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Commentary archive #7

Entries from: June 2006 to April 2007

Commentary Menu

Index for this page

28th April 2007
Joe Power II

3rd April 2007
Sally Morgan: Star Psychic?

4th March 2007
Challenge Derek Acorah

22nd February 2007
Burying the truth
Media circus

18th December 2006
The Suffolk Murders
Divide & Conquer

22nd October 2006
A Book from Stadbally

28th September 2006
Dead wrong
The God Delusion

31st August 2006
Another failure this way comes
The Baby Whisperer

16th August 2006
Colour prejudice
Imagine there's no heaven...

24th June 2006
Jerry Springer the Opera and the Foifits

2nd June 2006
Non ghostly goings on

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28th April 2007
Joe Power II

According to the Daily Echo Online (Thursday 26th April 2007) medium Joe Power is all set to solve the disappearance of Debbie Griggs. Debbie Griggs vanished in May 1999, at the time she was 34 years of age. Understandably her family are desperate to find out what happened to her and probably willing to accept help from anyone. You really can’t blame them for asking for help; if nothing else it once againhelps raise the profile of the case.

Sadly any hope of finding their daughter through a medium is doomed to failure. To be honest I don’t know how any ‘psychic’ has the audacity to tell a family that their missing loved one is either alive or dead as all the evidence to date would indicate they are simply speculating. As we all know Sylvia Browne did just that and was rightly condemned for her heartless, not to say inaccurate, remarks. In all probability Debbie Griggs is dead but until this is known for sure her family probably retains a spark of hope that she’ll eventually turn up safe and well. Is it right for a medium to extinguish this spark, or raise what might be false hope? Considering it’s based on no more than guesswork I personally think it’s despicable. And people like this portray themselves as spiritual!

As is often the case psychics claim to have helped the police in numerous cases, although strangely this is rarely confirmed by the police (Tony Batters being the only exception of which I’m aware) and Joe Power is no exception. For example I previously mentioned one of his pronouncements here. He provided the following information;

Mr. Power, 39, has told police the killer could have the surname White and first name Stephan or Stephen. He might live in a block of flats by railway lines and have been in a park before the murder. And Mr. Power believes the killer, who he thinks is a delivery driver aged between 24 and 26, met part-time hairdresser Sally Anne through the friend of a friend. ”

Following a DNA match 35 year old pub chef Mark Dixie was charged with the murder of Sally Anne Bowman and is currently awaiting trial. Presumably Joe Power is protesting Dixie’s innocence, but if he is he’s doing it very quietly.

“Stephen White” – wrong.
“Aged between 24 and 26” – wrong.
“Delivery driver” – wrong.

As to whether Dixie lived in a block of flats by railway lines I don’t know – but if he did there’s a good chance Mr. Power would be telling the rest of us.

Another case in which Joe Power claims to have helped was in finding the body of Lynsey Quy whose husband was eventually convicted of her murder. Reporting Power's version of events The Northern Echo (4th July 2005) tells us, “She came to him in the middle of the night, during a fitful sleep. ‘I'm Lynsey, Lynsey Quy,’ she whispered. ‘I've been carnaged, mangled.’”

Really? Well I urge readers to read the excellent report by ‘Phaedra’ at Skeptic Report. The article provides a telling quote from Detective Superintendent Sloan who headed the investigation:

"I wish to state, categorically, that as the Senior Investigating Officer on the Lynsey Quy murder, I made a policy decision not to use psychics on the investigation. Joe Power has allegedly made claims that he assisted the enquiry but this is not the case."

Not a very impressive record and yet the Northern Echo also informs us he, “…specialises in working with police on missing persons and murder cases.” If this is his speciality one can only wonder how good his other skills are. The same article also mentions that Joe is confident in locating the body of Helen McCourt’, “… a 22year-old from St Helens, Liverpool, who went missing 17 years ago. Pub landlord Ian Simms was subsequently found guilty of her murder, although her body has never been found.”

Well Joe is quoted as saying (this is in 2005 don’t forget), "Let me say, from the information I've given to the police, I'm pretty certain it will lead to Helen being found," he says confidently. "We're waiting for the officers to come back to us."

As you’ve probably guessed - her body is still missing.

In the same Northern Echo article he also makes another bold claim….

The next case Joe got involved in was the high-profile Sarah Payne murder in Sussex. The police suspected that known sex-abuser Roy Whiting was connected with her disappearance on July 1, 2000.

By the end of the year, Joe says he was receiving messages from the spirit world that a towel in a van would prove vitally important to the case. He sent the information to Scotland Yard and claims that DNA on a towel later linked Whiting to the eight-year-old and aided his conviction .”

Based on all the other cases he mentions I rather suspect Joe Power’s contribution was either minimal or non-existent. Meanwhile I have written to Sussex Police to ask them to confirm if Power provided them with any useful information at all. If I hear back I’ll let you know the outcome.

Finally to quote from Joe Power’s own website, “Joe is renowned for his amazing gift in the paranormal field and is increasingly becoming the most proficient profiler in the world.”

Second only to Sylvia Browne I dare say.

 

See also a comprehensive write up in BadPsychics. Includes further links.

Print Joe Power II (pdf)



3rd April 2007

Sally Morgan: Star Psychic?

On Friday night (30th April 2007) we saw the launch of ‘Sally Morgan - Star Psychic’ on ITV2. We were told that she will be followed for 5 weeks, “in order to test her extraordinary claims”. Sally confidently tells us, “I’m very happy to be tested because I’m the real deal.” I'm sure James Randi is eagerly standing by.

If you're like me and haven't previously heard of Sally Morgan a bit of background might be helpful. According to her website, "Sally Morgan, with the ability to see and hear psychically, since she was a child, practices as a psychic medium internationally, and at her office based near London, United Kingdom". It also informs us that, "Being psychic means having the ability to see, hear and communicate with those who passed over to the spirit world." Hmm, I'm not sure where that leaves you if all you can do is bend spoons.

