5.5.09

A MINEFIELD FOR INVESTIGATORS

Michael J. Hallowell and Darren W. Ritson. The South Shields Poltergeist: One Family's Fight Against an Invisible Intruder, foreword by Guy Lyon Playfair. Sutton/The History Press, 2008. -- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson

Ghost hunting is a now an increasingly popular hobby and so long as this involves vigils in the likes of stately homes and haunted pubs, it is no doubt an amusing enough activity. The problems start when various self-styled investigators intervene in the lives of ordinary people. For various legal and ethical reasons I do not propose to discuss in detail my concerns about the contents of this particular book, suffice it so say that it could easily be used as a warning of the sort of minefields that investigators can get themselves into, and that there are situations where the question of whether a particular phenomenon is paranormal or not, ought to be among the least the of the investigators’ concerns.

Like many other writers in this field the authors show a marked tendency to prefer complex paranormal explanations for simple normal ones, and to have an almost non-existent boggle factor. Do they really believe that poltergeists have the dexterity to produce messages on blackboards, send text messages, and arrange tableaux? Of course no actual CCTV, video or cine footage is ever produced showing them doing this.

‘Proper’ investigations of such alleged events would require large multi talented teams, including private detectives, crime scene investigators, insurance adjudicators, magicians, family counsellors, forensic psychologists, half a dozen varieties of engineer and a physicist or two. Findings should be presented in a calm, scientific manner, and primary concern should the physical and mental well being of the people involved, especially children. Readers of this book can make up their own minds as to whether this is the case here.

* Read the authors' response to this review here: The View From the Minefield

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