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Steve Cannane took Scientology’s line, says unrepentant ‘Deep Sleep’ doctor

[Dr. John Gill in 1989, photo by Sydney Morning Herald]

On Saturday we told you that a trial was about to start in Australia that would never happen in the United States, and the first couple of days of testimony in the defamation case against journalist Steve Cannane certainly drove home that point.

In 2016, Cannane wrote Fair Game, a well researched and deftly written book about Scientology’s history in Australia, including a strange chapter about how anti-psychiatry zealots in the church managed to blow the whistle on one of psychiatry’s darkest episodes. It was the “deep sleep” scandal at Chelmsford Private Hospital near Sydney, and it made headlines in that country in the late 1980s. For years, a group of doctors had been putting patients under sedation and then subjecting them to electro-convulsive therapy, resulting in 24 deaths between 1963 and 1979.

Cannane included the chapter because it was a rare instance when Scientology was actually on the right side of things, but ultimately the young woman who risked the most to help bring the scandal to light was abandoned by her church handlers.

It’s not Scientology who is suing Cannane for defamation, however, but two of the surviving doctors, who say that Cannane’s book harmed their reputations, even though Cannane was quoting from a damning government-commissioned inquiry that had found the doctors responsible for several of the deaths.

The fact that Cannane faithfully quoted from findings (not allegations, but findings) in an official inquiry would protect him from being sued in the U.S. But Australia’s defamation law, a judge decided, required that Cannane would have to prove those statements about the doctors true all over again, some thirty years after the commission had come to those conclusions.


It’s insane. And so is the trial, as it has begun to unfold.

On day one, attorney for the plaintiffs Sue Chrysanthou argued that the doctors were harmed because Cannane summarized in a book chapter of only 30 pages an inquiry that had produced tens of thousands of pages of testimony. And, while he relied on the inquiry’s assessments of the doctors, Cannane had tracked down a few others to interview personally. If he’d done that, why hadn’t he contacted the doctors?

But Cannane wasn’t writing a book about the doctors, he was interested in Scientology’s involvement in the case, and so he had looked up some of the people who took part in Scientology’s operation.

Then, after that summation by Chrysanthou, the first of the doctors was brought on to testify, Dr. John Gill. (Because of the pandemic, the trial is being held virtually, with the judge, attorneys, and witnesses all beaming in from separate locations.)

In an affidavit Gill said that it was obvious to him Cannane had accepted Scientology’s version of what happened at Chelmsford, which led to a book that defamed him.

But under cross-examination, Gill admitted that the book’s assessments of him and the other doctors were taken by Cannane from the inquiry’s report, not from Scientology. And Gill also admitted that he simply didn’t like the way Cannane had summarized the inquiry’s findings.

(At this point we were again astonished that this was the subject of an expensive trial. Someone didn’t like the way Cannane summarized an official report? Come on, Australia.)

On day two (which was Tuesday morning in Sydney but late last night here in the US), Gill’s cross-examination continued. Attorney for the defense Tom Blackburn repeatedly asked Gill about specific, verbatim quotes from the 1990 inquiry, and the elderly Gill repeatedly went off about how those findings were “absolutely wrong.”

It was comical.

The inquiry, for example, found that a young man’s death was directly caused by the drugs Gill had administered. “Do you disagree with that finding?” Blackburn asked.

“I certainly do!”

The inquiry found that Gill had engaged in “gross misconduct” that led directly to the patient’s death.

Gill chuckled.

“You laugh, Dr. Gill.”


“I do,” the doctor answered. “That matter was taken up by the medical tribunal in 1986, and the criminal charges set aside in 1993. I just don’t accept that at all.”

But Blackburn pointed out that the merits of what Gill had done to the patient hadn’t been what was at question before the medical tribunal, and when it came to the criminal prosecution in 1993, Gill’s own attorneys had argued that the incident had caused so much bad press, he could never get a fair trial. His prosecution was stayed, with the prosecution citing that so much time had passed since the patient deaths.

In other words, Gill was never exonerated, even if the sordid facts still make him chuckle to this day.

Blackburn continued to bring up numerous damning assessments of Gill by the inquiry. And after each one he asked him, isn’t that what happened?

“Absolutely not, sir. Absolutely not!” Gill roared.

It was ridiculous.

Gill doesn’t like that the official inquiry found him to be essentially a monster in 1990, not only causing patient deaths but doing nothing about other doctors at the hospital he ran causing other deaths, and then bullying people who dared to raise any questions about it — again, all laid out in black and white by the inquiry.

It was Gill’s contention that Scientology was behind the allegations against him, and we are certainly alert to Scientology’s subterfuges and plots at this website. But the commission found his complaints about Scientology to be “delusional,” and said they were a part of his bullying tactics against people he considered enemies.

