Holfordwatch was initially concerned that Life’s 4 Living was unaware of the chequered history of The Barefoot Doctor Stephen Russell in his dealings with his clients. However, it now looks as if some vulnerable young people and their families are invited to accept treatment and support from an organisation that is staffed by people who believe that their energy therapy can treat and mitigate cancer, Aids, Cerebral Palsy and a variety of chronic or terminal illnesses as well as disabilities. And who are willing to work with people such as Barefoot Russell who manifest a shaky sense of appropriate sexual boundaries with clients and vulnerable people.
Barefoot Doctor Stephen Russell is, at best, a celebufreak-enabler; at worst a Rogue Healer-someone who shows no minim, scruple or iota of conscience when it comes to the sexual exploitation of the vulnerable. So, when someone told Holfordwatch that Barefoot Russell is the patron of a charity for terminally-ill children and children with disabilities, we felt a little uneasy. Would a charity really want vulnerable young people (ages up to 24) and their families in the charisma tractor beam of someone who has been displaying “sexually predatory behaviour“? However, what we have learned about people associated with the Trust has added to our unease and raised some further issues about who is working with some of the most vulnerable young people in the UK. Our concern has only been heightened by learning of the links to bona fide organisations and apparent corporate endorsements.
Holfordwatch wondered whether the directors and the trustees of Life’s 4 Living had been bedazzled by the Barefoot Doctor’s celebrity and his continuing status as an expert on holistic medicine. Maybe they were reassured by the fact that Barefoot Russell has been extensively featured in lifestyle sections and on the television; so much so that they were not aware of this unsavoury yet relevant part of his recent history.
But when we checked the Charity Commissioner’s listing and saw the list of trustees, the names rang a bell. After some more investigation, so did the names of the directors. The names piqued our interest beyond the role of Barefoot Russell as a patron of the charity.
Life’s 4 Living (L4L) shares the same charity registration number as the World Education Foundation for the Disabled (WEFD). WEFD has several interesting associations that are outside the scope of this post. For now, Holfordwatch is concentrating on the energy work that is being promoted in the UK and its origins. The corporate wing for this work is the Energy Clinic in London, formerly Energy Bank.
Inevitably, of course, there have been claims of efficacy for treating Aids. In 2003, BBC2 broadcast Annie Kossoff’s Kill or Cure series. Warwick Powell worked with Energy Bank to attempt to counter Aids. Powell eschewed conventional treatment because it offered disease management rather than a cure. After following the Energy Bank programme for some time, Powell has a blood test and is distressed to learn that his T-cell count has not improved.
Warwick’s cell-count result cut him up because – as the film shows – he had spent several months being bled of £30,000 by an organisation called The Energy Bank. Founded in New Zealand by a Chinese woman now styling herself Grand Master Aiping Wang, the Bank claims to cure terminal illness through eight hours a day of twirling around and chanting with arms in the air.
The patient worries that people will laugh at him for spending the entire savings of an ebbing life on what looks like late 60s fringe theatre.
Thomas Sutcliffe reviews the programme. He argues that Powell is using this treatment as his preferred mental opiate and that that is his right as an autonomous adult. Nonetheless, Sutcliffe has particularly harsh words for Sarah McCrum.
A useful rule of thumb when presented with something that looks too good to be true is that it almost certainly isn’t. But the Energy Bank, an alternative healing centre founded by a Chinese “Grand Master” called Aiping Fulepp, has taken good care to insulate itself from its clients’ potential disappointment. Rule one, drummed into those who pay through the nose for energy-channelling, is that It’s All Your Fault. They had guaranteed Warwick that if he gave up sex and his conventional medicine, and committed himself to six months of intensive treatment costing around pounds 30,000, then his T-cell count (a crucial measure of the body’s ability to fight off infection) would not only recover but actually be enhanced. There was a sub-clause, though. “It depends on my own energy and commitment,” explained Warwick. In other words, should the treatment fail, that would merely be evidence of Warwick’s sad lack of dedication. As Sarah McCrum, the brainwashed manager of the Energy Bank’s London branch, put it: “It’s not the process itself that’s wrong. It’s always us that have to change.”…
I hope Sarah McCrum is brainwashed, because if not, she is profoundly wicked – guilty of duping the ill and the addicted to pay for fraudulent treatment with extravagantly false claims (isn’t this a criminal offence in this country, and if not, why not?). However, it seems more likely that she’s just a fool, parroting quasi- mystical rubbish about “blockages” and energy flows in a way that very efficiently separates other fools from their money – including city businesses, who can hire out the Energy Bank’s feng-shuied meeting rooms for corporate gatherings.
