A former member of an alleged cult has said he was told to choose between the group and his family after spending over £130,000 on membership.
The BBC’s A Very British Cult documents the journey of Jeffrey Leigh-Jones and others in an organisation called Lighthouse. Though appearing as a self-help group, former members of Lighthouse have alleged they lost thousands of pounds of their own money when part of the group and were threatened when they asked to leave.
Jeff alleged in the show, which is available as a podcast on BBC Sounds and a BBC Three documentary, that Lighthouse founder Paul Waugh initially “inspired him” but he soon found himself in a 'cult' he could not escape. He said: “He presented amazingly. I found the group very grounding and interesting.”
In the show, Waugh denied that Lighthouse is a 'cult', but instead is a 'community'. He said: "If you ask people what the difference is between a cult and a community that helps people, they wouldn’t be able to tell you."
In the show, Jeff says he was put on a ‘Discipline Programme’ by a man called Jai Singh, which involved long and intense phone calls with Jai as well as journaling regularly. Jeff, who is from Portsmouth, joined the group to get him focused on his dream to travel to the South Pole.
He had previously taken part in sports across the world such as free diving, mountaineering and sailing. However, he craved a “fresh start” and wanted to improve his life.
In the show, he said the programme helped him open up on “traumatic events” to Jai and others. He was soon willing to become an Associate Elect, which involved recruiting others into the group and training to be a mentor himself.
However, his girlfriend Dawn Ingram also told the BBC that she became concerned about Jeff and started to worry about the time and money he was putting into the group. She said: “I couldn’t understand what he was getting from it.”
Soon after, Dawn said she overheard a call between Jeff and Paul which concerned her. She said: “I heard Paul say, ‘you need to choose between your family and Lighthouse’. After that, I lost it and grabbed the phone off him.”
Jeff said he “lost the plot” at Dawn and smashed some shelves in their house. By choosing to become a mentor, he had invested £131,000 of his own money in Lighthouse.
Whenever he threatened to leave thereafter, Jeff and other Lighthouse members have said they were threatened with the leaking of personal details when they spoke about leaving the group. All their conversations with Lighthouse were recorded, meaning the traumatic events Jeff had opened up about were held against him.
Journalist Catrin Nye, who spoke to Jeff and other Lighthouse members, said it was “the most unsettling investigation I have ever worked on.” She worked on the story for over 18 months.
Jeff has now left Lighthouse but has found it difficult to speak out against them. He said: “There’s part of me that feels like I’m betraying a cause I once stood for.”
Mr Waugh denied that Lighthouse was a cult in the show. Speaking Ms Nye, he said: "We're not running a cult because people don't know what a cult is. If you ask anyone what the difference between a cult and a community that supports people, they wouldn't be able to tell you."