Caplin 'recruited' for therapy cult investigated by police

The Exegesis cult, the controversial 1980s organisation that counted Cherie Blair's friend Carole Caplin among its adherents, was once condemned as "dangerous and profoundly wrong" by a Government minister, while some members have attacked its confrontational therapy methods as "brainwashing'' and "humiliating".

At one point claiming to have 5,000 members, Exegesis grew out of the exotic alternative therapy organisations that flowered on the West Coast of America in the 1960s and were aimed at helping people with their "personal development". These included organisations such as the Rev Jim Jones's People's Temple, whose followers committed mass suicide in 1978 in Guyana in South America, and the supporters of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who set up a community in the north-west of the United States.

Exegesis' leader was a Rolls-Royce driving Briton, Robert D'Aubigny (real name Fuller), the son of a meat salesman from Essex. He had originally been a follower of a California-based therapy system called Est, which itself had come out of the fracture of two organisations – Mindynamics and Leadership Dynamics – in the late 1960s.

According to the London-based Cult Information Centre (CIC), which monitors such organisations, Exegesis was a "therapy'' cult – concerned with the personal and individual development of its followers, as opposed to "religious'' cults, which focused on geopoliticial or spiritual issues.

In the early 1980s, Exegesis recruited people by saying that its therapy methods could solve personal problems. "If you had a problem with your work or, for instance, your partner, they would tell you that Exegesis would help by making you get in touch with your true self, that you would become more assertive and communicate more effectively. But they were telling people what they wanted to hear," said Ian Howarth of the CIC.

Recruits would pay about £200 to attend two or three-day courses with Exegesis trainers where, according to various accounts given at the time, they would be screamed and shouted at, abused, forced to reveal their sexual fantasies and ordered not to leave the room.

It was at some of these meetings that Ms Caplin, a former topless cover girl and rock group member, was said to have been seen "guarding doors" at therapy sessions.

Ms Caplan was also said to have worked as a recruiter and trainer for the organisation. Once they had been brought in, new members would be encouraged to recruit more members and then persuaded to attend more specialised – and expensive – courses "to keep them topped up," said Mr Howarth.

Mr D'Aubigny, whose whereabouts are unknown, also ran a company called Programmes, which raised funds for his organisation by employing Exegesis recruits as telesales workers.

In 1984, concerns about the Exegesis programme were raised in the Commons by several MPs who cited cases of people who had become disturbed after attending some of the courses.

David Mellor, then a Home Office minister, condemned the organisation as "puerile, dangerous and profoundly wrong". Scotland Yard conducted an investigation but no charges were ever brought and Exegesis collapsed shortly afterwards.

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