Weakly Ghost Bulletin #11

WEAKLY GHOST BULLETIN HEADER

imageI am proud to bring you the Weakly Ghost Bulletin #11 on the award winning Hayley Is  a Ghost blog after being awarded the Best Skeptic Blog award at the Ockham’s Awards by The Skeptic Mag at QEDcon this weekend.

Thank you to everyone who nominated me, who reads my blog and shares whats i write. Thank you to those who comment on my blog and those who might not agree with what I write but engage anyway.

Thank you also to the judges from The Skeptic for making the decision.

I have been blogging since 2007 and on this blog since 2010 and it means a lot that so many people seem to enjoy what I write.


 Ghost ‘photobombs’ happy couple in Wedding photo

Kevin-and-Christiana-Dennis

The Mirror particularly seems to love ghosts. In this story it is claimed that the photo above shows a ghost photobombing Kevin and Christina Denis on their wedding day. Sure looks just like a guest sneakily getting into shot, you can see other people are clearly behind them in this photo when you look to the left of Christina. Unless that’s supposed to be a ghost too? Oooh…

Dismembered Samurai Ghost Photobombed Little Girl

Samurai-Ghost

Photobombing ghosts seems to be a trend this week. This photo allegedly shows the ghost of a Samurai “photobombing” the young girl, and at first we couldn’t make it out and thought they meant the bent-over guy in the background, but then  someone put a red circle around it and we spotted it (how embarrassing).

Samurai-Ghost (2)

This is probably just someone stood behind the girl that the dad forgot was in shot or didn’t notice because he was too busy taking the photo. If you look closely you can see part of a pale blue t-shirt next to the girls elbow and it appears the person behind the girl has black shoes and dark trousers on too, details that become really clear when you zoom in on the original photo. Strangely this photo has been around for months and yet has only just made the news.

spotted by: Ash Pryce

Ghost caught on camera at Loftus Hall

Loftus Hall

According to the Loftus Hall Twitter account the above photo shows ‘the latest ghost photo’ from the Hall to have been caught on camera. Where? No seriously… where? Judging by their website I’m quite sure that Loftus Hall would tell you that everything in the above photo is a ghost – building included.

That concludes the Weakly Ghost Bulletin #11.

The Enfield Haunting: A Contemporary Ghost Researcher Reflects…

Being thrown, or jumping?

The Enfield Poltergeist case began in 1977 when a set of disturbances started happening in a council house in Enfield, London that would become one of the most famous (some would say infamous) poltergeist cases in the history of the United Kingdom.

Peggy Hodgson, a single mother who lived with her four children Margaret, thirteen; Janet, eleven; Johnny, ten; and Billy, seven, called her neighbours, the police and then the media who all witnessed strange activity for themselves. This led to investigators from the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), Maurice Grosse and Guy Lyon Playfair, becoming involved in the case. They conducted a five month investigation at the house and seemed utterly convinced that something paranormal was occurring. Reported activity witnessed by the family and people in their home allegedly included knocking on walls, moving furniture, spontaneous fires, a child levitating or being “possessed” (often described as acting as though in a seizure), objects being thrown or damaged and more.

enfield family
The children were at the centre of the case

What happened in Enfield captured the imaginations of many; Stephen Volk wrote Ghostwatch with inspiration from the case which starred Michael Parkinson in a drama pretending to be a live broadcast from a haunted home in London. It was banned by the BBC for scaring and confusing audiences and would eventually inspire found footage movies such as The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. More recently the Enfield Poltergeist case has inspired a television series from Sky called The Enfield Haunting retelling the story in a highly dramatised fashion.

The marketing for the series claims it to be ‘The most documented paranormal event in British history’ but how accurate is this marketing? The reports that came from the house are incredible accounts of strange activity at face value but is there more than meets the eye when it comes to the Enfield Poltergeist? It certainly seems so once you skim the surface.

‘ She [Janet] was always near when something happened, and this in­evitably led to accusations that she was playing tricks, although Grosse was already fully convinced that she could not be responsible for all the incidents” (Playfair 1980)

‘I have a saying’ says investigator Joe Nickell when I ask him about Enfield, ‘”The person who thinks he can’t be fooled has just fooled himself” for example, the two men [Playfair and Grosse] insist that an object was thrown that was out of the reach of the children. But it is common in such cases for the perpetrator to have secretly obtained the object earlier and to have flung it when the observer was not looking.’

