On thinking outside of the box: Beware the “real or app?” trap

toowoomba composit

In June 2012 a ghost photo taken by a Cheltenham resident in their home started to go viral. It contained the ghost of a baby that had died in the house years before and the owner of the phone it was taken on was sure it was paranormal evidence. It wasn’t. It had been created on a smartphone app designed to create fake ghost photos by inserting ghostly characters into existing photographs.

The phone owner in question hadn’t known this and the fake photo had been created by someone else to prank them and they hadn’t realised the truth before going to the media. I wrote about this particular case when I became involved in it.

Smartphone apps have made it easier than ever before to fake ghost photos (not that is has ever been particularly difficult) that look realistic to an untrained eye – but know what you’re looking for and it’s easy to spot a smartphone app for what it is. There are a whole range of ghosts and oddities that can be added to a photo by an ever-growing range of ghost photo apps. Visit any paranormal blog and you’ll probably find people talking about these apps and attributing photos to them.

Today I saw someone ask their Twitter followers if a photo was ‘real or an app?‘ as though these are the only two possible explanations. The photo in question looked as though it could actually be someone walking into a photograph being taken on a slow exposure setting which can often turn people translucent.

People must be careful to not just dismiss photographs as ghost app creations a priori, but worryingly I’ve seen an increasing number of people doing exactly this. For example, a recent news story from the UK featured some sort of face being photographed in the window of an old hospital and people started speculating on social media that it was just created using an app – but the truth was that it was a Halloween mask placed in the window to spook people passing by. 

One must rule out all possible explanations until it isn’t possible to continue to do so. To just speculate about what could have caused a photo without any evidence on which to base your suggestion is find so long as you don’t pretend that you’re doing something altogether different.

This isn’t me saying that people shouldn’t question things or voice their thoughts and opinions about ghost photos and other forms of evidence – I often do just that on this blog and on The Spooktator podcast but these are different forms of analysis than actual investigation.

I conduct many on-site investigations too where possible, and these have always provided better results than sitting at my computer pondering and googling. There are forms of investigation where site visits are not required – footage replications for example, and audio analysis. But all too often people claiming to be skeptical investigators fall short of the actual investigating. They continually reach conclusions without stepping away from their computers, speaking to the people involved, or moving past the suspicion that every piece of evidence of ghosts is the result of ill intent on the part of the person who has shared it, and this approach bores me beyond comprehension.

Are Poor People Who Report Ghosts Just Fakers?

ghosts and hauntings

In days gone by if something weird started happening in a manor or home belonging to a wealthy family the finger of blame would probably be pointed at the servants because ghost nonsense has always been something that poor people bother themselves with.

When Peggy Hodgson told her neighbours, the police and the press that odd things were happening in her council house people suspected the working class family were trying to get moved to a new house by faking activity. There’s evidence to suggest that there may have been foul play in this Enfield Poltergeist case but who knows what the motive could have been if there was one? Today in the 2010’s when the press write outlandish articles about a family dealing with a terrifying “ghosts” people are still quick to point the same finger of blame… but on what foundations are such accusations based?

In episode 7 of The Spooktator we discuss research by Inside Housing in which it is shown how many council and housing association tenants reported to their landlord that their house was haunted between  2003-2013.

There is a chart on the Haunted Houses article that shows how many reports of this nature responding councils received and how they were dealt with. A total of 73 cases of paranormal activity (possibly ongoing activity of one-off occurrences) were reported to the associations or councils in the ten year time frame – 6 of these resulted in an exorcist or medium being called in, and just 9 of these resulted in the tenant moving out.

These figures are not that staggering when you consider that recent polls measuring the belief in paranormal subjects suggest that anywhere from 30% – 50% of the general public believe that ghosts exist. You would actually expect there to be more cases of people contacting their landlords to report that their houses are haunted.

Obviously there will be times when people don’t report stuff to their landlord and contact a medium, their religious leader, or local ghost hunter directly, but these are not recorded and it is the recorded data I want to focus on here.

The statistics from this report show that the accusation of having an ulterior motive is pretty baseless, so… are people just being classist when judging the poor who claim to see ghosts? Possibly (and as someone who lives in social housing who has witnessed prejudice I’d suggest “probably” was accurate.)

Worryingly though, Inside Housing were unable to gather a full set of data from all councils as ‘the vast majority of councils said the information was not available because either it had not been recorded, or there was no relevant complaint category in their computer systems.’ None of the councils had a policy regarding how to deal with reports of this nature meaning that if something strange happens in your house the outcome of this could literally depend on where you live. This is bad news considering that for many the real cause of paranormal activity can be underlying or undiagnosed/mistreated mental or physical health issues.

So the next time someone who lives in social housing reports that their house is haunted and your gut reaction is that they just want a new house maybe ask yourself what alternative you would prefer – perhaps it’s the one where the housing association leave someone living in a house that terrifies them without offering help, and perhaps you think that because you’re actually satan?