Chatting with the dead has obvious advantages such as helping solve murders, etc. and Sally claims to have helped with, "police and other investigations". Apart from claiming to assist with the theft of sunglasses (no really!) she also claims to have helped pinpoint the location of the body of a girl murdered 8 years earlier. The only downside to this undoubtedly useful information is that the body is still missing. Apart from that minor detail I'm sure the police found her insights invaluable. Enough background, let's look at the programme.

During the first programme, when giving readings to various celebrities, Sally made some very impressive hits. She not only came up with names but combined them with relationships (e.g. ‘an Aunt in spirit called Ann’). She also identified people's occupations whilst blindfolded and even revealed that one of them had once been raped. She told singer/actor Kym Ryder that her Granddad was “around her” something that before the reading Kym said she was hoping to hear.

So, presented with strikingly accurate information like this surely any sceptic would have to be closed minded to the point of obstinacy to deny that Sally is indeed, “the real deal”? Alas no. Not this one anyway.

Those with a propensity to believe this sort of thing will immediately chastise me for my stubborn refusal to accept the inevitable truth. To the believer it seems on the one hand I bemoan the fact that psychics apparently use the technique of cold reading and simply spew out vague waffle mixed with calculated guesswork, whilst on the other, when presented with pinpoint accuracy, I still cry foul. I mean, just what do they have to do to convince me?

Well for a start when a psychic is supposed to be undergoing testing you might expect to have some sceptical input. This programme had none. Was the final programme a true reflection of what actually occurred? We’ll never know.

If the ‘tests’ were meant to determine if her “extraordinary claims” were true then they were very poorly designed indeed. For a start no one in the programme who received a reading appeared to know the first thing about how cold/pseudo psychic readings work. Of course if the true purpose of the programme was to give the superficial appearance of testing then they have probably succeeded with most of their target audience. As a side observation it's a shame the dead make such poor conversationalists don't you think?

So let’s look at some of the tests. Before Sally arrived to give a reading to a celebrity she was shown a photograph and told who it was. Why? This did nothing at all to help the process, all it did was give her the opportunity to dig for information. Whether she did or not I haven’t a clue but to provide her with the opportunity is just plain stupid. In fact having someone fairly well known as the sitter is also stupid, but then after all they are in the business of entertainment – not truth.

In one test Sally was expected to guess, sorry I meant psychically determine, what someone’s profession was simply by touching their hand. Before explaining how they when about this let me describe what I would consider a more suitable protocol i.e. not one as watertight as a colander with extra holes drilled in it.

You could begin by having about 10 people from which 5 will randomly be selected. Their order also determined by the random throw of a dice (10 sided obviously). Each person would put their hand through a small opening so that Sally is unable to see them at all. Their hands should in no way offer a clue about the job they do (e.g. rough skin/brick layer). Their dress should in no way give a clue as to their occupation. Sally should then proceed to tell us their jobs and she would only be told how many she got correct when the test was completed. Even this doesn’t offer definitive proof of course but it’s still practical to be used for television and a good deal better than what actually happened.

In the actual test 5 subjects were dressed in the outfit they worked in, e.g. nurse uniform, cook, fireman, etc. and Sally had a scarf tied around her eyes to act as a blindfold. As any magician will tell you this is entirely useless, just a peek down her nose and Sally would have easily seen the lower half of the person’s body along with their uniform. Once during a lecture I had my eyes covered with half dollars, black gaffer tape wrapped around my head several times so as to completely cover my eyes, on top of which I had a metal blindfold (checked by the audience) and a black hood – and yes I could have told them what their profession was too.

Never the less Sally did tell the belly dancer that she had once been raped. How she knew this exactly I couldn’t say but I find it quite bizarre that someone is invited to take part in a psychic test and ends up with the fact that they had once been raped announced on a television programme. It was also a bit strange that the belly dancer didn't seem very surprised. Was this information passed on to a researcher before the reading took place? Perhaps she gave prior permission for this information to be used? Again we’ll never know.

I guess the thing that annoyed me most about this programme was that it tried to pretend that it was carrying out genuine testing when in reality it was doing nothing of the kind. The programme was not about testing Sally Morgan, it was about promoting Sally Morgan and showing her in the best of all possible lights. Television producers know that there is a readymade audience keen to lap up this particular type of bilge. Belief in the paranormal seems to grow from the symbiotic relationship between a gullible public eager for more and television companies equally eager supply it. Supply driving demand and vice versa. The phrase ‘dumbing down’ doesn’t really do it justice. I believe Uri Geller appears in a later episode - I can hardly wait.

On a general point I am more and more convinced that out of all the various forms of media, television in particular doesn't care much for sceptics. Psychics are so much more interesting. Well all I can say is that it's a good thing other forms of media cater for our needs such as books published by Prometheus, podcasts like The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe, Point of Inquiry and Skepticality along with an ever increasing number of skeptical websites.

Print Star Psychic (pdf)


4th March 2007
Challenge Derek Acorah

It seems that no matter what I (and numerous other sceptics) say about spiritualism, people will go on believing despite the evidence. And there is no better evidence against this delusion than seeing the likes of Derek Acorah (nee Johnson) talking to himself live on stage. It’s cringingly bad as he fumbles his way through a series of half baked attempts at cold reading desperately trying to establish links where plainly none exist. You would think it might implant a smidgeon of doubt in people’s minds – but apparently it doesn’t. All he has to do is say something that sounds vaguely like a hit and his devotees are happy, if not positively delighted, to go on swallowing the same old tripe indefinitely.

I remember when I first heard Derek Acorah. It was on the James Whale Show on Talk Radio (now Talk Sport). What caught my attention at the time was that the subject of James Randi’s $1 Million Challenge came up and Derek claimed that he and other members of the ISPR group had applied but had been refused. In fact what had happened was the ISPR (a little troupe self-important ghosthunters) had never applied but instead had dreamt up some stupid idea that they would make Randi’s heart flutter at a given time. I can’t recall the precise details but I can remember that the whole concept was monumentally stupid. Of course it was no more than a smoke screen to avoid actually having to accept the challenge. Incidentally the ISPR website still lists Derek Acorah as their UK Investigator but then the whole site seems not to have been updated for at least two years.