Nickell isn’t alone in his skepticism. It’s believed by many that the Enfield case was simply children messing around, tricking people, and playing up to those who were giving them attention. When you learn that the children in the house were caught faking activity on several occasions it does become quite difficult to accept the claims that although some activity was faked other aspects of the case were not faked. As outsiders how can we be sure either way?

‘Margaret Hodgson is on record as saying about 2% of the phenomena was the girls playing around, and Janet has admitted they cheated at times, but were always caught’ says British paranormal investigator, CJ Romer, ‘and if I recall correctly Tony Cornell [of the SPR] was particularly put off by the way  he though Janet was loving every moment and endlessly amused by the investigators failure to get to grips with it.’

Interestingly, when SPR investigators Anita Gregory and John Beloff spent a few days with the family they concluded that the children had faked the poltergeist activity after they caught them purposefully bending spoons. Janet admitted to Gregory that they had fabricated some of the occurrences.

Can we be so sure then that they were always caught when they faked activity? Well, no we can’t because we have to rely on the word of those present and it has been demonstrated time and time again that testimony is not a reliable form of evidence due to biases and the unreliability of memory. When recalling something that happened in the past we draw on relevant associations to the present meaning that our memory changes because the reason we are recalling it changes which results in us accidentally putting emphasis on certain aspects of a memory while not recalling other bits of the same memory that would provide a different context to the testimony. We’re also good at misremembering what actually happened and making our memories conform to fit with what others remember or describe.

Many people who believe that what happened in Enfield to be paranormal in nature are quick to point out that even police officers witnessed strange activity for themselves… but do police officers really make better eye-witnesses?  No, although they are trained to be observant as part of their jobs they are also susceptible to biased thinking and fallacious memories. This is something that the Police Force acknowledges and is  mindful of in certain situations, such as selecting identification line-ups, questioning suspects or victims, allowing witnesses to be interviewed with co-witnesses and more.

As a contemporary paranormal researcher and investigator I believe that the appropriate response to paranormal claims is skepticism and the Enfield case has been met with great skepticism at every stage – when it first began, during the investigation, when it concluded and even today, decades later.

I’ve always wondered what I would do if the case happened today and I was contacted to investigate. I would be reluctant to become involved in a case with distressed children for ethical reasons but I think I would do as much as I could to work out what was going on. CJ Romer agrees, pointing out  that there was a lot to gain from studying the Enfield case, ‘it stood to tell us more about poltergeist cases, and the family’s distress was extreme.’

Yet, when you read the accounts from those involved in the investigation it quickly draws a picture of an investigation that was quite chaotic and this, I feel, is why Enfield will never reach a proper conclusion. It’s fine for Sky to tell us it was the ‘the most documented paranormal event in British history’ but will there be any mention of how chaotic that documentation was? Will there be any mention of how we can’t be sure that it was paranormal activity as a result?

I doubt it.

Yes, there were reports of activity that I’m not willing to dismiss a priori as childish trickery, such as a wrought iron fireplace being wrenched out of a wall, snapping a pipe in the process, but at the same time I do feel as though investigators didn’t do enough to investigate in a controlled manner that enabled them to reach a sound conclusion. Who am I to criticise? I wasn’t there!

But being present on an investigation that has concluded should not be a requisite to understanding what happened. It almost feels as though there was no sense of urgency to discover what was really going on and at times it seems as though Grosse and Playfair were completely overwhelmed. Could this have been taken advantage of by intelligent children out to play a game? I certainly think that’s possible.

Being thrown, or jumping?
Being thrown, or jumping?

There is good evidence that activity was largely open the biases of the investigators and that trickery was involved throughout the case. Although I don’t think there’s enough evidence to support the damnation of the entire case as a hoax that doesn’t mean that I think the activity was paranormal in nature. Too much was left undocumented with no controls in place, like Janet being allowed to go into a room on her own to “talk” in the voice of the alleged ghost, and no investigator being present when a time lapse camera was placed in a room with the children to give context to any photographs captured, such as the one of Janet being “thrown” through the air that actually looks as though she’s just jumping from the bed.