Sarah McCrum is one of the trustees of L4L. She offers Life Education in the UK, in addition to her L4L work. It is eye-opening to learn that Masters and Grand Masters in her healing art are capable of both diagnosing and curing cancer, unencumbered by the diagnostic or therapeutic techniques of modern medicine. E.g., McCrum shares some extraordinary case-studies. She claims that ‘Master Ding’ diagnosed cancer – apparently without any proper tests, and in one case despite a qualified doctor having found a diagnosis of cancer to be inappropriate – and then brought about an improvement in health and remission of symptoms. McCrum doesn’t say that Ding cured cancer, but this is strongly implied.
Vomited every evening after coming home from work for 1 year. Felt very weak and heavy. Arms painful all the time. Couldn’t lift anything. Extreme effort to do anything.
Couldn’t find anything. Said it was psychological.
Master Ding’s diagnosis?
Initially unclear, but suspected stomach cancer.
After 1st treatment he didn’t vomit and slept well. No pain…
5th day Master Ding found the negative energy on his stomach and removed it. All problems disappeared and he has now been completely fine for a week. It turned out that the problem had started jut after a very close friend had died – this is where he picked up the negative energy. [Emphasis added.]
Ditto for uterine tumours, 2nd stage prostate cancer (extraordinarily specific diagnosis) and liver cancer (albeit, we are only told that it is “improving”, not that it has disappeared).
These case-studies are offered in all seriousness and despite an earlier critical television documentary in New Zealand that investigated the Phenomena Academy. Sarah McCrum is the complainant, Sarah Dujmovic, who is the manager of the Phenomena Academy. Among other matters, the programme discusses the fate of two students who attended the academy to learn to be healthy. The students rejected conventional medical treatment, one for breast cancer, the other for melanoma. Both students died.
The programme examined:
the concerns of…four former students, including that:
- the Academy and Ms Wang made fanciful claims about what it could teach, including teaching the ability to fly and see into the future
- students paid large sums of money to be taught, feeling that if they left the Academy they would come to harm or even die
- students rejected conventional medical treatment, believing that the “universe energy” could heal any diseases…
[The programme makers investigated:]
- Whether the teaching of the Academy was dangerous in encouraging students to reject conventional medicine in favour of natural healing techniques, even in life-threatening situations;
- Whether Ms Wang exerted some degree of undue influence over her students, and “brainwashed” them;
- Whether the fees charged by the Academy were in some cases excessive, and Ms Wang was exploiting vulnerable and gullible people for financial gain.
- Whether the Academy was a “con” and ought not be accredited as an educational institute.
The adjudication makes interesting if somewhat disturbing reading and raises too many issues for a single post.
However, the above information does provide some context for Sarah McCrum’s claims and her role as a trustee for L4L. Claire Sutton. was also involved in the Phenomena Academy with Sarah McCrum. Claire and Joel Sutton were named as the owners of the Takaro Lodge that housed the academy. Claire Sutton is one of the directors of L4L. So, inevitably, a new context suggests itself for her optimistic wishes for the extended L4L-facilitated “journey of healing and discovery” that she proposes for young people:
We expect to see nothing short of ‘phenomenal results’ for all participants.
The programme adjudication alluded to the (not unnatural) concern that Phenomena Academy, Takaro Lodge, and some of the associated organisations resembled a cult. Holfordwatch really doesn’t know enough to comment on this aspect.
Holfordwatch was initially concerned that L4L was unaware of the chequered history of Barefoot Russell in his dealings with his clients. However, it now looks as if if some vulnerable young people and their families are invited to accept treatment and support from an organisation that is staffed by people who believe that their energy therapy can treat and cure cancer, Aids, Cerebral Palsy and a variety of chronic or terminal illnesses as well as disabilities. And who are willing to work with people such as Barefoot Russell who manifest a shaky sense of appropriate sexual boundaries with clients and vulnerable people.
However, we should stress, that as long as the L4L staff have CRB clearances, their involvement with young and/or vulnerable people is entirely legal. The CRB is evidence of no record of criminal convictions within the area of search – it is not a Cognitive Reasoning Baccalaureate. We have no idea, however, whether the staff have CRB clearances, or whether they have a validated Child Protection Policy. Of course, the UK provisions for CRB clearances for staff and Child Protection Policies do not apply in other countries, so there is no need for them to be in place (understandably) for the people working with the children and young adults in China. But…given the association with Barefoot Russell, this might not feel right to a number of readers.