Shortly after hearing Derek on the radio I met him in person on the Kilroy Show where I told him I would be happy to arrange a preliminary test on behalf of the JREF here in the UK. He seemed very eager to accept, as did his rather pushy assistant who called herself “Ayem”. Naturally it goes without saying that as time went by both Ayem and Acorah found all kinds of excuses not to pursue the $1 million. In the last phone call I had with her, Ayem resorted to implying Randi was a rather odious character and therefore they felt justified in not taking part. Therefore Derek Acorah has never even attempted to apply for the challenge despite trying to give the impression that he had.

The excuses given were, and still are, feeble so I hereby challenge Derek Acorah to live up to his original word and take the challenge. He could donate the money to his chosen charity which, according to his website is ‘Pathfinder Dogs’; surely something he would love to do.

Unfortunately the challenge rules will be changing on 1st April so Derek will have to jump in quick. You see after that date he’ll have a problem. There are just two requirements he would need to meet. First he has to have some kind of media presence, a criterion easily met by Derek. Ah, but the second might be tricky. He would need to have his claim backed up by an academic and I doubt Dr. Larry Montz, Ph.D of the ISPR would count, but you never know.

Derek is as psychic as a pineappleSo Derek I’m calling you out. I think you’re as psychic as a pineapple. Will you prove me wrong? Of course you won’t, because both you and I know a pineapple stands a much better chance. So I'm appealling to anyone who has the opportunity, challenge Derek to make a formal application and use his refusal to embarrass him.

Meanwhile do you want to know more about the cottage industry that is Derek Acorah? Then read two sensational articles at www.doublexposure.co.uk.
"Can the Ethiopian change his skin... ?" plus "...or the leopard his spots?"

And if you are in frivolous mood here’s a link to a secret page I put together years ago. Sam.

Print Challenge Derek Acorah (pdf)


22nd February 2007
Burying the truth
I finally forced myself to watch an episode of ‘Psychic Private Eyes’ on Zone Reality. Normally I try to avoid what I know in advance will be mindless crapBut can it play the trumpet? (call it a sixth sense if you like) but I felt duty bound after hearing Charlie Brooker’s scathing analysis on Screenwipe. However before pitching in with my own generally insignificant critique, I must take issue with Charlie Brooker’s description of Fry. He said he, “looks like a fox who’s trying to work out who’s just farted” whereas to me the resemblance to a bewildered weasel is uncanny. No matter.

Zone Reality’s website claims the programme, “conducts real life psychic investigations into baffling murders and disappearances, using the unique skills of Colin Fry, Tony Stockwell and the remarkable female psychic medium T.J. Higgs.” Just to be pedantic for a moment surely they can’t be ‘unique’ skills if all three possess them, can they? Even a cursory glance at the programme shows they all use exactly the same skill, i.e. cold reading. Well I say cold reading but perhaps a more accurate term would be ‘pseudo-psychic reading’ because how much of what they say is ‘cold’ is open to question. And what exactly is remarkable about Ms Higgs I have yet to discover. Maybe she can juggle hedgehogs.

Now if I ever have cause to hire a private eye, psychic or otherwise, one of the criteria I might use to evaluate their performance would be the results. If, for example, a family member had disappeared and I asked them to trace their whereabouts I wouldn’t be at all satisfied to hear that they felt they had been buried somewhere in a graveyard. But psychics are not bound by the normal rules of evidence. All they have to do is trot out how they “feel” this, that or the other. And this is about all our po-faced trio of uniquely talented psychics do. Do they actually solve anything? Of course they bloody well don’t, but they do manage to provide up to nearly an hour of tasteless TV with a mixture of pointless readings and visits to places they consider significant but in truth don’t reveal anything useful at all.

This programme just about scrapes the bottom of an already well-scraped barrel. It uses genuine personal tragedies to perpetuate the myth of the psychic detective. Personally I rather eat a plateful of turkey twizzlers infected with H5N1 than sit through another episode.

Media circus
While I find myself in ranting mood I’ll indulge myself in an attack on the media’s treatment of skeptics in general and me in particular. A long time ago if I found myself watching or listening to a programme dealing with some aspect of the paranormal I would expect someone taking part to provide me with a more rational take on the story. In time I too appeared in such programmes and did my best to speak on behalf of my fellow skeptics. Recent events have persuaded me to do much less of this in the future.

My first problem is that ‘the media’ have no interest in enlightening the viewing public to the fact that the paranormal is just so much woofle dust. How many programmes have you seen lately that seriously challenged psychics and their ilk to provide us with real evidence? None. You see they know that this sort of thing gets people watching and if the ratings can be bumped up by a percentage point or two then that’s all that matters. Media ‘testing’ of psychics is laughable and seems to be designed so as to befuddle the public into thinking there might be “something in it” when in fact not only does this particular Emperor have no clothes but the entire psychic population is stark bollock naked to boot.

However my next problem is a more personal one and that is I’m sick to death of being jerked around by researchers, producers and the rest of the media circus troupe. Here is a typical scenario. A really chummy researcher, trained to speak whilst smiling broadly, calls you up and says they are doing a programme about psychics/UFOs/crop circles/ghosts/pixies/unicorns or whatever and asks if you would you be interested in appearing? Now you can be sure at this stage your only requirement will be to provide the illusion of balance. They’ll have some idiot who claims to be able to contact goldfish by telepathy and all you’re required to do is fill about 30 seconds of air time expressing your closed-minded view of reality.

So you tell yourself it might be a bit of fun and agree to take part. In your mind you carefully construct your knock-down argument that will leave the piscine psychic floundering. Two possibilities now remain. If you actually manage to take part then it won’t be anything like as easy as you think. They will have owners of goldfish lining up to explain how uncannily accurate the psychic was. How for example could he have known that there was a birthday coming up soon if the goldfish hadn’t told him? With your allotted 30 seconds you attempt to explain cold reading and despite having studied the subject in some depth it turns out that Goldy’s clueless owner, having listened to a single reading knows just as much as you and couldn’t possibly be fooled by such shenanigans. You then sit politely for the next ten minutes listening to the psychic drone on about pass fishy successes. If you’re lucky you’ll get another 4 or 5 seconds before the interviewer wraps it all up by saying how “fascinating” it’s all been and giving a final plug for the new book, “Psychic Fish: The Evidence”.

