THE controversial "religion" favoured by movie stars Tom Cruise and John Travolta has come to York.

The Church of Scientology Mission of York has opened at Matmer House in Hull Road - one of 14 Scientology "churches" now open in the UK.

According to the church's website, the Mission of York offers a "full array of life improvement courses, Dianetics stress testing, workshops and counselling".

It states: "The Mission also has a large inventory of books and taped lectures by Scientology founder, L.Ron Hubbard. Many a person has been able to change things for the better just by studying one of these books or lectures and applying the information to his or her life.

"So, with the opening of the new Church of Scientology Mission of York there is indeed a lot to celebrate!"

A swing band called the Jive Aces played at a grand opening ceremony in the city.

The legitimacy of Scientology has long been debated.

Scientologists point to their legality, the free choice of adults who join, their promotion of altruism, and their record on helping people with criminal records.

But their opponents claim they use badgering techniques and doubt the legitimacy of their beliefs, devised by L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer before he formed the doctrines of his organisation.

The beliefs cited on the church's website are mostly quite open ended, saying such things as "Scientology is the study and handling of the spirit in relationship to itself, others and all of life".

It reportedly believes that 75 million years ago an evil galactic warlord called Xenu rounded up 13.5 trillion beings from an overpopulated corner of the galaxy, dumped them on volcanoes on Earth, then vaporised them with nuclear bombs. Their radioactive souls, or thetans, later attached themselves to human beings and are at the root of our personal and global problems today.

It was widely reported that when Tom Cruise's wife Katie Holmes gave birth to their daughter, Suri, in 2006, she was told she must keep silent - because Scientologists are reported to believe a child may be emotionally scarred for life by hearing its mother yelling as she gives birth.

Scientologists tried to get a BBC documentary about their faith scrapped amid claims of "gross bias" by presenter John Sweeney.

The Panorama programme set out to investigate claims that the Church of Scientology was "a brainwashing cult". Furious church members - including actor John Travolta - said the programme should have been ditched because Mr Sweeney showed he was biased by losing his temper and shouting at a top scientologist.