Sunday, December 30, 2012

Crimes and the undead - " a ghost made me do it!"

Crimes and the undead - a ghost made me do it!

Court cases featuring accounts of the paranormal have proven popular fodder for journalists, especially when the headline can feature some sort of genuinely frightening pun such as ‘Scary end for ghost’ Over the past twenty years the press has reported tales of ghosts  connected to all manner of offences. Ghosts have been blamed for encouraging people to commit a crime and there are instances of criminals pretending to be ghosts to intimidate victims and also claims for compensation when lives have been disrupted by unruly entities. This post highlights some of the stories that appeared in the press, from the sublime to the ridiculous.

There is the case of a burglar who blamed his break-in on a ghost after he was arrested for breaking into a family home in Lincolnshire and helping himself to whisky and cigars. John Griffin, 60, said the spook, called Jennifer, told him to meet her at the farmhouse in Stainton by Langworth, Lincs. He was found "confused and rambling" on a bed, by the owner who called 999. Homeless Griffin, who had drink and mental problems, admitted burglary and got a three-year rehabilitation order. 

In 1999, Perth Sheriff Court heard the case of Annie Downey who claimed that the shock of seeing the ghost of her dead son Robert had caused her car to mount a verge, plough into a wall and land upside down in a field near Loch Gelly, Fife. The defendant claimed she had tried to kill herself after she had a vision of her son who appeared to beckon her. She eventually admitted drink-driving, banned for 15 months and was fined 500 pounds.
In both these cases Ghosts have been blamed for leading the person astray but another case from Scotland a defendant blamed the ghost for the Crime. After his arrest for an outbreak of fouls wearing in a garden, an 18 year old youth blamed the outburst on a ghost. When charged, he is reported to have claimed "It wisnae me, it was the pirate." Defence lawyer Andrew Kennedy said: "My client assures me he had taken neither drugs nor drink. In fact he was in a state of agitation because he claims he had just seen a ghost." McGair, from Glasgow, admitted committing a breachof the peace. Sentence was deferred but as far as I know, nothing more was heard from the pirate.

Defendants have also blamed the fear of ghosts as a reason for committing crime. In 2009 a single mother was taken to court over her children's truancy blaming their absence from class on poltergeists.  The 29-year-old claimed ''paranormal activity'" meant she was repeatedly unable to take her eight-year-old daughter and six-year-old son to school. Sheclaimed that her council-owned home in Swindon, Wiltshire, was overrun with ghosts that kept her children awake at night and disturbed her morning routine. Swindon Magistrates' Court heard that she even hired priests and mediums to exorcise the property but she later admitted the offenses. Sambreen Arif, defending, said she had raised the paranormal activities with the school and was hoping to move. He added: "She was trying to make her children go to school, but she accepts responsibility."

Was this just an excuse on the part of the lady or did she really believe that ghosts preventing her taking her children to School? Certainly she had taken steps to resolve the problem,informing the school, trying to move and consulting a priest? She admitted the offences but was there really a paranormal influence to the case? Are people really experiencing something supernatural? Did the wife of a Gurka at Sandhurst Military Academy who slashed her husbands throat while he was sleeping really believe he was a ghost at the time of the attemped murder? Reading Crown Court heard an account of how Khayendra Pariyar, 43, woke in bed to find blood gushing from a wound and his wife and mother of his three children Nainakala Pariyar, later admitted stabbing him with a knife kept under the pillow to ward off evil spirits she feared were attacking her, but denied trying to murder him.

Although blaming a ghost may leave a fulcrum of doubt in the Jury’s mind pretending to be a ghost is a crime that is almost guaranteed to bring with it a verdict of guilty. In Northern Italy a woman was jailed for pretending to be a ghost to scare the owner of a castle. She banged doors, slammed furniture around and made mysterious noises in a bid tomake the owner believe the place was haunted until she was caught on CCTVcameras - and was jailed for four months. In France a mayor who pretended to be a poltergeist by smashing vases and lights to scare churchgoers was ordered to see a psychiatrist.

Ghosts were also used with the intent to gain access to an inheritance. John McKenna, pretended to be the ghost of his dead father and made eerie wailing noises down the telephone to his stepmother in an attempt to terrify her and gain access to money left in his father's Will. The widow, Freda McKenna, 62, then had a call impersonating the voice of her late husband saying: "It's Louis here. When are you going to carry out my wishes?" Magistrates heard that there was a bitter family dispute after Louis McKenna died 18 months ago. His widow was left the "lion's share" of his £60,000 estate.

