‘Cult’ influence sees mum lose custody of daughter
A UK mother has lost custody of her daughter due to her beliefs associated with Universal Medicine.
UM is a "complementary health" group based in Goonellabah, was founded in 1999 by former bankrupt tennis coach Serge Benhayon.
A NSW Supreme Court jury found it was true to say Mr Benhayon is "the leader of a harmful cult", a "charlatan" and that UM offers "dishonest healing practices" when he unsuccessfully sued blogger Esther Rockett for defamation.
The woman subject to the UK family law proceedings, who cannot be named, became a "student" of UM and its doctrine, The Way of the Livingness, about eight years ago.
In a court decision earlier this year, she was told to make "an immediate and definitive break with the organisation" or risk sacrificing the shared care that was in place for her daughter, known under the pseudonym "Lara".
On April 29, the court gave Lara's mother more time to cut ties with UM.
After a further hearing before the High Court in London this month, Justice Williams said the aim was to consider whether "the harm that was being caused to the child by her exposure (to UM) … and the rift this had caused between her two parents had "begun to be reversed" and whether the mother had reduced "the risk of further harm" by disassociating from the group.
The court heard the mother had ceased contact with UM and deleted contacts.
But Justice Williams found she had "not come close to achieving the sort of break" asked of her.
He said the steps she had taken were "limited" and "tenuous" and her ongoing care could see Lara's estrangement from her father worsen.
Justice Williams said Lara was "profoundly influenced … by the teachings of Universal Medicine".
"These range from the relatively innocuous such as her refusing to sit at a meal when there was alcohol on the table, through to saying that eating pasta would make a hole in your tummy, that a heart attack might be the result of living outside the Way … through to telling the father that he does not know anything and Serge knows everything," Justice Williams said.