A mother who claims a controversial church ruined her life has begun a legal action for £100,000 damages.
The charismatic Peniel Pentecostal Church, which claims to have performed miracles on sick children, was at the centre of the failed attempt by the former anti-sleaze MP Martin Bell to be elected last week in the constituency where it is based. Caroline Green, 33, claims that from the age of 14 her will was dominated by the church through threats, humiliation and intimidation.
The church applied earlier this week to have the action struck out, on which a High Court master will rule today.
The church, based at Brentwood, Essex, was accused last year of infiltrating the local Conservative Association in the Tory-held seat of Brentwood and Ongar. It allegedly staged a partial takeover when 119 of its members joined a branch of the association after the local council turned down a planning application.
Run by the so-called Bishop Michael Reid, who refers to himself as the "anointed of God", it is alleged to have made substantial donations to the party. Mr Bell, 62, was called in by dissident Tories to fight Brentwood as an Independent. But he lost to the sitting Tory, Eric Pickles, reducing his 1997 majority from nearly 10,000 to less than 3,000.
Mrs Green, a mother of three from Kilgetty, Pembrokeshire, has started the first of what are understood to be a number of legal actions involving other people against the church.
She claims that after being sent to the Peniel Academy in Brentwood, the church's school, she was not allowed to contact her parents in Wales. She says that she was indiscriminately punished and endured brutal corporal punishment. Efforts were made to undermine her family relationships, she alleges, by insidious comments and character assassination of her parents.
Mrs Green married at the age of 18 but later she and her husband, Julian, had financial problems after paying 10 per cent of their earnings, as well as money for special projects, to the church. She alleges the church exercised control over members' lives to the extent that it took over the arrangements for her wedding, choosing her dress and guests for her hen night, and telling her husband to have a vasectomy. The couple divorced in 1998.
The church is said to have regarded contact with the outside world as defiling. Between 1982 and 1986 members are said to have been told not to have televisions, go to cinemas or listen to non-Christian music. Mrs Green says that she was told that the utterances of her leaders came straight from God. She says that she was told that Mr Reid and other leaders could perform miraculous signs and wonders and that church members who did not follow his teaching would go to Hell.
Mr and Mrs Green sent their children to Peniel Academy Infants School and playschool, and carried out unpaid work for the school, academy and bookshop. She estimates the value of the work at £70,303. She says they took out insurance policies with five companies run by Mr Reid, paying premiums totalling £33,771, and paid the church a total of £43,620 and the academy £15,099.
In 1997 she began to conclude that many of Mr Reid's prophecies were false and that the church displayed many of the features of a cult. Mrs Green is also suing her former husband, the son of founding members of the church.