The second scenario is that after you have researched your subject and rearranged your diary to accommodate them they will call you at the last minute and say you have been dropped. Not so bloody nice now. All that sweet talk about, “how we really would love to have you on” is forgotten. For the record I’ve experienced this treatment from the likes of BBC Radio London and, as recently as last week, ITV’s ‘This Morning’. No more.

Having now burned my bridges I don’t anticipate ever being asked to do anything ever again - not that I kid myself that I’m going to be missed. But then from my point of view I won’t be missing much either.

Meanwhile the optimist in me continues to hope, in a sort pathetic puppy dog kind of a way, that one day the chance will come for me to make a genuine impact and achieve something vaguely useful. I’m not at all sure I’ll live that long.


18th December 2006
The Suffolk Murders
The UK has been shocked by the appalling deaths of the five women in Ipswich and the police are putting all their energies into searching for the killer. It seems that by keeping this case in the news they may be forcing the killer to curtail his vile activities. Time is an important resource and not something that can be squandered lightly. But it seems the police are merely wasting time fumbling about looking for witnesses and piecing together evidence when all they have to do is call in Diane Lazarus.

According to IC Wales Welsh 'psychic' Diane Lazarus intends to catch the killer. Marc Baker writes, "A WELSH psychic who has cracked murder cases across Britain today tells Ipswich cops: 'I will catch the Suffolk Strangler.' A bold statement indeed and the article goes on to tell us some of the cases she has presumably cracked. Apart from the oft repeated claim of helping find the killer of presenter Jill Dando (although I'm unaware of any proof to support this claim), there is the unsolved (and presumably still unsolved) murder of 14 year old school girl Joanna Young which was used as a test for the odious 'Britain's Psychic Challenge' and the murder of college lecturer Mark Green. I have emailed the police forces involved to see if they are prepared to back these extravagant claims.
 
Meanwhile the article gives us Diane's insights into the murderer's identity. The relevant statements are reproduced here so that when the actual criminal is finally found we can evaluate her psychic accuracy.
 
"....that a lonely young man is carrying out the murders as part of a sickening 'religious' ritual."

"I feel this young man in Ipswich wants to be the next Yorkshire Ripper. That is what this is boiling down to. I don't believe this man is as old as police in Ipswich believe he may be. I think he is a young lad, a hoodie, who, obviously, has no life. I am getting the feeling that he is doing this as part of some kind of religious ritual. He must be sitting there rubbing his hands with all the media coverage he's getting. I fear there will be more killings but I believe he will make a silly mistake and will be caught by DNA evidence."

For now I'll restrict myself a few brief observations.

"....that a lonely young man.." 'Lonely' is a nebulous and adaptable concept as can be observed from the old saying that, "you can be loneliest when part of a crowd." Yes even though he was married with six children he was psychologically very lonely.

'Religious' ritual? Which religion? What religion has strangling young woman as a ritual?

"I feel this young man..." What does she means she "feels" him?

"I don't believe this man is as old as police in Ipswich believe he may be. What age do they think he is and how far out are they?

"I think he is a young lad, a hoodie,..." Pretty precise, we'll see.

"...who, obviously, has no life." He clearly does have a life but I'm guessing she means he has an unfulfilled life, then again perhaps she means he has no job and is living on the streets, something I personally doubt.

" I fear there will be more killings but I believe he will make a silly mistake and will be caught by DNA evidence." Well we all fear that but that doesn't mean much as far as a prediction goes does it? "and will be caught by DNA evidence." Will he now, and what does that mean? Does it mean they will identify him by a DNA sample found on the victim's bodies or does it mean that after they have found him they will use DNA to link him to the murders? I'd say there is an overwhelming chance that DNA will play a part somewhere along the line.

Update
At the time of writing the above commentary the police had arrested a 37 year old man (who did not match Lazarus' description) whom they later released. However Stephen Wright, the person eventually charged, turned out to be even less like her profile.

For a start at the time of his arrest he was 48 years old. Of course until this is decided in court Mr Wright should be presumed innocent. He has pleaded 'not guilty' on all charges.

Of course if Lazurus' guess turns out to be as wide of the mark as seems likely is she going to explain why she was so utterly wrong? I doubt it. Perhaps if Town House TV had run the investigation she would have fared much better.

Since studying Diane Lazarus' psychic skills as applied to the real world I remain decidedly unimpressed.

See BBC News for background.

See this April 2006 Commentary regarding a previous Lazarus failure.

Divide and conquer
James Randi has an excellent quote from Bertrand Russell in this week's Commentary and having followed the link to the full article I found one part particularly interesting. Russell writes,

"Nevertheless the opinion of experts, when it is unanimous, must be accepted by non-experts as more likely to be right than the opposite opinion. The scepticism that I advocate amounts only to this: (1) that when the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain; (2) that when they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert; and (3) that when they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment."

This is a very reasonable view but within the statement lies the strategy of the believer in paranormal/supernatural phenomena. (I'm tempted to include other groups such as holocaust deniers and those who remain sceptical of man-made global warming - but don't equate one with the other). I refer of course to, (2) that when they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert;

Believers put a great deal of their energy into making it seem that expert opinion is divided. Well it isn't - apart from a few fringe scientists who ought to know better. As the above story from IC Wales indicates any claim of a supposedly psychic nature is worthy of reporting. I'm sure many believe simply because they hear about it so often.


22nd October 2006
A Book from Stradbally
I have now had the pleasure of reading (most of) Christine Holohan’s book ‘ A Voice from the Grave’. It raises numerous issues but the first has to be the rank of her star witness Tony Batters.