The truth, Blackburn said, was that Gill had overall control of what happened at the hospital and bullied people who tried to expose him. The inquiry found that Gill was “abysmally ignorant” and “grossly negligent.” Isn’t that what happened?

“That’s absolutely untrue, sir!” he bellowed. “I don’t accept virtually anything of Justice Slattery’s decision!” he said.

It was simply bizarre. Dr. John Gill may not like what an official investigation determined were the monstrous things he did thirty years ago, but what is this case doing in a courtroom when Steve Cannane clearly quoted that inquiry accurately for his book?

It’s ludicrous.

Gill claimed that among the “people I mix with,” he has a good reputation and the Chelmsford matter is no longer an issue. He tried to make the point that Cannane’s book has caused him more harm than the inquiry in 1990.

“Is that a serious answer?” Blackburn asked.


We wondered the same thing.

We feel for Cannane that this thing is going to go on for weeks more. We’ll continue to check in on it from time to time.


Source Code

“Every time you throw a book in the mails, you see, why there was so much effort coming back toward one, and it’s neglected. Similarly, let’s say, the colored gentleman who has a good, high-paid job: sticking his head through a canvas and letting people throw baseballs at him. I think that’s a well-honored profession of one time or another in carnivals and so on. All right. So here he has these baseballs coming in at him all the time. The visible picture, you see, is made of everything, but his attention goes on the incoming baseball. Yeah, but as this baseball is coming in, actually there is a contrary reaction that he pays no attention to, because he’s interested in the baseball. He’s not interested in that contrary reaction. He wishes there were more of it, if anything, you see, to slow that baseball down. And the next thing you know, he will have too many baseballs thrown at him. Now, he’s actually the — it isn’t the injuries of the baseballs or anything; it’s just the fact that he’s built up a ridge in front of his face that consists of not the incoming baseball, but the resistance going back against the baseball. You got the idea? Well, it’s the resistance back against that baseball that sticks there, not the baseballs. So he has too many baseballs thrown at him and all of a sudden gets a horrible feeling of pushing out that way.” — L. Ron Hubbard, June 2, 1961


Overheard in the FreeZone

“When I’ve surveyed some of the horrendous deeds I’ve done on the whole track, it has occurred to me that no amount of regret would do a thing to make up for those actions. In fact, nothing I could possibly do in PT could compensate for some of the crap I’ve done down the track. And so I concluded that there was no point in dwelling on these things. Best to act in terms of the greatest good now and work it around (with Scientology) so that I’m unlikely to do those things again. Your emotions are within your control, and regret is a place you don’t want to go.”


Random Howdy

“In the cosmology of L. Ron Hubbard your children aren’t really ‘your’ children. Instead they are just non-corporeal immortal alien beings who popped into the genetic entity inhabiting the womb of the bigger thetan who proceeds to plop it out. They would have these little thetans signing billion-year contracts with their little footprints if they could.”


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!

[The Big Three: Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and Kirstie Alley]

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] Having conquered QR codes, Scientology goes all in on WhatsApp
[TWO years ago] Janis Gillham Grady on Scientology jail: ‘LRH had been like a father to me. So much betrayal!’
[THREE years ago] Scientologist’s lawsuit against Jim Carrey over Cat White’s suicide survives dismissal
[FOUR years ago] Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s tall tales about himself never get old
[FIVE years ago] Scientology, six degrees of separation, and Miss Lovely — author Paulette Cooper
[SIX years ago] Ryan Hamilton files lawsuit number eleven against Scientology’s drug rehab network
[SEVEN years ago] Scientology Sunday Funnies: What Did David Miscavige Tell the Troops Last Night?
[NINE years ago] Ex-Scientology Actor Attacks Ex-Scientology Plaintiff in TMZ Story Clearly Not Planted by Scientology


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 1,956 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 2,460 days
Sylvia Wagner DeWall has not seen her brother Randy in 1,980 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 1,000 days.
Geoff Levin has not seen his son Collin and daughter Savannah in 891 days.
Christie Collbran has not seen her mother Liz King in 4,198 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 2,066 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 2,840 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 3,614 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,960 days.
Dylan Gill has not seen his father Russell in 11,526 days.
Melissa Paris has not seen her father Jean-Francois in 7,445 days.
Valeska Paris has not seen her brother Raphael in 3,613 days.
Mirriam Francis has not seen her brother Ben in 3,194 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 3,455 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 2,493 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 2,206 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 1,731 days.
Charley Updegrove has not seen his son Toby in 1,261 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 5,821 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,961 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 3,281 days.
Roger Weller has not seen his daughter Alyssa in 8,136 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 3,256 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 1,611 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 5,914 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 2,020 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 2,422 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 2,294 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 1,877 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 2,372 days.
Mary Jane Barry has not seen her daughter Samantha in 2,626 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 13,735 days.


Posted by Tony Ortega on June 2, 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


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