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Enfield Poltergeist Explained (Again) – The Hyde Version

Posted on 31 January 2014, 17:12

For more than thirty years since the Enfield events ended, Janet, the (then) twelve-year-old who was the focus for much (but not all) of the activity, has done her best to avoid publicity, taking part in just one TV interview and one with a journalist. So I was quite surprised to learn that she had agreed to appear on ITV’s This Morning (February 23rd 2012), but only on condition that I also took part which otherwise I would have refused.

It could have been worse. Janet was clearly not at ease in a TV studio, but interviewer Phillip Schofield treated her very gently and let her have her say, after which I had mine. Then, inevitably, it was time for the ‘sceptic’ of the day to have the last word, as they always do, and assure viewers that there was a rational explanation for everything they had just heard. This is known in TV-speak as ‘balance’.

Today’s duty debunker was Deborah Hyde, editor of the CSI-    (formerly CSICOP) backed The Skeptic, whose day job is makeup artist for the film industry. Thus she has experience in creating artificial reality, which she put to good use on this occasion. Rather than commenting on any of the actual evidence or bothering to question Janet or me about anything at all, she embarked on a Platonic monologue on the nature of human fallibility. Here she goes:

“Human beings are remarkably bad at remembering things, and seeing things accurately. We see things that aren’t there, we don’t see things that are there. It’s very easy to impose top-down processing – ideas that you already have about the world get imposed on what you’re seeing… It’s very difficult to say this happened or that happened…” and so on. But how about the evidence?

A skilled make-up artist has no problem covering that up. After running out of vague generalisations, she resorted to outright misformation: “It’s a fascinating story, but we forget all the people who disagreed – Graham Morris had issues with it, Mary Rose Barrington from the SPR [Society for Psychical Research] had her issues with it. There was a subsequent study by the SPR that concluded that the girls were faking it…”

Eh? Wait a minute. Let’s look at our primary source material, starting with what photographer Graham Morris actually said on the most accurate of the many documentaries about the Enfield case, the Antix programme produced by Tom O’Connor for the Paranormal Channel. Graham’s opinion was based on numerous visits to the house, initially for the Daily Mirror and subsequently in his own free time. He managed to take a number of sequences on his Nikon motor-drive that show such hard-to-explain phenomena as pillows moving on their own, a curtain twisting itself into a tight spiral, bedclothes pulling themselves back and Janet rising into the air without her bedclothes being pulled back, in full view of her mother. His overall opinion of the Enfield case, based on his considerable first-hand experience of it:

“To me it was easily the most fascinating thing that’s ever happened in my life, beyond a shadow of a doubt. It was fascinating to be a witness of the whole thing.”

So much for his ‘issues’. How about those of Mary Rose Barrington, a solicitor and longtime SPR Council member with considerable experience of both careful examination of evidence and the investigation of spontaneous cases, including poltergeists?

With three colleagues, Peter Hallson, Dr Hugh Pincott and the late John Stiles she carried out a meticulous follow-up study of the whole case including interviews with almost every witness to the events, including the girls’ mother, whom she found ‘perfectly sane’ and questioned at length, obtaining ‘some very clear testimony’ which she found ‘impressive’. And did she conclude that the girls were faking it all? No, she didn’t. Here is her actual conclusion, which Deborah Hyde seems to have missed:

“There is every reason to think that there was poltergeist activity in the house.”

To her credit, Deborah Hyde did allow her to elaborate as follows, in the Summer 2012 issue of The Skeptic:

“It is fashionable to invoke ‘fallibility of observation’ to repudiate attested facts that are unwelcome. But all knowledge rests on testimony, and it behoves listeners to exercise judgment and make a rational assessment of its reliability, not to dismiss it with empty generalisations. There is in fact nothing clever or scientific about making a blanket decision to reject testimony that does not fit with one’s beliefs as to what is possible.” 

Another well informed commentator was Alan Murdie, also both a council member of the SPR and a lawyer with plenty of experience of collecting and evaluating evidence and presenting it in court. As a member of the society’s Spontaneous Case Committee, he regularly investigates reports of ghosts, haunted houses, poltergeists and assorted anomalies.