This is one piece of consistent misreporting that needs to be addressed. In both the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) report by Montague Keen and Guy Lyon Playfair and in Christine Holohan’s book Tony Batters is always referred to as a “Detective”. In fact Holohan’s book appears to go further, on page 38 she writes, “ Tony Batters had just arrived into the station and as he was the investigating officer….

Similarly an article by Joe Barrett in Laois Nationalist (which mentions this very website see: “Sceptic rubbishes Stradbally psychic’s claims”) the same error is repeated yet again. Barrett writes, “However, quoted in the book, Det Batters appears to have lent weight in the past to Ms Holohan’s claims.

Tony Batters was not a Detective but a Police Constable. Of course there is nothing wrong with being a Police Constable but there certainly is in attempting to overplay his role in the investigation. The person with the most knowledge has to be the senior officer in charge, who in this case was Detective Superintendent Tony Lundy. In the past Lundy has made his own views plain and you can read a letter giving his own account here. Curiously when referring to the first policeman on the scene Holohan writes, “It was a terrible sight for the young policeman who, along with Jacqui’s boyfriend’s father, George Lee, broke down the door of her flat and found her.” She is of course talking about Tony Batters, the person who elsewhere is given the title ‘Detective’.

The other important point is the item of Ruark’s clothing referred to as “the pullover”. On page 80 Holohan writes, “With the name, I felt there was more to tell, and stressed that the police should collect any clothes this ‘Pokie’ might be getting rid of.

Batters did not record Holohan saying anything about collecting any clothing. In his article in the Police Federation magazine he writes, “The timing of our first session with her may have been critical to the recovery, from a rubbish bin, of an item of his clothing which became forensically significant at the trial.” The implication is that the seizure of the clothing was not as a result of Holohan’s urging but simply followed his arrest. This is further emphasised in the SPR report by Keen and Playfair, “As part of their routine enquiries in 1983, Murder Squad detectives had removed a pullover belonging to Ruark from a rubbish bag….” (my emphasis).

For the pro-paranormal camp the pullover takes on particular significance because it apparently endorses the fact that psychic intervention actually helped bring about Ruark’s eventual conviction. However not only is there no record of Holohan mentioning it to P.C. Batters but it seems it was not that forensically significant anyway. Last year a TV company was looking into this case and I exchanged emails with one of their researchers. Regarding the pullover she wrote, “At the trial bodily fluids on the jumper where not presented at court, but the fibres were. But as I say the damning evidence against Ruark was DNA found on Jacqui’s body and pants.

As far as I can tell Holohan (whatever her source) only passed on information that the police, and other people in the area, knew already. Her testimony did not advance or influence the police investigation one iota. Not that anyone in the media will probably notice.


28th September 2006
Dead wrong.

I’ve been expecting this for some time now. Christine Holohan has finally decided to cash in on the Jacqueline Poole case. She has co-authored a book entitled Voice From The Grave which, according to the Laois Nationalist, “ is a new book telling the story of how Stradbally psychic medium Christine Holohan helped British Police to capture the murderer of a barmaid, Jackie Poole in 1983 .” Did she indeed? Well not according to Detective Superintendent Tony Lundy who lead the original investigation nor Detective Chief Inspector Norman McKinlay who finally got a conviction thanks to advances in DNA profiling. Still, what do they know. Naturally I have ordered my own copy which I can assure you will be read very thoroughly.

If there is one thing the media love it’s a good story, not necessarily a good true story but you can’t have everything can you. Thus tomorrow morning Ms Holohan will be appearing on Good Morning AM (September 29th) at 8am . I’ll be interested to see if they have a skeptic on to provide some sort of balance. Perhaps Colin Fry or Derek Acorah will give their considered opinion?

I honestly don’t know how the family of Jacqui Poole feel about this but the relations of Anthony Ruark, who after all are entirely blameless, are probably not best pleased to have this dragged through the media yet again. I had a great deal of correspondence with the late Tony Batters who was one of the officers who originally interviewed Holohan. It will be interesting to see how closely his original notes match her claims.

Since Adrian Shaw and I first looked at this case it has also been of interest to a TV company and although I took no part I was kept informed of some of their investigations. In one email a researcher wrote to me about the item of Ruark’s clothing that Montague Keen seemed to think was vital to the eventual conviction of Ruark. Regarding this she wrote, “At the trial bodily fluids on the jumper were not presented at court, but the fibres were. But as I say the damning evidence against Ruark was DNA found on Jacqui's body and pants.” I await with interest to hear Christine Holohan’s version of events.  

Meanwhile Laois International also tells us, "Christine is currently helping British police in tracing the whereabouts of another missing woman whom police suspect has been murdered." That would probably be the case mentioned in the commentary directly below this one.

The facts behind the Jacqui Poole case

The God Delusion
On a happier note the long awaited book by Richard Dawkins has finally been released. This book is an absolute treasure and is an essential part of any skeptic and/or atheists library. I’m reading it very slowly and savouring every page. Buy it now, you won’t be disappointed.


31st August 2006
Another failure this way comes
Another psychic has been asked by a victim’s family to help solve their daughter’s mysterious disappearance. The people who call in psychics surely do so out of sheer desperation rather than any real expectation of success and I guess they think anything is worth a shot. And why shouldn’t they? After all so much of the media tell us that such things are indeed possible. But the sad truth is the psychic will be of no use whatsoever, although if the crime is ever solved that probably won’t stop them claiming they, “worked on the case”.

This time the disappearance in question is Nicola Payne from Coventry and the psychic is none other than Christine Holohan, who will be well known to anyone who reads this site.

According to the report at icCoventry.co.uk Christine Holohan “…has helped police in other cases, including a murder in which, remarkably, she came up with the name of a man who was later convicted of the killing.” Well she came up with his nickname but then so did just about everyone else.

The report also shares with us a brief description of her progress so far,

Now Christine has come up with several new clues: a name - Chloe; a dog called Barney; a scrapyard where major development has taken place; a link to two other murders.”

I’ll point out the obvious. For a start they are not clues, new or otherwise, they are guesses.

