Ghost Hunters: The Case of the Gorton Poltergeist

I enjoyed this episode actually. It's largely people looking pissed off and slightly frightened about the freaky things allegedly going on in their houses. It's rather fun to see Maurice Grosse at the end too. I think when I saw it years ago I was more cynical and suspected it was all to do with wanting a different house. But I didn't feel like that this time. Even if I suspect there's a bit of exaggeration going on.

I didn't even feel that annoyed about the medium (at least she screwed her face up at the mention of the local ghost club, as though she suspected they weren't helping much) and we didn't have to see her in action. She just showed the traces of domestic violence in one of the houses, which was an interesting sight. Do poltergeists cause violence or does violence cause poltergeists? -it's a bit of a chicken and egg. Having said that there didn't seem to be any young people or tensions in the Cardiff garage case, which is also featured one of the Ghosthunters episodes. When I can summon the money I will be getting Tony Cornell's book on the subject.

This is a nice episode to end on. Because yes, I have been obsessive enough to have now completed the entire run of programmes (sad, but true). I do wish there were more series a bit like this. The sensationalist spin on modern programmes is just tedious. I want straightforward anecdotes from people experiencing weird things!

Alan, Housing Officer: There was no refuting it. There were two people that had told me hand on heart they had ghosts– a difficult thing to do.  Approaching people in official positions to say something they could be ridiculed for.

Tony: And all of a sudden, like, I think I said something to her (now I can’t remember exactly what I said) – but all of a sudden I got this big bang – in my ribs, in my back, sort of thing. And it just threw me  - well, a good 12 foot.

Mandy: I actually saw Tony being lifted up from the landing and actually land into the baby’s bedroom. Flat on his face. And I was just screaming.

John: The house takes on a whole new meaning  at night time. In the daytime it’s like a different house. At night time, once it starts to go dark, the atmosphere seems to change altogether.

Vinny: We were sat in the living room one night and we heard a muffled scream, well, more like a cry. When Mandy and myself have gone upstairs we found Chloe, the baby – she was in the cot with a blanket tied round her head.

Pam: The baby was actually waking up at half eleven every night, crying out ‘babba babba’, so she was only just starting to talk then. So I thought I’ve actually had enough of this. So I moved her into the bedroom with me. And at certain times in the night she’d actually wake up, hold her arms out – nothing there – say ‘Ah, babba’ as if something was there. And then one minute I woke up one night, and she’d actually been put behind the headboard.

Narrator: Not far from the centre of Manchester, in the north west of England, there is a typical 70s housing development. Several hundred houses lying very close together, front doors facing one another across narrow streets. People live in one another’s pockets on streets like this, inevitably sharing the details of one another’s lives. It is a most unlikely setting for the paranormal. And yet, several people here are deeply frightened – not, as you might expect, from hooliganism or vandalism, that is not the problem. The fear is of the unexplained and the unpredictable: the paranormal activity that has broken through the everyday pattern of their lives to make them fearful of things outside their normal experience.

Vinny: Chloe’s very frightened, she’s a different child altogether since this has all been going on. She more or less refuses to go upstairs, especially of a night time. In the day time she’s not too bad but of a night time she will not go upstairs. She just stands at the bottom of the stairs screaming.

Mandy: It’s not really helping me what with being pregnant again, the stress of it. It’s getting too much now. I mean I’ve already nearly lost this baby what with everything that’s been going on.

Pam: Tony stayed over, because he wasn’t with me all the time, and he found that at the end of the night, about two o’clock in the morning, he went to actually turn off the television. So he went down on his knees and turned the telly off, then turned the lamp off, and then actually went behind the television and turned it off and plugged it out, and he was in pitch, pitch black then. So he got up and everything came on full blast. The telly came on, the light came on, full blast. So he ran straight up the stairs, got me and said ‘Pam we’ve definitely got a ghost!’

Tony: I was just sat there watching telly. The dog was there mucking about, and then all of a sudden, like, he had a bone in his mouth and it was like someone was pulling on the other end of it, because he was pulling back. Nothing was there.

Narrator: Just round the corner from Pam and Tony, no more than a hundred yards or so away, there are two other families who’ve had their lives disrupted over the past few months by a series of totally unexplained events. There was nothing jokey or light hearted about this, there is no doubt about their fear. When they’re asked to characterise it they talk of a sense of deep foreboding, perhaps associated with a sighting that’s claimed to be of an older man, and several young children seeking help.