Mr Martin said Mrs McKenna received a number of telephone calls at her home in Buckley, Clwyd. He said: "In one of the calls she could hear a ghostly wailing sound in the background. She recognised it as the voice of her stepson and the calls were traced to his mobile phone." Mrs McKenna told the court: "I was very, very upset. My husband had only died about four months earlier and I was still in shock." McKenna, was found guilty of making nuisance calls, given a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay costs.

Ghosts it would seem can provide a convenient excuse for misdemeanours but as the evidence suggests they are unlikely to lead to a reprieve in the eyes of the law.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Why I love Halloween

A ghost taps its ethereal hand on your window, a witch's fingernails scratch at your front door. Darkness has fallen and you that pray the light from your Jack O‘Lantern will scare away the evil spirits on this most unholy of nights the 31 of October, Halloween.

I have loved Halloween since I was a small child. TV adaptations of MR James ghost stories and anything to do with the paranormal were required viewing in my home. These were made all the more frightening as my grandmother got exceeding deaf, necessitating the TV volume to be always turned up to high.

I always enjoyed dressing up at Halloween and one of my earliest memories was crashing head-first into my friend Jodey while dressed up as a ghost. Our  local church used to hold Halloween parties and one lady always used to appear as a witch with her face painted green and strangely sporting a pair rubber gloves which made her seem all the more sinister. Later these celebrations were done away with as Halloween began to be seen as encouraging the occult so they changed to 'Hallelujah' parties - but it was never the same. One of the best parties I went to was at a friends house in the country. It was old and creepy and spread out over several floors so seemed even more exotic after my ordinary bungalow. My friend's uncle made us creep up and down the stairs by candlelight as he told ghost stories, which no doubt started my love of investigations in haunted houses.

 The only part of Halloween I felt hard done by was the purchase of a Halloween Lantern. Every year I begged my mum to buy a proper pumpkin and every year I ended up with a Halloween swede. It's only now since reading about the traditions of Halloween that I learnt that a swede was really much more authentic. The tradition of the  the Jack O' Lantern came from Ireland and was usually carved from a turnip. Halloween was part of the pagan tradition that celebrated the 1st of November - Samhain, the day of the dead. The Celts believed that Samhain marked the end of one year and the beginning of another and on the eve of Samhain the dead would rise up and mingle with the living. People would go from door to door collecting wood for sacred bonfires, food for Samhain feasting or offerings for the spirits. Often people would dress up in costume to prevent spirits from recognising them and to trick the ghosts into thinking they were one of their own.

Although Halloween is celebrated widely in the UK it is now America where the most enthusiasm for Halloween currently resides. The tradition was brought over by Irish Immigrants at the time of the potato famine and now Halloween is the country's second largest commercial holiday. In 2002 I went over to America in late October and it was a revelation. We visited fields full of Halloween pumpkins and Halloween supermarkets selling tombstones, and skeletons and all manner of macabre gifts. The highlight was a trip to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district. This is an area usually known for its hippies, but that night it was awash with people in fancy dress. My friends and I were in the usual witches and wizards garb but there was a whole mix of costumes including many characters from Star Wars. Best of all my friend was living in an amazingly spooky looking wooden house that could have graced any episode of 'A Haunting' and could scare the life out of you just by looking too closely at its sinister architecture. Fabulous.

As for this Halloween I will be sitting at home by candlelight, curled up with my cat (unfortunately not black) and watching a good horror film. I shall be eating a selection of cupcakes decorated with various ghosts and witches. and some crisps shaped as ghosts My pumpkin will be lit  and placed in the window and I shall round it all off with a reading of MR James’ 'Lost Hearts.' Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Strange goings on at Shepherd Neame Brewery

Shepherd Neame Brewery had long been on my list of dream investigation sites. Founded in 1698 the Brewery is the oldest official brewer in the UK,although brewing in the area is said to date back to the 12th Century. When I first joined the Ghost Club in the 1990s I remember listening to stories of the frightening and foreboding atmosphere that investigators had experienced there.

Fast forward 15 years and I was now investigations co-ordinator and had learned that Shepherd Neame were running their own ghost events for Halloween. Another clue of their continued fascination with ghosts was their promotion of the Halloween brew 'Spooks Ale' described as "offering protection to any who drink it against ghosts and ghouls encountered on All Hallows Eve". A letter and a couple of emails later and the Ghost Club was set for a return visit.