Why can Holohan get the name ‘Chloe’, which by itself is probably meaningless, and not a surname which might at least be of some use?

Is Chloe a person at all? (I had a cat called Chloe once). If by some chance someone of this name is linked to the case, however tenuously, will she have the finger of suspicion pointed at her despite her probable innocence?

Nicola disappeared in December 1991 so if Barney the dog was around at the time he almost certainly isn’t anymore. Why can she get the name ‘Barney’ but tell us nothing of the dog’s relevance? What breed is/was Barney? Was he owned by the perpetrator of the crime, a witness, the family? Who knows?

The scrap yard “where major development has taken place” is an old ploy. If by some miracle there was ever a nearby scrap yard which has now had a block of flats built on it, you can bet sure as eggs is eggs Holohan will say, “I feel her body is buried somewhere under here” in the full knowledge that the police won’t start digging on the say so of a psychic. Meanwhile the family will feel obliged to plead with the police to take Holohan seriously.

Finally we have a link to two other murders. What does this mean exactly? How many ways can we interpret the word ‘link’?

Of all the ‘psychic detective’ stories I’ve run on this site not one case has yet been solved. In other words all the so-called psychics, whatever their pedigree and claim to fame, have failed miserably. They just try the same old routine of throwing out names and locations along with other vague hints utterly deviod of any context in the hope that something will find its mark.

Sadly their ever growing list of failures won’t stop them meddling in the future.

Meanwhile having now read another tragic story my heart goes out to Nicola’s family who desperately want answers about what happened to their daughter. The family’s website which gives much background to the case can be found here. Perhaps Holohan will prove me wrong this time - I honestly hope she does.

More background can be found at BBC News.

Missing Persons Helpline

Missing Children website

The Baby Whisperer
I did promise to get back about this didn’t I? Well I have to admit I could only stomach one episode. The whole premise of the show is such unmitigated bilge that it’s unworthy of proper analysis. Instead I’ll treat myself to a brief rant. I found Olgilvie’s manner nauseating in the extreme. Why this puerile pap ever reached mainstream television is beyond me. Obviously Channel Five feel no responsibility for showing yet another promotional video and launching another psychic on the stairway to riches.

It seems to me that they just don’t care.


16th August 2006
Colour prejudice

I am blessed with four children. They mean more to me than life itself and each one is very special. At least that was before I realised they weren’t ‘Indigo’ children. None of them seem to be able to see ‘dead people’ or communicate telepathically. Which is a pity because if they did have ESP they wouldn’t have to spend so much damn money on mobile phones.

Still it seems other parents are more fortunate. Their offspring are… Indigo! These gifted little sprogs have very special talents and in case you’re worried that you’ve given birth to the common or garden variety child there are 10 tell tale clues to help you decide (see Indigo Children).

They come into the world with a feeling of royalty (and often act like it)
Prince Charles is perhaps an Indigo? That would explain a lot.

They have a feeling of "deserving to be here," and are surprised when others don't share that.
Whereas my kids repeatedly ask to be sent back.

Self-worth is not a big issue. They often tell the parents "who they are."
I take this to mean they are arrogant little bastards.

They have difficulty with absolute authority (authority without explanation or choice).
Everyone else’s children do exactly as they are told.
“No you can’t have that chocolate.”
“Fair enough Mum.”

They simply will not do certain things; for example, waiting in line is difficult for them.
Really? They just push in do they? This is indeed an evolutionary leap.

They get frustrated with systems that are ritually oriented and don't require creative thought.
Easy to spot if you have an Indigo then. ‘Normal’ children have little capacity for creative thought and love ritually oriented (orientated) systems.

They often see better ways of doing things, both at home and in school, which makes them seem like "system busters" (nonconforming to any system).
None of mine have ever suggested better ways of doing housework or repairing the roof. I imagine Indigos will soon patent the perfect mousetrap.

They seem antisocial unless they are with their own kind. If there are no others of like consciousness around them, they often turn inward, feeling like no other human understands them. School is often extremely difficult for them socially.
Some housing estates must be suffering from Indigos. Slap an ASBO on them I say (for non-British readers this is an ‘Anti-Social Behaviour Order).

They will not respond to "guilt" discipline ("Wait till your father gets home and finds out what you did").
The discipline was presumably being dished out for their anti-social behaviour at school and their difficulty with authority.

They are not shy in letting you know what they need.
And if you’ve any sense you won’t be shy about telling them they can’t have it.

This latest American import was given a helping hand by Channel Four this week in Cutting Edge: my kid's psychic. The programme was completely devoid of any skeptical input and much time was devoted to professional ‘psychic’ Nikky Harwood and her (this goes without saying really) Indigo daughter Heather. We were shown how Nikky carefully nurtured Heather’s gift to save humanity to the point where she could start charging for it. Thanks to this promotional video funded by Channel Four the cash should be rolling in. Meanwhile in case you missed it and are wondering what evidence was provided the answer is bugger all.

Imagine there’s no heaven…
I’ve been giving some thought to the matter of religion. Now I accept that probably anything that could be said about this subject both pro and con has been said at one time or another, however the situation in the UK does concern me.

Having previously decided to invade a country full of Muslims that posed no threat to either us or America there seems to be a constant attempt to placate Muslims in Britain to make up for it. But my issue isn’t with Islam in particular but religion in general. It seems offending almost anyone is a hate crime which will invoke a call from your local police force. For example here’s a report drawn to my attention by our friend at Number Eighty.

http://uk.news.yahoo.com/28072006/325/woman-doghouse-jehovah-s-witness-sign.html

LONDON (Reuters) - A woman has been ordered by police to take down a sign on her garden gate which read "Our dogs are fed on Jehovah's Witnesses."

Pensioner Janet Grove, who owns a Jack Terrier puppy called Rabbit, insisted the sign was a gentle joke to discourage callers at her front door.

Her late husband put the sign up more than 30 years ago when members of the church called at their house on Christmas Day.

But police were forced to act after receiving a complaint.

