BBC Investigates “Life Coaching” Cult

From a long read on BBC News:

In the past few years, Lighthouse – formally known as Lighthouse International Group and based in the Midlands in England – has received hundreds of thousands of pounds from mentees. It boasts of helping thousands of people.

Set up in 2012 by businessman Paul Waugh, it claims to be different from most life coaching groups.

Its founder, who grew up in South Africa and tells people he was a multimillionaire by the age of 35, says he has developed a revolutionary approach by fixing people’s spiritual wellbeing.

The article, by Catrin Nye, Natalie Truswell and Jamie Bartlett, ties in with their TV and audio documentaries about the group, both titled A Very British Cult. Articles reporting on their investigation have also appeared in The Times, the Sun (articles here and here), and the Daily Mail (which has also run earlier articles about the group). Ex-members describe spending hours and hours listening to and transcribing Waugh’s phone calls, handing over tens of thousands of pounds, being told that sceptical partners and family members were “toxic”, and in some cases being encouraged to move into house-shares. Meanwhile, investigators found no evidence in support of Waugh’s grandiose self-presentation of his past.

As expected, former members and other critics are targeted aggressively, in ways that Waugh thinks look convincing but that to any outsider are self-evidently vile and posturing. As written up in The Times:

A teacher who shared details online about her negative experience claimed that Lighthouse approached her employer. “They wrote an email to my head teacher, basically saying that they had concerns about me and my ability to do my job and that I was a threat to children,” she said. “Then they also began to [copy in] senior executives at the local authority. One email had a 25-page report and an 18-page report about me, making various spurious claims. One of which was that I should be psychologically evaluated.”

The BBC News long-read adds that someone who wrote critically about the group after her brother Kris became involved found herself being reported “to the police for being an internet troll. The police took no action.” Also:

Seven Lighthouse-related accounts were shut down by Twitter for hateful conduct shortly after we first got in touch with Paul Waugh, including one named “Parents Against Trolls”.

The climax of the TV documentary is a confrontation between Waugh and Nye outside the Rolls Building, a court complex round the back of the High Court used for commerical cases, just after Lighthouse had been shut down by the authorities for financial irregularies. Waugh blusters that the outcome was actually what he wanted all along, and he turns on Nye for her BBC credentials:

These parents are child abusers that you’re supporting. And you supported Sir Jimmy Savile. You… You supported Jimmy Savile and his paedophilia… [guesturing to camera] Come close… [points at Nye] Paedophile supporter!

One aspect that was touched on in the TV documentary was that in recent years the group has started to adopt a more overt religiosity. Kris runs a “Fellowship for Christian Gentlemen”, and on its website he writes that he and his “colleagues at Lighthouse began to embrace Christianity” in 2018. He claims that because of this, “we began to face hateful criticism and persecution online, based on malicious lies and disinformation”. Another religious initiative is the “Christian Response Forum”. These groups don’t appear to be linked to any wider Christian organisations.