In an alarming echo of the “It’s Your Own Fault” exhortations in Powell’s story, we learn from the notes for the Rejuvenation programme (pdf) that is being so heavily publicised, that:
The healing programme is intensive and can eliminate disease very quickly with the full cooperation of participants… (pg. 7)
The eastern approach to health is totally different from ours in the west, to fully benefit from this experience, you will need to embrace this programme with a totally open mind. (pg. 8 )
It seems that this programme of activities is currently in progress. L4L claims to have an advisory board that is made up of “eminent consultants and doctors” (pg. 2) although none is named except for Professor Kim Jobst (he of the notoriously quack Q-link). Holfordwatch hopes that some appropriately-qualified people have oversight of the medical, emotional, psychological and ethical aspects of their work, in particular, the current project that is being filmed (as above).
Given the gravity of the illnesses the L4L offers to treat or palliate, this raises questions that are not readily answered by the usual response of Where’s the harm?
L4L has some well-known sponsors; e.g., The Energy Clinic, The Barefoot Doctor, and The Rainforest Cafe (Hamley’s) amongst others. It is also illuminating to read the number of high profile corporations that have used the Energy Clinic venue and its trainers. The client list includes, e.g., the BBC, KPMG, Habitat, Puma, Ernst and Young, RBS, BUPA, Sony, Ikea, UBS, Boots. It is a little dispiriting to think that some parents who are conducting their research into L4L might be comforted by what looks like the imprimatur of endorsement and respectability from these well-known and in some cases, trusted, organisations.
There are times when the seeming reassurance of the (assumed) CRB checks and the advice of caveat emptor seem strangely inadequate. This is one of those times.
 Barefoot Doctor Stephen Russell has the following message on Life’s 4 Living:
We agree that life’s worth living…
This is especially so if you’re the mother of a child suffering from a condition which is beyond current medical help or results in a seriously debilitating lifestyle. For the parents of these children dealing with all aspects of everyday life poses a major challenge.
If life’s worth living, it’s worth living for everyone, especially families facing such a challenge.
-The Barefoot Doctor, 2007-11-20
And this text is repeated in the brochure promoting the film of the MS programme (pdf).
 E.g., the Guardian offers The Barefoot Doctor on Richard Dawkins’ The Enemies of Reason and calls him “an expert on holistic medicine” (however, see some interesting comments on this story at Richard Dawkins). For some comedy moments, it is worth reading The Barefoot Doctor’s webchat from when he was at the Observer and some charming gossip about the editor’s influence upon it, here and here. Stephen Newton offers his own irreverent take on the Barefoot Doctor’s spiritual insights.
 Margaret McCartney interviews The Barefoot Doctor for the FT:
Why did he stop seeing people? “It drained me, it was too much.” I manage to stop myself from asking him why he didn’t use some of that “limitless power” he mentioned earlier.
It’s unfortunate that Dr McCartney didn’t ask Barefoot Russell if the inadvisability of continuing in practice after an admission of inappropriate sexual relationships with some clients had played any part in his decision.
 If it were not for the other associations, we would ordinarily think it splendidly eccentric that the Suttons espouse the belief that healing energy can be transmitted down a phone line and provide relief from a sore throat. It is with some sense of inevitability that we realise that there is a What’s the bleep connection.
The first thing they tried was having a master from China lead an energy session over the phone for a class in London. “We spoke to people afterwards and they said they felt absolutely fantastic. Someone with a sore throat said it immediately disappeared. And we thought ‘Wow, this is working.’ Energy transmission doesn’t have to be hands on.”
 When you obtain a CRB clearance, it is regional rather than something that confirms that you have no criminal convictions throughout the UK. Supply teachers are frequently irritated that they may need to have CRB clearance in (say) 5 different regions to work in their geographical area. The fact that you do not have a CRB flag in Yorkshire (say) is not of itself proof that you don’t have a conviction elsewhere. There are additional problems of verification when individuals have been out of the UK for some time, as have some of the people associated with L4L.
 L4L is trailing that it hopes that C4 will broadcast their films.
[L4L has] been asked to film a documentary about the healing methods their Chinese colleagues use to achieve the significant results experienced. The Producers anticipate that the documentary will be shown on Channel 4 Television although they have not yet had confirmation of this.