"We were informed by a member of the public who found the sign to be distressing, offensive and inappropriate," a police spokesman said. "Officers attended the address and the sign was voluntarily taken down."

So now we have Jehovah’s Witnesses joining the line up of offended religionists.

Now I accept that getting a call from the police is considerably milder than the world wide Muslim protests calling for the blood of the Danish cartoonists but is this really a matter for the police? In anticipation of a knock on my own front door I thought I would try and clarify things in my own mind.

The first, and probably obvious, thing to say is that I have no belief in either an afterlife or a God. In fact I’m not actually sure what a ‘God’ is, as no religious person seems to be able to tell me. All the more curious then that they so fervently believe in His existence.

But despite my own lack of belief should I respect religions? Certainly there seems a popular notion that I should. The drawings of Mohammed outraged some Muslims who, at least in the media, said this showed a distinct lack of respect. The thing is though, I don’t respect religions. I don’t see how any atheist could. As far as I’m concerned they are all based on a fallacy. Why anyone should think the entire universe revolves around a highly evolved ape I just can’t imagine. In any case I believe that respect is something you earn and not something you demand as a right.

Next I wondered should I respect, if not the religion itself, the members of a religion? My answer is "‘possibly but not simply because they are religious". If I respect people it is because of their actions, things they actually do (and possibly why they do it) and not just what they believe. Some Christians work tirelessly to help the disadvantaged whilst others bomb abortion clinics. Some Muslims in the UK take exception to our government killing Muslims in Iraq. Personally I find comments of this kind appalling. I wholeheartedly oppose the war in Iraq but what made me ashamed to be British was the bombing of innocent people, whatever their beliefs. Is it me or does protesting about killing Muslims imply that other deaths are more acceptable?

Finally I thought about tolerance. Tolerance is surely a good thing, isn’t it? Well yes and no. I am more than happy to show tolerance to religions if they can accept that as a non-believer I am not part of their group and they should not try to interfere with my way of life. I further submit that religious groups should not be given extra privileges simply because they are religious. If I want to see a show that some religions think of as blasphemy then I should be allowed to see it. There should not be acts of collective worship in state run schools, neither should religious schools be funded from tax payer’s money. Abortion clinics should not be harassed because someone decides their religion disapproves and I should be able to choose to die rather than suffering an agonising death. And I don’t want a group of unelected Bishops sitting in the House of Lords.

As the saying goes, ‘Freedom of religion and freedom from religion’. However despite this being one of the most secular nations on the planet this hope is rapidly receding.


24th June 2006
Jerry Springer the Opera and the Foifits
Tonight (22nd June 2006) I had the privilege of watching Jerry Springer the Opera, what a fantastic show. I first watched it (thanks to the publicity created by Christian Voice) on the BBC but seeing it live some really something else.

The first thing that struck me was that Christianity has little or nothing to do with it and I really can’t see what there is for a Christian to find offensive. As far as I can gather the show challenges pretty much all aspects of the Jerry Springer phenomenon, the viewers, the guests and those that watch it. (I could be a little smug here by saying that I’ve never seen the actual Jerry Springer Show but having taken part in loads of Kilroy programmes [and one – the only one – TrJerry Springer:the Operaicia] I feel I should not cast the first stone.)

In the second half of the show Jerry, after being shot, descends into Hell and has to reconcile Satan and God – an obviously difficult task. This theatrical device helps highlight the ridiculousness of the Springer show, at least it did to me, and was in no way meant to be an attack on either Christians or their God. The show simply used Judeo-Christian mythology as a vehicle but not surprisingly there are some Christians who wouldn’t want to miss an opportunity to feel persecuted. After all the Sikhs had Bezhti and the Muslims had a few cartoons of Mohammed so it probably seemed only fair.

Sure enough after the show I was delighted to discover a small group of evangelical Christians eager to explain how terribly offended they were.

On a point of principle I refused to accept their little leaflet which explained just why they were so upset, instead I challenged them directly. Why did they object to the show?

With one of those smiles that only a Christian certain of salvation is capable of producing, I was told, that it was blasphemous. I asked how exactly. Well it depicts our Lord Jesus as a fat man wearing a nappy. I wondered how they knew what Jesus’s weight actually was but pointed out that he wasn’t wearing a nappy, more of a loin cloth. But then one of them told me the Jesus character said he was, “a little bit gay”. I agreed he did say that but, I enquired, how did they know he wasn’t gay? This question was clearly a no-brainer, the Lord their God said being gay was an abomination and thus Jesus could not therefore have been gay. Now that doesn’t naturally follow of course, for example some people might think cellulite is an abomination but that doesn’t mean they are cellulite free. Things get even more complicated (at least for me) by the theological muddle that is the Trinity, i.e. God the father, God the son and, to quote Billy Connelly, Spooky. God, I am often told, gave his only son so that the world might be saved. However if Jesus is God how could He also be His son and give Himself away? And anyway if God is omnipotent then presumably He can have as many sons as he wishes, daughters too even. (Though how God can have gender at all is another source of confusion). Not only that but I suggest God cheated. He gave His son (or Himself) only to get Him back anyway. In addition there was no need to suffer on the cross because an all-knowing being would already know what that’s like. But I digress, back to the demonstrators.

For clarification I asked one of them if he regarded homosexuals as abominations. Probably mindful of the microphone under his nose (two local students were recording the event) he refused to say explicitly but continually repeated that God said so and he believed the word of God. And here we get to the nitty-gritty, not only were they obvious bigots but they wore their ignorant loathing with pride. Their morality is defined by, and restricted to, the ancient texts of a nomadic tribe so I guess appealing to their humanity is going to be a waste of time.

Religion is constantly flexing its muscles these days and our present government seems only too happy to appease them. For example had this play offended Muslims then I have no doubt that Jack Straw, peace be upon him, would be falling over himself to express his outrage. Religions go by many names and I think it’s about time we had a collective name for them. My offering is ‘Foifits’ (pron. Foy-fits, like a New Yorker saying 'forfeits') which is an acronym of ‘Followers Of Invisible Friends In The Sky’. Appropriate to the three main religions at least.

