A Piece of Blue Sky: Background

By Chris Owen, 21 May 1999

HTML and Links by Tilman Hausherr

"A Piece of Blue Sky" was published in 1990. It was not until 1995, however, that its author, Jon Atack, was sued for libel by Margaret Ishobel Hodkin of East Grinstead, England. Mrs Hodkin is (or was) the headmistress at the Greenfields School in East Grinstead, which teaches L. Ron Hubbard's "Study Technology" and reportedly is the school of choice for the local Scientologists.

The complaint was with specific reference to one single paragraph, at the head of page 336 of the book. The writ was issued on 14th March 1995 and heard by Master Tennant on 26th April. Atack was found guilty of libel, but was given leave to appeal to the High Court. The case came before Deputy Judge M. Bethel Q.C. on 18th May 1995. The appeal was turned down and Atack was ordered to pay costs and damages, the latter to be assessed at a later stage. He was forced to declare bankruptcy the following day.

Atack was also enjoined from further publishing or causing to be printed published and distributed the book entitled 'A Piece of Blue Sky' containing the defamatory words. However, he was the only one enjoined in this way - neither his publishers, Carol Publishing Group, nor UK booksellers stocking the book were sued or enjoined (which is most unusual where UK libel cases are concerned). Nobody other than Atack has ever been sued for libel over the book. Furthermore, he is enjoined only from publishing "Blue Sky" with the defamatory paragraph - nothing in the rest of the book was found to be defamatory.

Officially, Scientology wasn't involved in this case. Mrs Hodkin was represented by Hodkin & Company, Solicitors, of 6 Portland Road, East Grinstead, Sussex. As the names suggest, there is indeed a connection between the two - the company's Peter Hodkin is the son of Mrs Hodkin, and presumably also is a Scientologist. Scientology had no overt connection to what was judged a libel against an individual who was not an officer of the Church, and it was not a litigant.

However, Scientology did claim responsibility for bringing the case. Not long after the case concluded, an extraordinarily vitriolic article was published in issue 18 of "High Winds", "The Magazine of the Sea Organization" (undated but with a copyright claim for 1995). The article, "The Sea Org - Handling Suppression on the 4th Dynamic" [i.e. in society], describes the work of Scientology's legal/intelligence branch, the Office of Special Affairs (OSA), in combatting "Suppressive Persons" - those who have been critical of Scientology. The article states:

"In the United Kingdom, for example, one old-time suppressive ... was completely shut down by the courts. Unemployed and abandoned by his family, this squirrel had schemed to make money by hawking his lies in a book. But, the Office of Special Affairs had a court declare his book libellous".

I think this statement speaks for itself.

There are several significant questions still outstanding:

Hodkin & Company subsequently wrote to many organisations informing them of the result of the case, and in the case of public libraries, demanding that they destroy their copies of "Blue Sky" (even though there was and is absolutely no legal requirement for them to comply). However, several did comply. For some strange reason, several of Hodkin & Company's copies of the replies from UK libraries have ended up on the website of the so-called "Scientology Parishioners' Committee" (see http://www.parishioners.org/ReligiousExperts/atack1.htm). Their provenance is pretty obvious - they are addressed to Hodkin & Company and they are stamped with the date on which they were received. How did the SPC get these documents?

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