Guru’s multi-million pound spiritual property empire
An octogenarian couple has built up a multi-million pound international network of spiritual healing centres – with the help of members who donated their wealth to the “Family”.
“If you’re thinking of joining, think twice. Once you have signed the form, as they say, there’s no going back.”
The charity is to appeal against the court’s verdict, but last night the Charity Commission, the statutory watchdog, said it was examining whether it should take “regulatory” action over the court’s findings.
Yet the couple were not the first to give up all their worldly goods to Mr and Mrs Denton’s organisation. A Sunday Telegraph investigation can reveal that in 20 years their healing centre, helped by donations from members, has grown from the backroom of the couple’s Cornish bungalow into an international operation worth millions of pounds.
Mrs Denton tells in her self-published autobiography how she was born Judy Rena Nicholson, in Solihull, West Midlands. Her mother, Catherina Reine de Belcastel, was the daughter of a chateau-owning French Count; her father, Stanley Nicholson, was a shop manager and wartime RAF pilot.
She says she was accepted at the International Ballet – a rival to Sadler’s Wells ballet in post-war London – but had to leave when she grew too tall. After stage school and a series of short-term jobs she married Bert Meredith in 1956. The couple had three children, but later split up.
She says she met her second husband, Mr Denton, while convalescing with him and his wife Joan at their Sussex home. Her feelings for her host grew, she says, until his then-wife agreed to step aside “without rancour”.
In 1988, as they approached normal retirement age, Mr and Mrs Denton started The Denton Realization Healing Centre from a small cottage next door to the Golden Plaice fish and chip shop in the village of Castle Cary, Somerset.
A self-proclaimed guru and spiritual head, Mrs Denton says she wants to “give unconditional love and teaching to help all to Self–Realization”.
Giving their occupation as “healers” the pair set up a charitable trust registered both at Companies House and with the Charity Commission and began offering their services to the sick, needy and those seeking spiritual enlightenment.
Mrs Denton claims to be a natural spiritual healer, practising the “Divine science and art of balance”.
She says: “This means that while the innermost layers of a person are balanced and energised, a sense of being more at peace with oneself and the world is achieved.”
Mrs and Mrs Denton’s expertise, it is claimed, helps “broken bones, muscle and tissue damage, and whiplash” to improve faster. She even treats cancer patients.
The group’s website says: “All animals can benefit greatly from healing; domestic and farm animals happily receive healing.”
And even “non-believers” can be helped, although perhaps more slowly than the more enlightened, the website suggests – “The more we believe in it, the faster it works”.
By 1995 the group had moved to its current home, the so called “Mother” centre, at a house called The Dring in the pretty village of Queen Camel.
According to Pauline Allen, a trustee of the charity in the early 1990s, the property, on Laurel Lane, was donated to the organisation by Joyce Pratt, a wealthy local woman and early disciple of Mrs Denton’s, who has since died.
By then, the Dentons had sold a bungalow they lived in Launceston, Cornwall, which was owned by the charity, for around £200,000, and the first healing centre in Castle Cary had also been vacated.
However, company records show that by now the charity owned freehold properties for which it had paid £1.2 million had and £320,000 in the bank.
It was also expanding, spending £123,000 to buy a property in Christchurch, New Zealand, to establish a centre there and another “independent” centre had opened in Australia.
In the UK, land registry documents suggest that some of the pretty cottages and the new healing centre in Queen Camel were at one time owned by the Dentons themselves.
But by 1995 all four had been transferred to the ownership of the charity in its new name The Self Realization Healing Centre Charitable Trust. The houses were now occupied by members of what it calls the “Alpha–Omega family”, who include Mr and Mrs Denton, and others who have trained to continue their work.
The charity said the ownership transfer had been a mere formality. But at around that time the Denton’s charity began to face troubles.
Dr Yehu Azaz and his wife Lisanne had become members of the Family and given the trust hundreds of thousands of pounds. Most of the cash was from Mrs Azaz’s inheritance.
When the couple split, Mrs Azaz left the group and demanded her money back. The 1996 and 1997 accounts show the huge cost of this litigation.
The trust lost a High Court battle over the money and in all it had to pay out more than £1 million. Mrs Azaz was awarded £690,000 in refunded donations and interest and the charity paid out £369,000 in legal costs.