Had an investigator been present they’d have been able to add the proper context to their investigation, but instead mystery was allowed to prevail because I suspect that deep down Grosse and Playfair both wanted Enfield to prove something to them and the world. Were they trying to explain the phenomena or were they trying to document evidence that it was paranormal in nature?

Some claim a recently bereaved Grosse became too emotionally invested.
Some claim a recently bereaved Maurice Grosse became too emotionally invested in the case.

This is a shame though because if Enfield happened today investigators would not be given the chance that Grosse and Playfair were handed. When Peggy Hodgson contacted the newspapers about what was happening their case was referred to the SPR and there’s no doubt in my mind that if the family had contacted the media of today for help no reputable organisation would have been contacted by the media to go and investigate. The Hodgson family would have briefly made headlines around the world, attracted the local pseudo-scientific ghost hunting groups who have little regard for ethical research, and that would have been that.

US investigator Joe Nickell thinks this is actually what happened back in the 1970s, ‘mysteries should neither be fostered nor suppressed, but carefully investigated with the intent of solving them.’

‘ In retrospect’, he adds ‘the “poltergeist” disturbances at Enfield are easily explained, and some were quite trivial. But the occurrences were hyped by self-styled “investigators” and a willing news media to the extent that, even today, the truth must be sought and the facts explained to a new generation.’

…and you know what? Maybe he has a point.

When you watch The Enfield Haunting on Sky keep in mind that due to this approach and due to the unanswered questions we don’t know anything for sure about the case. There is a lot of justified skepticism and doubt about what happened in that house to that family and we’ll probably never know the truth.

Ghost Hunters Disturb Robbery, Raise Questions

crime scene

A Paranormal Investigation team in Derby have disturbed and stopped a robbery happening in a location they were investigating over night. According to the Derby Telegraph ‘ghostbusters had been invited in to investigate spooky goings-on at the building, including odd noises. But, during their session at the business, the team from Derby Paranormal Group went downstairs after hearing noises and found two men raiding the premises. The thieves fled after being discovered but took several items with them.’

Wow.

I’ve not personally heard of this happening before, even though I often talk about how paranormal investigators need to consider their safety. Luckily things didn’t turn out differently and the people who raided the store were not armed which they easily could have been. (It was a replica gun shop so they clearly liked guns or knew about guns.)

This raises some interesting questions about ghost hunters in general and from my own experience of visiting locations I wonder how many paranormal investigators talk to the location owners about the security protocol in a location, including the intruder alarm, before an investigation? I don’t recall every having that conversation myself…

How many locations are made vulnerable because an alarm that would normally be on overnight is left off so that paranormal investigators can access the building? Does this make a ghost hunting team suspected accomplices? I’m not claiming the team in this instance were involved, but it does make you wonder what position we put ourselves in without thinking about it. Remember those US ghost hunters who were mistaken for thieves and held at gun point?

Would this sort of occurrence void the insurance a location has and would that therefore open  ghost hunters up to legal action? If this was a public ghost hunt and someone had been injured by the thieves who would have gone to court?

Does making your upcoming ghost hunts public knowledge help thieves target businesses because they know the alarm will be off and the premises not secured? Sure, people in the building might seem like a security measure but I’ve worked in businesses that have been robbed while people were present and I’ve watched the CCTV in horror as armed thieves are in one room while my colleague was in the room right next to them unaware.

The alarm in a location being turned off when it would normally be turned on is something I never considered during my years as an investigator who only went to places to hunt ghosts at night time and now I wonder just how often we put ourselves and others in danger by not thinking about this.

This should be a hot topic in paranormal investigation communities around the world and I suspect many people will be rethinking the way in which they do things. Well, I certainly hope they will.

Note: I’m not suggesting the Derby ghost group were involved or responsible for this crime.
h/t Alistair Coleman

Weakly Ghost Bulletin #10

WEAKLY GHOST BULLETIN HEADER

Can you spot the ghost at the Galleries of Justice Museum?

notthingham ghost 1

Frankly? No. I can see what looks like a squished up face but years of watching Ghost Webcams as a teenager tells me that this is the pixellation of the photo causing an illusion. This is called the Pareidolia effect.

I really like the Galleries of Justice Museum in Nottingham. I visited years ago prior to delivering my first ever talk to Skeptics in the Pub in the city. I was one of two or three visitors in the whole museum (it was quite late in the day) and the atmosphere was like nothing I’ve experienced anywhere else. It was a sombre experience and it’s easy to see how walking around the building in the dark would make you think any little noise or movement could be a ghost.

