'Scientologists believe the Holocaust was planned and carried out by psychiatrists'

Five years on from the Panorama outburst that resulted in a worldwide viral viewing, John Sweeney has written a book on the dangers of the cult religion

The Church of Scientology is a cult whose core aim is to fight a space alien Satan that's brainwashed the rest of us. The Church fights the world's insanity, its celebrity followers argue, and people who tell you differently are bigots. So who's right?

Lawrence Wright is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who has written what promises to be a great book on Scientology. Going Clear is due to be published everywhere on 17 January – except Britain. Just before Christmas, Transworld, Wright's British publishers, pulled it, leading to questions about whether it had fallen to the Church's reputation for going after its detractors and Britain's libel laws.

Wright had a huge advance negotiated by über-agent Andrew Wylie, publishers around the world primed to publish on the same day, a reported print run of 150,000 in the US and a team of researchers checking every fact. He will have things to say in his book that readers – especially young people, the audience the Church seeks to recruit – may think they have a right to know. American readers will learn all, while Wright's potential British readers will have no book to buy.

By way of explanation, Transworld's publicity director Patsy Irwin said: "The legal advice that we received was that some of the content of the book was not robust enough for the UK market, that an edited version would not fit with our schedule and the decision was made internally not to publish."

Five years ago I lost my cool, to say the least, during an interview with the Church's senior spokesman Tommy Davis in a BBC Panorama called "Scientology & Me". I apologised then and I apologise now for that tirade, and the footage of which went viral around the world. But in the intervening five years I have remained gravely troubled by the power of the Scientologist Church to intimidate critics and to maintain a hold over its adepts which some say is a kind of mental enslavement. The Church, for its part, says that I am a psychopath – one Scientology blog says: "John Sweeney is genuinely evil."

Five years on from my very public meltdown, I've written a book, called The Church of Fear: Inside the Weird World of Scientology, which is published today. Getting the book out has not been easy. My publisher is a bloke with a dog I met in a park. We are going ahead with our book, come hell or high water, because dog bloke and I feel passionately that this story is in the public interest and it needs to be told.

The reason I went with dog bloke is simple. It wasn't the lavishness of the advance – a pint and a packet of crisps. It was because every single major publisher in Britain said "no" to my book. The reason some gave was legal risk. The Church's lawyers in Britain, Carter-Ruck, libel specialists beloved of celebrities, politicians and major corporations, have said: "Free speech is not an unfettered right." You can say that again.

I don't necessarily blame the publishers. A combination of this expensive legal team and Britain's libel laws make publishing criticism of Scientology in this country a daunting task. In America, the legal test for libel is that the plaintiff has to prove the defendant has actual malice to win. In Britain, our laws – under which the defendant has to prove the truth of what he is saying – have prompted repeated calls for change, with many arguing that they stifle free speech. A reform Bill, which critics say is too weak, is currently crawling through the House of Lords.

Publishers might have had other reasons for not wanting my book in the first place, but it was legal concerns, at least in part, that prompted Transworld to cancel their release of Lawrence Wright's much-anticipated work, having previously agreed to do so. While the book launch will go ahead in other countries, perhaps they felt they just couldn't take on Scientology in the UK.

Dog bloke and I think we can. A word about him. His name is Humfrey Hunter, he is a literary agent turned publisher, his company is Silvertail Books and his father and grandmother were German Jewish psychiatrists. Together, his dad and granny wrote the book that set out the medical evidence that Mad King George suffered from porphyry, the basis for Alan Bennett's The Madness of King George.

I lost my temper with Tommy Davis inside the brainwashing section of the Church's exhibition on psychiatry, "The Industry of Death". Scientologists believe that psychiatry is Nazi pseudoscience. They believe that the Holocaust was planned and carried out by psychiatrists. If you are doing a book about Scientology, then you cannot do better than having the son and grandson of two German-Jewish psychiatrists as your publisher. You don't need capital to publish a book on Scientology – you need courage.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with us are a number of ex-members of the Church who possess that quality. They would, they say, be willing to give evidence in our defence were the Church to sue us: Mike Rinder, former head of the Office of Special Affairs, who quit the Church in 2007 after goading me alongside Tommy; Marc Headley, who says he was audited by Tom Cruise and came with me on my visit to the Church's Trementina Base in New Mexico, where the Church has buried Founder L Ron Hubbard's lectures on discs of gold in an H-bomb-proof vault; Amy Scobee, former head of the Church's Celebrity Centre, and more.

But perhaps the Scientologists will do no more than threaten and bluster. Carter-Ruck were first hired in 2007, Mike Rinder told me, to prepare a case against Panorama. But at the last moment, the Church's Chairman of the Board, David Miscavige (Tom Cruise's best man at his wedding to Katie Holmes and a man accused of violence by several ex-Scientologists, a charge he and the Church flatly deny) pulled out. If they go ahead this time, it should make for an incredibly interesting court case.

"The Church of Fear: Inside the Weird World of Scientology" is published by Silvertail Books and is available in paperback (£12.99) and e-book £3.20 on amazon.co.uk

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas