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Self Realization Meditation Healing Centre

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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 11:40 UK time, Monday, 14 February 2011

Retired RAF officer Richard Curtis from Brecon doesn't come across as a person who can be easily influenced, but in April 2004 he agreed to sign his farmhouse over to a charity which aims to "give unconditional love and teaching to help all to Self-Realization".

After the breakdown of his marriage four years later, Richard found himself without a home, and out of a job. He speaks for the first time about his battle to win his share of the property back on BBC Wales' X-Ray programme.

Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis

Richard became involved with the Self Realization Meditation Healing Centre in Somerset after his wife had sought guidance from its founder Mata Yogananda Mahasaya Dharma - or Judy Rena Denton, as she's also known - in 1995. The charity's Mother Centre has been open since 1988, and sister centres have since opened all over the world.

Richard was initially unconvinced by the organisation, but soon the Guru's charismatic personality convinced him that their unconventional approach to counselling was right for him too.

He told X-Ray, "She does have a great deal of self belief. The effect on people who are searching or needing help in life is they feel they have someone to turn to, she listened to me and understood me in a way other people didn't."

Although Richard and his wife had disagreed over a donation of £35,000 she made to the group without his permission in 1997, they decided to work through their relationship problems and move to the Cothi Valley near Llandeilo to try and set up their own centre offering counselling and retreats.

In 2003, the couple bought a property in the grounds of the Edwinsford Estate near Llandeilo for £350,000. With a renovated smithy in the grounds, the farmhouse came with land attached and huge scope to develop their own meditation centre. But it wouldn't be theirs for long. The Curtises were invited to join forces with the Guru and make their enterprise a 'sister centre' to the charity.

The farmhouse in the grounds of the Edwinsford Estate near Llandeilo

The farmhouse in the grounds of the Edwinsford Estate near Llandeilo

Richard says, "The agreement was we would sign over home, our vehicles, all our possessions and chattels to the centre and in return for that we would be allowed to live there rent free, accommodation free and work there as healings and counsellors, maintaining the garden, doing the DIY etc."

So what makes an intelligent former RAF officer agree to hand over everything he'd worked for, to a charity?

According to Richard, "It's hard to explain what makes you fall under a guru's spell, I was a bit susceptible. Even when your conscious screams out to you, you don't listen. And I was so happy that my wife and I had found this profession with the support of the centre that giving my house to them didn't seem so significant at the time."

Richard Curtis

 

The couple signed over their home to the charity without taking any independent advice. At the time they didn't think they needed to. The Fundraising Standards Board says people need to know the risks of making big donations to charity.

Spokesman Simon Boex advises, "Get independent advice about doing that donation. It's important that they are not unduly pressurised or harassed into making that decision, so it's entirely their own decision about whether to give or not."

In 2008 when Richard's marriage finally broke down, he began to wish he had taken advice from outside the charity. He says, "On the day I left the centre I had no money, no car, no home. The Guru had been in the chapel and offered me £1,000 and an S reg Freelander to leave. I was really angry at her and when I left that centre I told them I wanted my home back, and I would sue them for it."

True to his word, in January 2011 Richard took his fight to Cardiff Civil Courts of Justice. In court Judge Milwyn Jarman accepted the agreement to hand over his house to the charity had been "disadvantageous" to Richard and there had been "undue influence" by the charity. He ruled that Richard was entitled to his share of his home.

The charity has now told X-Ray they're appealing this decision. They say Richard's failure to seek legal advice means that the presumption of influence could not be rebutted and this is a far cry from the allegations of brainwashing and cultism which Mr Curtis and the media sought to portray.

Since 2004, they've introduced a requirement that anyone wishing to donate to the Centre must first seek independent legal advice.

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