I’ll be back soon to pass judgement on the latest tripe, “The Baby Mind-Reader” and I now have the recorded police interview of the only clairvoyant who has assisted a murder investigation.

Meanwhile go to The View from Number 80 and read, "Bye Bye Bunting"
and thanks to 80 for pointing out this brilliant piece by Polly Toynbee "This is your last chance to offend the holy zealots"


2nd June 2006
Non ghostly goings on.

I’ve been treating myself to a moan about the media lately and then a sacrificial lamb in the shape of a report from Leyland Today turns up. To be fair the reporter obviously meant it to be a fairly light hearted piece but even this will add to the steady drip of nonsense that is gradually eroding a rational approach to the paranormal. How long will it be before a local group of ghosthunters, armed with various devices purchased at Maplins and a token medium in tow will do their own ‘investigation’ and add a little more ambiguity to something that was never a mystery in the first place?

Ghostbusters busted

A GROUP of intrepid Leyland students got more than they bargained for when their film about the ghostly goings on at Worden Park proved too lifelike.

It is virtually impossible to find a report or article about ghosts that doesn’t contain the phrase, “ghostly goings on” particularly in local papers. My guess is that it used so often because it seems sort of jokey and non-committal. Reporters can’t quite bring themselves to take the subject seriously (with good reason) but on the other hand they don’t want to say the whole thing is a complete load of old bollocks (cloob) either.

Worden Park has long had a reputation for being haunted - which prompted three media students from Runshaw College to hold a mock séance in the Arts and Craft Café as part of their final project.

Nice and vague, “a reputation for being haunted”. This could mean absolutely anything. A rough translation would be that the place feels a bit creepy. As for a mock séance, how does this differ from a real one? Does it follow the ‘Most Haunted’ model? “If there are any astral beans present please give us a sign. We’re not scared. Throw something or do something utterly mundane and pointless.”

James Entwistle,17, Georgina Morris, 19, and Hema Patel, 18, set up cameras around the arts centre to record footage with the help of fellow student Rebecca McDermott - but what they saw next made them decide to pack up and leave.

Not as “intrepid” as we thought then.

James and Georgina are both fans of TV's 'Most Haunted' TV programme…

What a surprise!

and decided it would be a good idea to do their last project on Worden Park's ghostly history.James played the role of medium Derek Acorah…

An amusing thought. Someone playing the role of someone playing a role of medium.

but was soon feeling uneasy when he felt the temperature drop and his fellow students started to shiver.

Immediately we get the age old nonsense about a drop in temperature indicating that a ghost is nearby. How can this be? As far as I know no one has ever got hold of a ghost so as to test this hypothesis. And yet this factoid constantly gets paraded as though it means something. If ghosts can make the temperature drop then lets use them to run fridges and freezers and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Was this a genuine drop in temperature or just the subjective feeling of our not quite as intrepid as we thought students?

The group began the filming in the evening and locked themselves in to the cafe.
"We heard a crash from the kitchen next door but just ignored it," Georgina said. "We started the séance with James talking as we all held a cup in the middle of the table.
"We thought we'd get a connection with a ghost but were shocked by what happened next. The cup moved as the film rolled. Me and Hema screamed - we were petrified!"

They thought they would get a connection with a ghost? They make it sound easier than finding a gas fitter. Let’s look at what made them with terror – a cup moved. Holy Mother of God! A bunch of nervous teenagers were holding a cup and it moved. Of course it couldn’t have possibly been caused by the ideomotor response could it? But even if we generously allow that it moved entirely by itself (which I doubt, but still..) we cannot infer that it moved because of a ghost. Once again we have to consider the fact that we don’t know if ghosts exist and it they do we don’t know what they are made of or are capable of doing. All that can be said is that the cup apparently moved by itself and we don’t know why. It is not logical to say that we don’t know why it moved therefore it is paranormal. We could just as easily claim it was invisible elves.

The three teenagers decided to cut short the experiment after an hour-and-a-half but found that the door they had locked at the start of the exercise was now open.

What sort of lock? I’m assuming that they think some spectral lock picker did it, but I have another hypothesis, maybe they opened it and forgot. I’m willing to bet that if I suggested this to them it would be dismissed as nonsense. So how come it is less nonsensical to say a ghost did it? I sometimes forget to lock our back door. If I was burgled as a result would the police consider the possibility that a ghost had unlocked my door? Would the insurance company give it serious thought? No they wouldn’t and neither should readers of Leyland Today.

When the students replayed the video they could hear the sound of a deep sigh - even though none of them had made it.

Sigh.

Georgina suggested the location for the filming as she works part-time at the café and had witnessed at first-hand Worden Park's supernatural powers.
"I've seen some unexplained things while I've been there," she said. "The coffee machine pouring itself a cup and the commercial fridges turning themselves off. "

Now if Georgina means a jug from a filter coffee machine floated in the air and poured itself into a cup (adding milk and sugar) then that would take some explaining but it sounds more like a faulty dispensing machine. Fridges have thermostats don’t they? Nah too obvious. But again we have the suggestion that something unexplained can be used as an explanation.

The teenagers are all studying for a national diploma in media.
"I'm in no doubt it's haunted," she said. "And nor are my fellow students. Mind you, it's made for a good project."

Their certainty being based on what?

Worden Arts Centre used to be the derby wing of Worden Hall which was built in 1780. It is the last remaining part of the building after fire damage in 1941 and demolition in 1976.

It’s old then. Hauntings are virtually guaranteed. One day if this turns up on some future version of ‘Most Haunted’ we’ll hear the tale of the terrified students who ran screaming from the building and refused to go back.

Coun Matthew Tomlinson, cabinet member for community services said: " Worden Park has traditionally attracted visitors of the alive variety, but it's great to find out our facilities there are so good that some of our customers have chosen to stay for hundreds of years!"

01 June 2006

Finally a hint of reason.

You've been free to read the above, now go and read Irrespressible Info from 80 to find out why some might not.


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