Thoughts on Most Haunted Live Halloween 2015


During the Most Haunted Live broadcast on Halloween night 2015 Karl Beattie was allegedly dragged up some stairs by an unseen entity which strangled him. This was caught on camera and some people have noticed that there seems to be a rope around his waist. In response to the accusations of trickery that this rope indicates both Karl Beattie and his wife Yvette Fielding say that the rope is actually just a camera cable.

Skeptics doubt it, fans and believers think it’s true…

…but who actually gives a shit?

Seriously. Who gives a flying fuck? Running around declaring Most Haunted to be fake… well done, clever clogs! Of course it’s not to be trusted… it’s television!

I watched the entire show last night while trying to play along with a drinking game and it was shoddy, over-dramatic, hilarious, entertaining… but it was nowhere near as entertaining as watching people react to the show on Facebook and Twitter. Some people were annoyed that “true ghost hunters” were being shown in a bad light. Other people were annoyed that such nonsense should be allowed to be broadcast…

…and yes, the Satanic chants were a bit over the fucking top and ethically questionable – but just as questionable as the ethics of any of your bog standard ghost hunting groups across the country. Sure, there was no scientific credibility to any of the claims being made on the show but, again, the same can be said of 99% of the people who call themselves paranormal researchers. Yet the mistake people are making when they moan about Most Haunted is to treat the show as comparable with real-life paranormal research.

Most Haunted is a television show that courts controversy – it wants to be loved and hated in equal parts and it succeeds – it always has. It plays up to expectations, it ticks boxes, it gets the viewing figures. It does its job.

Amateur paranormal researchers on the other hand want to be respected as researchers when they’re not deserving of respect, and what they do on their ghost hunts is hugely unethical, completely unscientific… and they don’t even have the excuse of being producers of an entertainment TV show to hide behind! If you’re a ghost hunter who feels that Most Haunted is to blame for making paranormal researchers look back I suggest you have a hard look in the mirror because you’re doing a good enough job of that yourselves. Get a fucking grip.

I’ll be talking about this and more on the first ever episode of The Spooktator vodcast/podcast coming to you live from Youtube on Wednesday. I’ll be joined by Paul Gannon, Alistair Coleman and Mike Gage – details can be found here.

Yvette Fielding, We Need To Talk About Your Ghost Problem.


Dear Yvette Fielding,

There was a time when I would be glued to the television set when Most Haunted was on the screen because I thought it was a factual programme because you ensured us that nothing was staged on so many occasions. I still have my DVD collection somewhere in the house which I used to love. In 2005 I created my own paranormal research organisation inspired by what the Most Haunted team did because I became disillusioned with your promises of authenticity and the behaviour that you and your crew exhibited in your so-called pursuit of contact with ghosts. Back then I believed in ghosts and I was appalled by the manner in which you “spoke” to the ghosts. Particularly those women and men accused of witchcraft on Pendle Hill.

It was my opinion that if the dead did roam this planet after death then the souls of these people in particular deserved more respect than you afforded them considering the fact that witchcraft isn’t real, they weren’t witches and they were persecuted and executed by people who favoured superstition above reason. That particular Most Haunted Live show was hailed a success because of the rate at which members of the team were “attacked” by ghosts and dragged out of the building by the security team for their own safety.

Yet, even as a naive gullible 18-year-old, I couldn’t even pretend to believe what was happening in that building on Pendle Hill. I don’t have conclusive evidence that you fake activity on the show, but your reliance on dodgy psychics (Kreed Kafer… need I say more?) and the lack of good evidence that supports your claims that your “proof” has a supernatural cause might just speak for itself. There are also videos online that raise questions about your honesty on the show, like the two below:

Through the power of suggestion, use of camera-work that focusses on people rather than their surroundings and a “just asking questions” approach that relies on folklore and historic accounts you have managed to build mysteries where none exist and that’s quite an achievement. All of this is why I couldn’t help but laugh cynically when you recently complained in an interview that if you found evidence of a ghost nobody would believe you. In the interview you state ‘if we did film a real ghost on camera, people would say we faked it anyway … You can never, ever win.”

Yet, this isn’t because those who disbelieve you are in the wrong here, Yvette. It’s because people feel that they cannot trust you or the show Most Haunted to be honest when you claim it is. I’m sure you’ve heard the story of the boy who cried wolf and you, Yvette, are that boy.

Without the “dodgy” stunts on Most Haunted I would not have started to truly question the claims of the people around me and I would not have been led to my current position. Yet you will receive no thanks from me for bringing about this because the bastardised version of paranormal research presented by Most Haunted and other similar shows has almost ruined the field of paranormal research – a field that used to have to put up with idiots occasionally but, on the whole, was driven by a curiosity that was kept in check by a scientific methodology. Now it is overrun with unethical ghost hunters who favour psuedo-science rather than science. It is tainted by people who don’t really give a damn about maintaining an open-mind but are pursuing what they believe to be an easy rise to fame as the next paranormal superstar with their own show, books and lecture tours.

