judge ruling that we would have to take part in a six-week trial costing us millions of dollars to put on testimony to prove that Scientology did actually break into government offices in the 1970s, simply because we quoted from a government document that made that claim.

It’s ludicrous. But that’s what is about to unfold in Sydney starting on Monday. A six week trial that will cost millions as Steve Cannane is burdened with proving all over again what the governent concluded in 1990 about these doctors. Fortunately for Cannane his book was put out by a major publisher, Harper Collins, which is bearing the brunt of those costs, but what he’s going through is still insane.


And we’re going to try to keep an eye on the proceedings.


Jon Atack and Eddie Stratton

“In this meander down memory lane, Ed reminisces about his time in the TTC (Technical Training Corps) at Saint Hill, and Jon waxes poetic about the practice of ‘hard sell’.”



Source Code

“It’s pretty hard to complete a cycle in a half a billion years. You can try. And you get it down to a million years, and of course, to get anything done in a million years and make it stick, that’s really going some, man, you’re really on your way, that’s tearing the ground up in all directions. The length of time since the birth of Chr — the alleged birth of Christ — is so short, that before you’ve gone very long on the road to OT, you could probably remember what you had for breakfast in the year 2, and during the third day of the Saturnalia or something like that. Not that you would, probably cause you as much work to remember what you had for breakfast that morning as it does now to remember what you had for breakfast yesterday, see. You probably can’t think of what you had for breakfast yesterday right now. So that is a very finite period of time. That’s a very short period of time. A couple of thousand years, nothing. I’d like a couple of thousand years just to sit on a rock and look at the scenery — one of my ambitions.” — L. Ron Hubbard, May 30, 1963


Overheard in the FreeZone


“Now that the virus has been shown to be no worse than the common flu, it has emerged that its purpose was to affect the economy of the USA to derail Trump’s re-election. That can be the next job for Clears and OTs to handle as a team.”


Random Howdy

“First there was the Thetaverse and the Thetans were born, and through shared agreement and control of MEST (superpowers) they created other universes and then they created the MEST universe so they could assume physical form and have a playground to play ‘games’ in and enjoy the pleasures of the flesh. But eventually they forgot all this. And I thought to myself, ‘Hey, isn’t this a Star Trek or Outer Limits episode?'”


Full Court Press: What we’re watching at the Underground Bunker

Criminal prosecutions:
Jay Spina: Sentencing was set for April 3 in White Plains
Hanan and Rizza Islam and other family members: Trial set for October 7 in Los Angeles

Civil litigation:
Luis and Rocio Garcia v. Scientology: Waiting for an appellate decision from the Eleventh Circuit
Valerie Haney v. Scientology: Forced to ‘religious arbitration.’ Hearing on motion for reconsideration set for August 11
Chrissie Bixler et al. v. Scientology and Danny Masterson: July 8 (plaintiff attorneys pro hac vice), August 31-Sept 1 (CSI/RTC demurrer against Riales, Masterson demurrer), Oct 7-19 (motions to compel arbitration)
Jane Doe v. Scientology (in Miami): Jane Doe dismissed the lawsuit on May 15 after the Clearwater Police dropped their criminal investigation of her allegations.
Matt and Kathy Feschbach bankruptcy appeal: Oral arguments were heard on March 11 in Jacksonville
Brian Statler Sr v. City of Inglewood: Amended complaint filed.


Scientology’s celebrities, ‘Ideal Orgs,’ and more!

[Erika Christensen, Ethan Suplee, and Juliette Lewis]

We’ve been building landing pages about David Miscavige’s favorite playthings, including celebrities and ‘Ideal Orgs,’ and we’re hoping you’ll join in and help us gather as much information as we can about them. Head on over and help us with links and photos and comments.

Scientology’s celebrities, from A to Z! Find your favorite Hubbardite celeb at this index page — or suggest someone to add to the list!

Scientology’s ‘Ideal Orgs,’ from one end of the planet to the other! Help us build up pages about each these worldwide locations!

Scientology’s sneaky front groups, spreading the good news about L. Ron Hubbard while pretending to benefit society!

Scientology Lit: Books reviewed or excerpted in our weekly series. How many have you read?



[ONE year ago] Scientology’s slick new ‘Freewinds’ magazine surprisingly makes no mention of measles
[TWO years ago] Bad boys of the Sea Org: guns, drugs, murder and Scientology
[THREE years ago] To counter Leah Remini’s return to A&E, Scientology recruits her father in smear attack
[FOUR years ago] How Scientology’s smears of Ron Miscavige could end up a bigger problem for his son Dave
[FIVE years ago] Jon Atack: Auditing and recovered memory — why do Scientologists accept it as fact?
[SIX years ago] Three videos the Church of Scientology would rather you not watch
[SEVEN years ago] Word To Your Mother: Dianetics And Its Lack of Boundaries


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley (1952-2019) did not see his daughter Stephanie in his final 5,667 days.
Valerie Haney has not seen her mother Lynne in 1,953 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 2,457 days
Sylvia Wagner DeWall has not seen her brother Randy in 1,977 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 997 days.
Geoff Levin has not seen his son Collin and daughter Savannah in 888 days.
Christie Collbran has not seen her mother Liz King in 4,195 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 2,063 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 2,837 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 3,611 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,957 days.
Dylan Gill has not seen his father Russell in 11,523 days.
Melissa Paris has not seen her father Jean-Francois in 7,442 days.
Valeska Paris has not seen her brother Raphael in 3,610 days.
Mirriam Francis has not seen her brother Ben in 3,191 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 3,452 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 2,490 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 2,203 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 1,728 days.
Charley Updegrove has not seen his son Toby in 1,258 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 5,818 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,958 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 3,278 days.
Roger Weller has not seen his daughter Alyssa in 8,133 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 3,253 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 1,608 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 5,911 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 2,017 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 2,419 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 2,291 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 1,874 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 2,369 days.
Mary Jane Barry has not seen her daughter Samantha in 2,623 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 13,732 days.


Posted by Tony Ortega on May 30, 2020 at 07:00

E-mail tips to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We also post updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our new book with Paulette Cooper, Battlefield Scientology: Exposing L. Ron Hubbard’s dangerous ‘religion’ is now on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats. Our book about Paulette, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2019 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Underground Bunker (2012-2019), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

Other links: BLOGGING DIANETICS: Reading Scientology’s founding text cover to cover | UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists | GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice | SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts | Shelly Miscavige, 14 years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Watch our short videos that explain Scientology’s controversies in three minutes or less…

Check your whale level at our dedicated page for status updates, or join us at the Underground Bunker’s Facebook discussion group for more frivolity.

Our non-Scientology stories: Robert Burnham Jr., the man who inscribed the universe | Notorious alt-right inspiration Kevin MacDonald and his theories about Jewish DNA | The selling of the “Phoenix Lights” | Astronomer Harlow Shapley‘s FBI file | Sex, spies, and local TV news | Battling Babe-Hounds: Ross Jeffries v. R. Don Steele


Share Button
Print Friendly, PDF & Email