As with all investigations, a pre-visit was a must to check the suitability of the venue, scope out areas of alleged activity and discover the nature and history of the hauntings. I discovered that Shepherd Neame staff and visitors had reported a wide variety of phenomena, including a ghost cat; a man in a frock coat; a ghostly figure in the boardroom; the feeling of being watched; the smell of tobacco smoke and the sound of someone running by the fermentation vessels. It is said that a cleaner resigned after she entered a room in the private flats to find an unseen hand had created a pyramid of chairs and saw a black shape coming towards her. Shortly afterwards the building was exorcised.

A few months later, I returned with eleven other ghost hunters and conducted an evening investigation. We carried out a number of hour long vigils in the reception and spiral staircase area; the boardroom; the Malt Silo and Kiln, and the Brewhouse. We discovered we were following in the footsteps of psychic Derek Acorah and the team from TV's 'Most Haunted'.  We heard how Derek had sensed all manner of activity, but this seemed slightly less impressive when we learnt that the programme's researchers had been fully briefed with information about the hauntings prior to his visit.

Nevertheless we found enough activity on the night to keep us interested during the long hours spent sitting in semi darkness. The highlight of the evening for me happened in the Malt Silos which is pictured in the photo on the right. It is said that here a man had fallen into a Vat of grain and suffocated and in the small utility room at the entrance to the silo, a lady had seen a man staring intently at her who suddenly disappeared into thin air.

Although no figures were spotted there was a pervading sense of sadness and unease about the place and one of the group started feeling very unwell. The strangest happening was the sound of muffled voices that sounded as if two people were having a conversation in the office above us. The sounds carried on for a couple minutes although we were unable to make out what was being said. At the time we assumed that it voice must belong to the security guards we had spotted earlier. However when we reported it to the Shepherd Neame representative who was supervising us, he said that the guards were in a different part of the building and wouldn't have been in that area at the time. So who was talking above us in the deserted building?

The other strange occurrence happened to another group who were sitting in the boardroom, at one end of the long boardroom table. While they were talk amongst themselves,  the trigger object - a coin placed on a piece of paper at the opposite end of the table - suddenly fell onto the floor, along with the end of the tablecloth. No one was near the object at the time and there was no reason for the heavy cloth to suddenly slide off of its own accord. My group also experience a strange cold breeze in one corner of the boardroom which came from nowhere, yet did not register on any of the temperature monitors.

The one thing that evaded us that night was the pervading sense of evil that was reported on the investigation in 1996. This was supposed to be located at the top of the spiral staircase and although strange noises were picked up by our digital recording equipment, there was no feelings of fear or unease reported. It seemed that the earlier exorcism had indeed succeeded in cleansing the building of something rather unpleasant.

However I did take one strange photo at the top of the spiral staircase. This was actually taken on the pre-visit but appears to show some strange light effects. Who knows something may still linger there after all....

Friday, February 11, 2011

A full house full of ghosts?

Jim and I spent an hour scoping out the local Mecca bingo for the Ghost Club. We were both impressed by the place and I think it could be a very interesting investigation. The manager and staff were very welcoming, especially given the fact that Friday night bingo was in full swing. The hall was packed with eager players hoping for a chance of a 25k jackpot, but we had our eyes on a bigger prize - a ghost!

Without wishing to give away too many details of the haunting, the Hall promised lots of variety with at least three ghosts reported. Neighbours of the bingo hall had also complained of the sound of organ music during the night, but no such organ was kept in the building. Were these ghostly sounds an echo from the days when the Bingo Hall was a cinema? D├ęcor from the original Gaumont cinema can still be seen today with the main hall boasting a stylized art deco ceiling 200 of the original cinema seats.

The manager gave us a full tour of the building from the roof to the basement and pointed out the key areas of interest. We also interviewed a couple of staff about their experiences and it seemed several other employees had had strange experiences. The place was like a maze, so we requested access to building plans which would make sorting out and finding key places a lot easier on the night. There were lots of different areas to investigate but I wasn't looking forwarded to exploring the crawl space under the stage that stretched the length of the building.

The only downside was the timing of the investigation - on a Saturday, bingo players would be in the in the building until about 11pm, so any investigation would need to start around midnight. The upside was I lived just down the road from the Hall, so would be able to crawl home and straight into bed. And there was a good incentive to stay for the duration as one of the ghosts was said to appear at 6am.