Last year Dr Azaz also sued. He had helped the trust fight his estranged wife’s claim but now he too claimed that he had been brainwashed into handing over £750,000 and sued for £2 million in damages.
The surgeon claimed he had signed over his entire in the early 1990s under “undue influence” but the case collapsed on the basis that he had waited too long to bring his action.
Another setback came when Mrs Allen, 82, resigned as a trustee in protest at the way the centre was being run. She told The Sunday Telegraph: “I think they brainwash you. They condition you.
“They gave lectures on how you mustn’t hoard, how you must give to the needy. It was very subtle.
“The group was always pleading poverty. They would never let us see the accounts. Then I found out their income was £2 million, and that money was going abroad.
“I felt very used. I was a pleasant woman who they could count on for my support.
“At first I did support them. Peter and Rena were gifted healers. I believed in what they were doing. They helped my daughter who suffered migraines.
“Then Rena became a guru and it all went wrong. It became about just about money.
“I started asking questions about the money and they accused me of undermining the centre.”
The trust’s current financial disclosures show it has largely recovered from the legal battle. Filed before Mr Curtis’ successful claim on his former home, it shows total assets of £2.1 million.
The trust describes Mr Curtis’ former home, near Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire, as a sister retreat from where, every evening, a “winged prayer” is sent out “to all souls in need”.
It values it at £451,000 and the “Mother” centre, which has recently installed a swimming pool and has vast gardens where the group grow prize plants shown at local horticultural shows, at £1.5 million.
In 2010 cash donations from individuals almost topped £50,000 and healing, yoga course and its side line in bed and breakfast accommodation brought in near £200,000.
Among the B&B’s offered is Mr and Mrs Denton’s one-time home, Owl Cottage, which the trust describes as “a 17th century cottage in the picturesque and peaceful village ... (which) sleeps 4-6. Ideal for holiday accommodation, or those seeking a quiet retreat or short break.
“It is equipped with an electric cooker, fridge with freezer compartment, washing machine, radio cassette and CD player, DVD facilities (please note TV access is not permitted.)”
Drinking coffee and wearing shoes are also banned on the premises and at the other houses at the Mother centre.
The charity’s international influence has also continued to grow. As well as the centre in New Zealand, which it run by the Dentons, and the sister centre in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia, it also has other retreats in Vancouver, Canada and Michigan, USA.
Describing her attitude to donations in her autobiography, entitled Come – A Spiritual Journey, Mrs Denton says: “My belief in giving anything at all to anyone, from friendship to money, is that it should be given freely, without restrictions, or not given at all because by imposing petty restrictions, it stints the personal thinking of the person receiving it and the giver receives power, instead of an opening of the heart, alongside good, positive karma.”
Last night Mrs Denton was unavailable for comment. Mr Denton, answering the door at a cottage called Daoseva on the Queen Camel estate, said she “was around from time to time” but was “not available at the moment”.
Robert Soper, a neighbour, said: “The woman behind it all was involved in a healing place up in Castle Cary. Then suddenly they got all this money and bought this big house down the lane. You can see they’ve spent a fortune down there.”
Another resident, who did not want to be named, said the organisation appeared to be “quite hierarchical”.
“You speak to some of the people there and ask them if they want to take part in a village event, and they say they don’t know if they can.
“You get the feeling they are controlled by a guiding brain down there.”
In January this year, a member of the Family approached the last remaining private resident on Laurel Lane in a bid to buy his orchard.
The neighbour, who asked not to be named, said: “Every two or three years they ask me to sell the orchard to them. Every time I say no. It’s a quarter of an acre or so. I think they want to put goats or chickens on it.”
Last night a spokesman for the Charity Commission said: “The Charity Commission is aware of this week’s court ruling concerning the Self Realization Meditation Healing Centre. We are currently assessing whether there is a regulatory role for the Charity Commission in this matter.”
It said that “as part of this process” it was also examining details of previous legal actions against the charity in the light of the new judgement and other aspects of its financial dealings.
Solicitor Edward Yell, of Carter Ruck, which represents the charity, said: “The idea the Charity Commission didn’t know about (about previous litigation) is completely wrong.
After that litigation was concluded the Charity Commission looked at the circumstances of that case and there was no finding of wrong doing but (asked) that accounting procedures (at the charity) should be tightened up.”