Thomas Sutcliffe: The strange case of the cop and the cult

Click to follow
The Independent Online

I don't know a great deal about Chief Superintendent Kevin Hurley. He wears a cheerful smile in the picture on the About Us section of the City of London Police website and, reading his brief biography, he would seem to be one of those characters whose impulse towards public service has found most congenial expression in uniform. He's seen service in Iraq with the Territorial Army and has completed a six-month attachment to the Foreign Office as the senior UK Police adviser to the Iraqi police force.

But I do know one thing about him that makes me call his judgement into question - and that's his appearance the other day at the gala opening for the Church of Scientology's new London headquarters. He was, the City of London Police press office confirm, there in an official capacity, attending as "Force Liaison, Faith", just as he would "with any other group".

According to our own news report, the Chief Superintendent's remarks at the ceremony were "wildly applauded" by attending devotees. And it's hardly surprising, given the Church's less than harmonious encounters with senior figures in the British establishment in the past. In 1984, Mr Justice Latey concluded a custody hearing involving Scientologists and former Scientologists by declaring that the organisation was "corrupt, sinister and dangerous", citing the Church of Scientology's " infamous practices" with regard to anyone who dares to criticise it or question its methods - though his rebuke appeared to have little effect on the Church's attack-dog approach to any kind of threat, however marginal.

In 1999, they apologised and paid £55,000 in legal costs to Bonnie Woods, a former member of the church who had been subjected to a dirty-tricks campaign after she offered counselling to disenchanted Scientologists and potential recruits. And in the same year the Charity Commission declined to extend charitable status to the organisation because it was not convinced the Church of Scientology had been established for public benefit or " for the moral or spiritual welfare or improvement of the community". So, even setting aside the deranged extra-terrestrial theology, the bogus quasi-scientific therapy speak and the nakedly acquisitive approach to spreading its gospel, you might have thought this was an institution a senior policeman might be wary of endorsing. It's not just "any other group".

Chief Superintendent Hurley apparently doesn't agree. The Church of Scientology's website proudly claims that on Sunday he said, "he knows with 'complete personal certainty' that the members are 'raising the spiritual wealth of society' with their charitable works". It's always possible of course that the Church of Scientologists' excitement got the better of them, and Chief Superintendent Hurley never offered quite such a glowing testimonial to their civic virtue. But if he did, he has given an invaluable boost to an irrational cult. Who can doubt they will have another crack at charitable status with that quote on file?

I asked the City of London Police press office whether Chief Superintendent Hurley was a Scientologist himself. "No," said their spokesman, with a speed and firmness that suggested I wasn't the first person to ask the question. I suppose we should take comfort from this: for the time being at least it suggests there is an upper limit to to the Chief Superintendent's credulity.

Age shall not wither him ...

Touching to see that Harrison Ford, left, had declared himself fit to take on the role of Indiana Jones in a fourth film in the franchise. Apparently the quarter century that has elapsed since the first film was made has not impaired his ability to offer "the same physical action".

I would have thought he was the last person to make that particular judgement call, but it suggests that he's not immune to the fantasies many of us entertain about our unique exemption from the consequences of age. I've been running quite a bit recently and occasionally catch myself thinking that I'm just as fit as I was when I was 25 - an endorphin-induced delusion that is sustainable only until I'm overtaken by some spring-heeled 30-year-old.

The BBC reports that an exhibition devoted to animal homosexuality is proving a popular draw at the Oslo Natural History Museum - including graphic photographs of guy-on-guy giraffe action and sapphic bonobo love trysts.

The exhibition is candidly intended as a riposte to the "It's Not Natural" school of moral prohibition - but I can't help feel that it effectively endorses a bit of false logic rather than simply repudiating it.

It isn't "natural" to eat with forks, to take Holy Communion or spend a couple of hours gazing in reverence at the paintings of Velasquez - but no one recoils from any of these activities because of that.

Either everything humans do is "natural" (because we're animals too) or nothing is (because we're a weird kind of animal). But deciding what's wrong and what's right on the basis of what flamingos and whales do makes no sense at all, whichever way they swing.