As usual we looked at the possible hazards that 20 or so investigators of differing ages and mobility would come across. There was a particularly steep looking stairwell that could be treacherous in the dark but apart from that it looked perfect. There with a staff room we could use a base; good access to toilets; near to public transport and free parking. All we needed now was a date and some willing participants.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ghosts! And I've got the photo to prove it!

Saw a great story recently about a woman who claimed to have taken a photograph which showed the face of a dead relative in the creases of her daughters pink coat.

Why the deceased should choose to appear in this way is open to speculation. Why not just appear in photograph anyway or at least choose a more manly coloured garment upon which to superimpose himself? The question remains is this really a paranormal occurrence. I suspect not.

As with many such photographs I would not expect to find obvious trickery involved or deliberate urge to deceive on the part of the photographer? Rather a strong sense of wishful thinking. After all it is very comforting to believe that relatives are watching from beyond the grave and wish to make their presence known it whatever way they can.

For example, there is the famous photo taken by Mabel Chinnery (see the photo above). After a trip to the cemetary to visit her mother's grave Mabel took a picture of her husband sitting in his car. When the photo was developed she saw the image of her dead mother sitting in the back seat – no doubt also prompting a wave of mother-in-law jokes.

If not wishful thinking on the part of the photographer then often it is merely a trick of the light. The human brain is programmed to see faces in patterns automatically – another of those ancient inbuilt survival mechanisms to spot enemies hiding in the bushes. Along with Orbs – dust, flies, snow, mists, fog and even human breath can transform into all manner of ghostly apparitions in the eyes of an eager ghost hunter – particularly on those nights when nothing else is happening. I myself am guilty of seeing monsters in the shadows but for a split second of believing it always feel like I’m hit the paranormal jackpot.

That said, there are still photos that defy explanation and when you’ve ruled out all of the above normal explanations its worth forwarding them to a paranormal group for closer inspection.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ghosts on TV

As winter is upon us and staying on the sofa is preferable to braving the dark and the rain I am catching up on my TV viewing with ghostly DVD and YouTube. I am amazed how much ghost footage is available on YouTube with clips from shows I remember watching as a child such as Arthur C Clarke's World of Strange Powers and Michael Aspel's strange but true. Good YouTube channels include Ghostwatching and Superstarstudio1 Both have so many clips it would take me months to view them all, although I've already started on the Discovery Channel's 'A Haunting'.

Personally my favourite ghost programmes are a mixture of interviews and reconstructions like 'A Haunting' which features real people in extraordinary circumstances. Most accounts strike me as genuine although how they would stand up to real scientific analysis remains to be seen. The best programmes bring in independent psychics to verify facts and feature several witnesses to the same phenomena. My least favourite are live investigation programmes like 'Most Haunted' or 'Derek Accorah's Ghost Towns'. While none can deny the entertainment value of these shows I am very sceptical with regard to the investigation results. I am particularly unimpressed by ghosthunting with celebrities. Are members of the pop group 'Girls Aloud' really the most suitable participants to take on a ghosthunt? Do 'Boyzone' really have a serious interest in the paranormal?

Whatever your opinion ghost on TV keep ghosts stories firmly in the public imagination and ensure experiences are published rather than hidden for fear of ridicule. And watching them is healthier than going down the pub.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Cage a prison fit for a witch

Behind on write ups again but getting there! Another investigation, or rather another scouting out trip to darkest Norfolk and a fascinating place called St Osyth will a dark history of the witch burning kind. It was here the famous witch Ursula Kemp met her death and the place we were investigating was the tiny prison where she was incarcerated before she was hung.

Hundreds of years later the cage had been converted into a family home but one where no family had stayed for very long. The current owner had moved out due to the disturbing paranormal events that were occurring as had her tenants and she relayed a series of terrible fates befallen by previous owners include divorce, madness and suicide. She herself had seen or experienced several ghost including a young man, a young boy in a sailor suit and a man she described as an evil jailor who physically attacked her. Certainly the house had atmosphere and paranormal investigators who had visited it were apparently raving about it and there were several impressive looking photographs said to show evil spirits.

My only reservation - the extent of the hauntings sounded almost too good to be true. However it sounded like a psychics would have a field day there and there were plenty of facts that could be corroborated and tested. My only other gripe it was miles away off the dreaded M25 but there would be the opportunity to camp out overnight which was always a bonus so let us see what 2011 brings in terms of an investigation with the Ghost Club.

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