Galleries of Justice ghost sighting3In the article staff from the Museum say they receive up to ten photos a year from visitors who think they’ve captured a ghost. They include one taken just outside of the hanging exhibition (left) that looks like a figure, but it’s hard to tell what it could be. An exhbit or display? Another person? A shadow?

One thing I know for sure is that the hanging exhibition properly frightened me during my visit. I was completely alone and walked into the room just as a mannequin was noisily dropped from a mock gallows as a recreation of the hanging process. I can remember running out of the room because I hadn’t expected to see someone moving or the noise because I knew I was alone in that section. I suspected at the time that this was motion activated. It doesn’t surprise me that people take photos in this area or in this location and see ghosts or strange figures in them because I fully suspect that we, as visitors to such a sombre Museum, are primed to see such things here without realising it and both photos above are from this within this display. After my fright I was on edge for the rest of my time in the museum, so much so that when I crossed paths with another living human I got yet another fright.

Stupid instincts.

Spooky footage reveals GHOST wandering through 250-year-old former church

This “oddity” has apparently promoted the owner of this restaurant to call in ghost hunters but I’d like to be a bit more proactive about it and would like to suggest an alternative title for this news story above the video above:

Footage reveals insect crawling on lens of CCTV camera bizarrely pointed directly at light source

little mermaid facepalm gif

That Child Who’d Vote UKIP

ukip child

A British schoolchild has been filmed telling Tristram Hunt that he would vote UKIP in the upcoming General Election because they’d “get all the foreigners out of the country.” The video is really difficult to watch because it’s awful to see a child repeating what he has probably heard adults saying. As children we trust our parents to be right even when they’re not and it can have a devastating effect in many ways.

Watching the video was a chilling experience and took me back to a very similar and embarrassing experience that I had at school when I was younger. I can’t remember the exact context but we had been tasked to write a letter to the Prime Minister about something that we felt needed to change or improve and I wrote about the number of foreign people coming into the country. The teacher was walking around the room and engaging us children about what we had written and when he got to my desk he asked me why I held that view. The words I said are still very clear in my mind to this very day, “I think they need to sort things out their own countries before they come over here and use up our resources.”

Wait, what? Thirteen-year-old Hayley Stevens didn’t know immigration statistics and policy, she didn’t know anything about public resources or the benefits system in the country, so what on earth was she talking about? Well, I was parroting what I had read in The Sun newspaper that my parents would buy and read on an almost daily basis. I was parroting what the biased media tell us with scary headlines and I was parroting what I’d heard certain older relatives saying (in fact, a certain relative said the exact same thing Thirteen-year-old me said just last Christmas.)

Today a child of that age can connect to the internet and gain access to all sorts of information in minutes to help develop an informed opinion but when I was Thirteen we didn’t have that luxury in our house. I think we had a dial-up modem on the family computer at that point but we certainly didn’t use it 24/7 and I was limited to the media that my parents brought into the house which came mainly in the form of The Sun and ITV News.

But even with the internet access of today it is still possible to be misled and tricked into thinking incorrect things are true by the media who provide unfair balance to those who are not experts, and by twisting facts or simply making them up to suit their agenda.

political compass result graphic

I don’t hate immigrants. In fact, I now try to champion immigration and foreign aid as the good, positive things that they are and when I took The Political Compass test recently I was in the left libertarian quadrant (the red dot on the picture above is me, apparently.) So what changed?

I learned how to question stuff people claimed was true…

…and I’m glad that I didn’t grow up to view the world with a mindset shaped by such limited, biased input because I believe that every act of intolerance lessens what it means to be a human. When we are intolerant of another person we are intolerant of humanity.

Yet, that could so easily have been different because we’re taught what to think and not how to think as kids, and watching the young boy tell Tristram Hunt that he would vote UKIP reminded me of this. Children want to learn but when they’re not taught how to properly evaluate information it can impact their ability to think reasonably.

Let’s not hate the child for saying what he did, and let’s not even hate the parents for potentially making him thing this way intentionally or unintentionally – let’s hate the biased media that creates an echo chamber full of lies to twist the way people view the world around them and to turn good people against other good people. Fuck them.