Writing in Fortean Times (No. 288, 2012), he noted that Deborah Hyde “avoided any detailed challenge to either witness, preferring to speak in general terms about the fallibilities in human testimony… As a result, the chance to test the credibility and reliability of two key witnesses in Britain’s most famous 20th century poltergeist case was lost.”
And here’s his conclusion:

“This case is not mere folklore or tradition but one with evidence and witnesses, together with recordings and contemporaneous documentation available to be assessed. However, judged by its performance so far, organised ‘skepticism’ …  is never going to convincingly explain the Enfield poltergeist, certainly if its critics are not acquainted with the facts, do not question the original witnesses and never make even a cursory examination of the collected evidence.”

It’s the same old story. Don’t bother trying to explain or even mention the evidence, when throwing the baby out with the bathwater is less demanding on your powers of reasoning. All in the cause of ‘scepticism’, which to the Ancient Greeks meant questioning and examining. I’m sure Plato would have had ‘issues’ with this dismal display of vacuous pseudoscepticism.

Guy Lyon Playfair’s books include:
If This Be Magic: The Forgotten Power of Hypnosis
The Flying Cow: Exploring the Psychic World of Brazil
This House is Haunted
Twin Telepathy




Thank you,Scott Fanelly, for your kind comments on my Enfield book. I am glad that those dreadful TV and film versions attracted so many new readers, who all now know what really happened!
I’m still getting asked how I felt when I was levitated up to the ceiling, as seen on the Sky version, which like almost everything else in it was fiction and not fact.

best wishes,
Guy Lyon Playfair

Guy L. Playfair, Thu 14 Sep, 22:48

Hi Mr Playfair
Sorry to jump track I’m a bit of blog novice.
I just finished “...flying cow…”. “Chico Xavier” and “this house is haunted”.  Thank you for your excellent writing and research. In the Enfield case I can’t help but think that the discarnate Janet Grosse led you and Mr. Grosse to this case in order to expose some fairly nasty entities and possibly prevent an even nastier possession situation involving Janet Harper.  Due to her grit and determination a potential tragedy was turned into a triumph, just an impression I got.  Once again, thank you for dedication. 
I’ve been studying all things “paranormally phenomenological” for the past 30 yrs and it always comforts me to read intelligently well-researched phenomenological accounts.  I approach it mainly from a philosophic perspective (it’s not all the way dead) in an attempt to form a more unified theory and i very much appreciate solid pieces to the immense mosaic. It’s quite frustrating at times to still be engaged in the infantile debate over whether these phenomenon exist instead of being able to move past this in the face of the volumes of scientific evidence and get into the discussions of what these phenomenon are and how they relate to us and our place in the cosmos. You have my respect and gratitude.
Scott Fanelly

scott fanelly, Tue 12 Sep, 16:16

Just finished reading the Enfield book, really enjoyed it. Id love to hear the original recordings.

Darren, Tue 21 Jun, 12:27

Hello Guy.
I just started reading the enfield book (the 2011 updated version).
It’s fascinating to read.
Any chance of getting a scribble on it from your good self ?.

John O'Neill, Thu 14 May, 18:30

Darren - Not yet, I’m afraid, but they will eventually be in the SPR archives in Cambridge University library.

G.L.Playfair, Tue 5 May, 11:06

Is the full audio uneditied recordings available anywhere, including the voices?


Darren, Mon 4 May, 20:10

No, as Rupert Sheldrake is fond of pointing out in his talks, all you need to do to become a professional sceptic is just say you are one. No qualifications needed.

guy Lyon Playfair, Tue 12 Aug, 19:34

I’d thought a PhD in physics would be required of a professional sceptic not an NVQ in eyeshadow.

Mona, Tue 12 Aug, 18:03

I’ve also been a bit slow to catch up with everything but glad I have found yours, of which I agree with every word. Many thanks indeed.

Guy Lyon Playfair, Thu 1 May, 01:25

I am doing some belated catching up with the blogs and I am a bit surprised that there has been no comment on this one. 
I an unendingly amazed at the utter disregard for scientific and investigative discipline displayed by the pseudo-sceptics when they accuse all investigation of matters like this of exactly the same thing!!
The core problem is that the media in general has no expertise on which to make judgement and so call in ‘experts’ to make critical or condemnatory comment.  There is, of course, no obligation for the ‘experts’ to display the slightest sign of scientific discipline.
To be consistent, they should therefore be obliged to call in a shaman or a witchdoctor to make ‘expert’ comment on the latest cancer research reports.
Les Harris

Leslie Harris, Sat 5 Apr, 02:47

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