That’s your legacy, Yvette, and that’s why nobody will believe you when you say “ghost!”

Psychic Sally Fans: Self Preservation At A Cost

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I used to wholeheartedly believe that people could speak to the dead. These days I’m not so convinced, but even as a believer I wasn’t so blinded by my faith in psychics and mediums that I couldn’t spot when I was being purposefully deceived. In fact, it was Derek Acorah’s staged possession by a made up ghost called Kreed Kafer- an anagram of Derek Faker -on the TV show ‘Most Haunted’ that led me to the path of skepticism.

I worked with various psychics and mediums on paranormal investigations for years after the Kreed Kafer incident and although I often accepted their claims about hauntings at face value I was often doubtful of their abilities and they all did things that led me further down the path of skepticism until I eventually realised that enough was enough when it came to fooling myself. For example, on one investigation a psychic “healed” my “spiritually induced” headache and detected problems with my shoulders and teeth while doing so… but conveniently forgot to mention the potentially deadly and at-that-stage-undiscovered tumour growing in my skull that was causing the pain. Another psychic I worked with only ever communicated with ghosts from WW1 and WW2 or ghosts that were called Charlie or Eliza, and another once threw me across a room because I said a room didn’t feel sinister as she has insisted.

I believed in psychics and my belief in psychics and an afterlife was very important to me. Yet, despite the cognitive dissonance involved, I refused to allow myself to continue to be fooled by these people once they had showed that they probably didn’t have the abilities they claimed. I would not excuse their behaviour and I would not condone it for the sake of feeling comforted. This is why I find it very disheartening to watch fans of self-proclaimed psychic Sally Morgan continue to support her and her team after yet more controversy has come to light.

The recent release of footage that shows her husband and tour manager, John Morgan, threatening a man- Mark Tilbrook -leafleting outside of one of her shows, and making homophobic and racist remarks about high profile skeptics is just more damning material added to a list of occurrences that should make even the most faithful believer in psychics skeptical.

Watching the footage sickens me, yet fans of Sally Morgan have excused the behaviour by claiming John Morgan was protecting his wife and acting out of character. I personally find it difficult to accept these excuses considering that Mark Tilbrook is not the only person to have ever leafleted Sally Morgan shows, he didn’t impose a threat to Sally Morgan, he doesn’t focus purely on Sally Morgan, and it is alleged by other leaflet distributors that John Morgan and co. have behaved like this on numerous occasions before.

When people make excuses for this sort of behaviour what they’re actually doing is acting in their own best interests. They are convincing themselves that the person they have put their faith in- Sally Morgan -is not dodgy in any way and that the beliefs they have invested in are not tainted by any of this controversy. It is difficult to accept that a psychic you so strongly believe in has fooled you into thinking they are psychic and are a good, caring person… but at what point to do you accept that you’re wrong?

May 2007 – deletes claims re: working with the police  [Source]
Sep 2007 – claims re: working with Robert DeNiro and Bob Geldof are denied [Source]
Sep 2007
– falsely claims to have never met Brian Dowling prior to a “celebrity reading” [Source]
Sep 2011 – accused of cheating during a show at the Grand Canal Theatre, Dublin [Source]
Sep 2011 – denies using an earpiece in shows. Footage emerges that proves this is not entirely true.

Jan 2012 – takes action against the DailyMail for defamation [Source]
Feb 2012 – communicates with spirit that is a TV character [Source]
Mar 2012 – Fails to successfully cold-read Richard Bacon on BBC Radio 5 Live

Oct 2012 – Refuses to have abilities tested by Professor  by Chris French [Source]
Jun 2013 – Wins legal case but still refuses to provide evidence of her abilities [Source]
Mar 2014 – communicates with spirit of a woman who is actually still alive AND in the audience [Source]
Oct 2014 – Video of John Morgan intimidating critics leaked [Source]

If I was a Sally Morgan fan I would look at this list and ask myself at what point I would accept that perhaps not all is what it seems with this self-proclaimed psychic. Sure, she may get some “dazzle shots”-accurate hits that seem too good to be guesses -but when you put the good hits up against all of the fails it really doesn’t weigh up. This is especially true when you consider the fact that the above list contains only those fails that have been made public.

How many such fails have happened in her hundreds of shows that have never been made public? I’m willing to bet that it’s quite a few.

There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that Sally Morgan is able to communicate with spirits and she continues to refuse to have her abilities tested. To continue to cherry-pick only the positives and ignore the overwhelming amount of negatives that stack up against Sally Morgan, and to continue to insist that she is psychic is extremely dishonest of her fans even if they do sincerely believe that humans can communicate with the dead…

…but to excuse homophobic slurs and intimidating threats is a new low. I guess that to some people the idea that they might be wrong is too scary to admit, but you don’t have to believe that Sally Morgan is legit to still believe that there is an afterlife. To do so is self preservation at the cost of your intellectual honesty.