NEW STUDENTS at Scots universities and colleges are being warned to be on their guard against religious cults who try to recruit them during freshers' week.
The National Union of Students has taken the unprecedented step of sending warnings about cult activities to all universities.
According to Ian Howarth, of the Cult Information Centre, 500 cults are operating around the UKwith many registered as religious orders, therapy groups or management training organizations.
In recent weeks Mr. Howarth has been "swamped" with queries from cult members, families, universities and colleges seeking help and information.
It is believed that up to 50,000 people in Scotland are, or have been, involved with a cult.
Just last week Mr. Howarth had a call from a Scots family desperate to trace their daughter. She disappeared as a teenager and has been missing for 15 years. We have agreed not to name the girl or her family because it could jeopardize their chances of ever finding her.
At wits' end
Mr. Howarth said, '`The family had tried everything to trace her and were at their wits' end. They hadn't a clue what had happened to her.
"I asked if they could tell me anything, and they came up with the name of a man she had been seeing. I recognized him as a leading figure of a cult in France.
"I've passed on information which I would hope would- lead them to her."
Among dozens of other calls Mr. Howarth received from around Scotland in the last few days was one from a family in Shetland trying to trace their daughter, who became
involved with a cult more than a year ago. They haven't seen her since.
Young students who have just left home for the first time to live in a strange city are particularly at risk.
"The ideal recruits for cults are young people who are advantaged, with average or above intelligence well educated, idealistic and naive," Mr. Howarth said. "A large number of young students fit that bill."
Mr. Howarth, a former cult member himself, said the mind control techniques used by cults are meditation, chanting and singing sleep and food deprivation, and techniques where recruits are hugged and shown lots of affection by members.
One controversial religious group, the International Church of Christ (UK), has been banned from campuses in Glasgow, Edinburgh and other universities and colleges across Britain. The group, which has more than 2000 members in Britain, has already been accused of preying on students, and has a ministry dedicated to students.