Life coaching group run by South Africans in the UK accused of abusing, exploiting and fleecing victims

SA-born businessman, Paul Waugh is the founder of Lighthouse International Group in the UK. Supplied image.

SA-born businessman, Paul Waugh is the founder of Lighthouse International Group in the UK. Supplied image.

Published Apr 23, 2022


Johannesburg - South African-born businessman Paul Waugh confirmed that he would be instituting legal action against a well-known UK publication following an article in which he and his organisation have been accused of abusing, exploiting and fleecing vulnerable victims.

Popular UK publication, the Daily Mail, published a story this week which claims that The Lighthouse International Group, operating in the UK by Waugh and several other South African associates, have been accused of exploiting and holding their members “financially hostage”.

“We are receiving guidance from our legal counsel in this regard, and we will be holding the Daily Mail, as well as named and unnamed sources in their article, accountable to the full extent of the law, including damages, which have been significant,” Waugh told the Saturday Star this week.

The Daily Mail spoke to several former members of the life coaching group who claim Lighthouse International Group 'groomed' them with promises they would find personal fulfilment and a dream career through its up to R2000 an-hour mentoring programmes.

But they say they ended up in thrall to its leader, Waugh, who lives in an estimated R40 million country estate on the northern edge of the Cotswold Hills in the UK, drives a Range Rover with plates bearing the initials of his group and boasts of 'numerous' celebrity friends and of being 'very connected' in government.

New recruits, who are often vulnerable because of divorce, depression or previous abuse, are assigned a mentor who becomes like a 'brother' to them and to whom it is claimed they are encouraged to share their 'innermost secrets' in sessions which are recorded and stored by the group's leaders.

But it’s claimed that these turn into 'abusive relationships', with members later 'pressured' into 'investing' tens of thousands of pounds, often by taking a loan which plunges them deeper into debt, without any formal written financial agreement or receipt, it is alleged.

Some members asking for their money to be returned were also reminded their innermost secrets had been recorded in coaching sessions — which made them feel as if they were being threatened.

In one case, a mother says she re-mortgaged her family home to help raise more than £200,000 (about R4 million) for her two sons to invest in the group, which they were promised would be repaid. She says she has not received a penny back.

An environmental consultant who also questioned the value of the mentoring with other members said she was left 'terrified' and in tears after Waugh bombarded her with abuse during a two-hour phone call.

When she later politely emailed requesting a refund on her £25,000 investment, Waugh refused and reminded her that the group had recordings of her describing the 'long-term sexual abuse' she suffered as a child — which she felt was a threat.

While several other claims have been made by former Lighthouse members against Waugh and his organisation, the South African businessman has strongly denied the allegations and described them as 'false and baseless'.

“It will certainly be proven in the court of law, when this goes there for libel and to take their sources to court for harassment, libel , defamation and for trying to destroy peoples lives,” said Waugh.

“The intention is to destroy our business and our lives in the name of heresy without any evidence.”

“The reality when you read this article is that for 18 years, we have never received one summons from one lawyer.”

“We’ve never received anything from police either, except for a random visit from police who were told by a few people that those who worked at Lighthouse were under the spell of some cult leader.”

“When the police got there, they were actually embarrassed when they found out they were just normal people there that were working very hard for very little, trying to help people.”

“We’ve never been been held accountable for anything criminal. We’ve never been held accountable for anything civil, except for one situation privately between two people, but never to the mainframe Lighthouse.

Ex-members also claimed that Lighthouse implied part of their cash was going into African water purifying programmes — but it never produced firm evidence of this, and the published company accounts give no indication of where the cash has gone.

Primary school teacher Jo Holmes claims she had asked for a receipt for her £19,000 'investment' and evidence of what it had been spent on, only to receive a reply from Waugh calling her a 'psychopath' and 'malevolent' and implying her behaviour made her a danger to the children she taught.

When she later posted her concerns about Lighthouse online to try to warn others, the group complained about her to the headteacher of her school and threatened legal action.

Waugh, who moved from South Africa to the UK in 1999, has however, refuted these claims and insists there is a smear campaign against him and his organisation.

The Saturday Star was also sent several signed sworn statements made by current Lighthouse employees who say Waugh had generously supported them financially in times of need and they had benefited greatly from his mentoring and that the claims made by former employees are ‘rubbish’ and are based on ‘lies’.

