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Friday, 25 May, 2001, 22:25 GMT 23:25 UK
Court victory for hypnosis woman
Lynn Howarth
A woman who claimed a stage hypnosis show turned her into a suicidal "zombie" has won her High Court damages action.

Mother-of-seven Lynn Howarth may now receive £6,500 agreed damages following the ruling in her favour - but it is unclear whether that sum will be eaten up in legal costs.

She had told the court she developed depression as a result of hypnosis by Philip Green who performed under the stage name Phil Damon.

Lynn Howarth outside court
Lynn Howarth is now fully recovered from her illness
The 40-year-old, from Bolton, also said the hypnotist's routine had reawakened memories of sexual abuse when she was eight years old.

Mrs Howarth told the court that after suffering depression she had twice attempted suicide by driving her car towards a tree.

Mr Martin Smith, solicitor for Mrs Howarth, said: "I know Lynn Howarth will be absolutely delighted with the verdict which vindicates her five year fight to show that she was damaged by stage hypnotism, even though - because of the defendant's means - she will not see a penny of compensation."

Negligence ruling

Mr Green had told the court that Mrs Howarth enjoyed her participation in the hour-long act at Wyresdale Amateur Football and Social Club in February 1994.

He said that he complied with the 1989 Home Office circular which said that no performance should include age regression and denied that he had taken a "cavalier approach" to Mrs Howarth.

It caused her to regress to an age when she was sexually abused and, as a result, suffer depressive illness

Mr Justice Leveson
But Mr Justice Leveson ruled that a suggestion by Mr Green, of St Hubert's Road, Great Harwood, Lancs, that Mrs Howarth should imagine going back to being a child - but not back into their own childhood - was negligent.

"It caused her to regress to an age when she was sexually abused and, as a result, suffer depressive illness."

The judge emphasised: "This case is not about whether stage hypnosis as a form of entertainment carries with it inescapable risks of danger - let alone whether it should be banned or regulated in some manner beyond that which presently represents the law.

'Sexual abuse'

"It's simply about whether on this particular evening this particular hypnotist failed to ensure that his instructions were sufficiently clear for his volunteers not to indulge in that known danger of age regression."

The judge said consideration might have to be given again to the conditions governing suggestions by stage hypnotists to "act as a child", although he appreciated there had been no great rash of cases in which injury had been caused by accidental age regression.

The judge found that Mrs Howarth was the victim of "persistent childhood sexual abuse".

He was also satisfied that her deeply-buried memories of the events were rekindled during a hypnotised state.

Finding Mr Green negligent, the judge said: "Given that he appreciated he had to avoid taking her back to childhood because it can open up a can of worms and my finding that this is precisely what he did, it will come as no surprise to hear that I find he fell short of the standard of care he owed to Mrs Howarth."

'Awful years'

Mr Green left court without making any comment.

Mrs Howarth told ITV's News at Ten: "I am just really chuffed that it is all over, but I am so pleased that we won because we came a long way and it has been an awful seven years.

"I think stage hypnosis is very dangerous and it certainly was for me."

Speaking to BBC News Online after the case, Margaret Harper, founder of the Campaign Against Stage Hypnotism, said the case would help her efforts to secure an absolute ban.

Mrs Harper, whose 24-year-old daughter died only hours after being hypnotised in a stage show, said: "We are absolutely delighted. It goes to show that there is a danger from stage hypnotism.

'Legal landmark'

"We know first hand people are constantly damaged."

Campaign member and hypnotherapist Derek Crüssell said the case was a first in England.

"It is almost a landmark in legal history - the first time ever in England a case has been won against a stage hypnotist over mental damage."

But stage hypnotist Ray Ronson reacted angrily to the outcome of the case.

Speaking after the ruling, he said there was no proof stage hypnosis was dangerous.

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See also:

18 Oct 00 | Education
Hypnotic approach to exams
17 Aug 00 | Health
Pain-free labour under hypnosis
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