A rare expression of internal dissent has broken out in the world of Scientology, with one of its most senior figures sending a mass email to 12,000 fellow members complaining that the self-styled church has become obsessed with fundraising and has amassed unused reserves of over $1bn (£640m).

Debbie Cook says she remains committed to the group, set up in the 1950s by the former science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard. She is critical, however, of David Miscavige, who has led the Church of Scientology since Hubbard’s death, 26 years ago.

Miscavige, who has faced and vehemently denied accusations of a despotic leadership style and physical assaults on colleagues, has presided over a “new age of continuous fundraising”, Cook claims.

In what appears to be a direct attempt to undermine Miscavige’s leadership, Cook, who spent three decades inside the church’s equivalent of a clergy, the so-called Sea Org, , urged people receiving the email to reject orders not directly backed up by Hubbard’s teachings, and to encourage other members to do the same.

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