“This smear campaign has been orchestrated by a mere handful of ex-partners who are extremely bitter and malevolent because they did not get a refund they did not deserve,” said Waugh.

“While there is so much I can say, what I will say to summarise the entire situation is that very simply the motive for those who are behind this is unlawful and illegal.”

“If they had any legitimate case for a refund or if we had behaved illegally or unlawfully ourselves, then there are very clear formal civil and criminal channels for them to pursue. They have not done this because they do not have a case.”

“So instead, they have shown both their intention as well as the way they have gone about it to be incredibly criminally destructive, and they are now being held accountable to the police and will be held accountable civilly well in due course.”

“These ex-partners cannot be involved in a programme for two or three years and then demand a refund that they are completely undeserving of.”

“They’ve gone to lawyers, and the lawyers have told them that they have no case whatsoever.“

A 48-year-old consultant who borrowed £10,000 to invest in the group after joining in 2019 claims she eventually felt she had to move abroad to escape Lighthouse.

The woman, who did not want to be named because her counselling involved discussing previous childhood sexual abuse, said: “I was going through a divorce at the time, and it felt extremely positive to begin with. They encouraged us to use LinkedIn, for us to connect with people, so it is just like multi-level marketing.“

But when she raised concerns about the mentoring with other members, Waugh allegedly turned on her and during a two-hour call, branded her 'nasty', 'pernicious', 'selfish', 'horrible', 'vindictive', 'broken', 'very damaged', 'stupid', 'dishonest', 'duplicitous', 'misleading', 'f*****g deluded', 'seriously f****d up', 'sinister', a 'cynical little old witch', a 'weasel', a 'negative, self-defeating, self-sabotaging automaton', 'the worst, weirdest, sickest f**k', having 'an ego like a feral dog' and being an 'emotional, mental and spiritual toddler'.

It’s also been claimed that Lighthouse leaders branded an e-commerce accounts manager's wife 'destructive' and wanted to sue her after she supported her husband's decision to quit the group.

Waugh says the ‘baseless’ claims have caused great reputational damage to him and his organisation.

“The greatest damage has been done not just by this article, but by the smear campaign that has lasted for over a year,” said Waugh.

“Lighthouse International Group is a company and organisation that has helped and is helping many people who have difficult and challenging life and business situations through our mentorship coaching.”

“Many of these people have extended themselves to put trust and faith in us to help support them, especially where they have had their trust burned by others in the past.”

“We have a number of situations where this campaign has cast fear and doubt into the lives of such people, often at a delicate stage of their development, which harm or completely derail their progress.”

“Tens of thousands of hours of time has needed to be invested into countering the online defamation. This is because there has been no balance in anything posted online or indeed in the Daily Mail article.”

“These attacks have been directed at not only our professional reputations, but also our personal lives - affecting us and our loved ones.”

“A number of Associate partners have come from mentally, emotionally and in some cases, physically abusive backgrounds, and as shared above, have been in a very depressed and in many cases suicidal place when they first started here.”

“They are at Lighthouse to overcome challenges like narcissistic and psycho-emotional damage, neglect and abuse, childhood sexual and psycho-sexual abuse, rape and childhood bullying which extended into adulthood.”

“These relentless attacks have triggered and stirred up past trauma. One associate was signed off work for a month due to the stress caused.”

Waugh, a father of two, has been described as a golf enthusiast and is a regular at his local golf club, where he plays off a ten handicap and claims to have many famous friends and to have previously mentored a Premier League and England footballer.

It is also claimed that he is very connected in government — both in the Commons and the Lords — and has helped to get laws passed.

The article also goes on to claim that Waugh said that he is so personally wealthy that other nations have 'courted' him to try to get him to emigrate and take his money into their country.

But Waugh insists the article’s only purpose is to tarnish his reputation and that of his organisation.

“The most important work we do at Lighthouse is we create support communities here for people to come together to get out of their toxic families, and these toxic families are now attacking us. This is what is happening behind the scenes.”

Meanwhile, Lighthouse International Group also confirmed their plans to extend its business into South Africa.

“Four of our directors and myself all grew up in South Africa,” said Chris Nash, an employee at Lighthouse.

“We are going to be expanding our work to South Africa. Our hearts are very much still in Africa, and we have very significant desires and plans to involve South Africa and Africa as a whole as a very significant part of our individual and organisational benevolence.”

The Saturday Star

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