Vinny: This house and the house next door was a farmhouse. Now in my hallway, that used to be a ginnell between the farmhouse from room to room. Apparently a  man lived there, and he had so many children captive there, so many years ago, and he, he was a nasty man, he’d done dirty deeds with these children.

Mandy: I saw something out the corner of my eye, and I looked down the hallway and there was just this young girl stood there, she was about seven or eight. She was there for a matter of minutes and then just disappeared as quickly as she’d appeared. I’ve seen a man run through the house, that was not so long ago, and it’s a bit scary.

John: We were watching the telly, and Sandra had gone to bed, and I was asleep on the couch downstairs. And I woke up, and I could hear some whispering. And she’s got two armchairs, and I could hear some whispering from one chair to the other. I couldn’t understand what it said, I couldn’t make it out. But it was definitely somebody whispering to each other.

Sandra: A couple of weeks after that my daughter went to bed, I went up not long after, and she came to my bedroom about five minutes after I went to bed, shouting that a cold feeling from her ankles up her body went through her, and she couldn’t speak. As if she was paralysed, she couldn’t speak, she couldn’t move.

Vinny: I was in bed one night, I woke up, it was about half past three in the morning. And as I’ve looked towards the bedroom door I saw the figure of a little girl. She looked quite like solid to look at. I’ve tried to wake Mandy up. But as I’ve woke Mandy up to show her this little girl, she’d gone. And I’ve actually seen baking trays come flying off the top of my cooker. Now in the living room we have plates on the wall. The other night they started rattling, these plates, so I’ve had to take the plates off the wall. You know, noises and banging. It’s pretty scary, it does get a bit scary.

Narrator: What do you do when you’re confronted with the unexplained in this way? Something totally outside the bounds of normal experience. It takes courage, great courage, even to mention it to a friend or neighbour. But that’s what these people eventually did when they became frightened for the their children’s safety. They turned first of all to the church, to a priest. Not, they would say, to very much effect.

Sandra: I got in touch with the vicar and the vicar came here to talk to me. And he tried to have an explanation for everything that was happening. He just tried to make me feel better.

Pam: I went to see the priest at the local church, and erm, he said I’ll pay you a visit. And anyway he came round, and he was fobbing me off saying there’s nothing, anything happening there. I mean I’ll come back and see, but that was the last I heard. So when I came back, I came back with Tony’s mum, the dog, and the baby. So we sent the dog in first hoping the dog would pick something up. And the dog went in and was sniffing round like an idiot. And then I went in, because he was too scared to go in. And the house, it was like it’d been ransacked, there was pillows all over the floor, cushions all over the floor – it was a tip.

Narrator: Next in line of authority lies the Housing Officer: the man responsible for all the day to day [hassle?] on the estate. At first he also was inclined to brush it aside. But as he says himself, he couldn’t. He was forced to confront it as a reality, as several families came to him clearly frightened and needing help.

Alan, Housing Officer:  I was quite amazed to find the church didn’t really want to know. The local vicar wouldn’t deal with it. Well he dealt with it in a bit of an offhand way and more or less dismissed it. And I thought, if the vicar’s dismissed it what am I supposed to do, you know? I took as much detail as I could, promised to get back to her. She wasn’t on the phone so it was always going to be awkward. But I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. Erm, I left it at that, it was just a note on a piece of paper left on my desk. But within a week I found myself going through exactly the same interview with another family, who live about 50 yards away but around the corner. Now this family, I interviewed them as a complete family, I was quite amazed that they’d all come in, giving one another support. I then realised I’d spoken to this woman’s neighbour, a long time before, certainly before the first interview, it was about three or four weeks ago. A very agitated girl who simply wanted to move. She wanted to get out the house. She gave all sorts of irrational reasons, because there was no way of proving what she was saying. She was saying the most incredible things about the attitude of her neighbours towards her. Being victimised, being attacked. And she couldn’t produce evidence of it, there were no police reports forthcoming, so… I actually just left that on file. But I was actually a bit worried that it was just next door to this woman who now says she’s got ghosts. So I just took a chance. I asked her to be discrete, I asked her to go to her neighbour, as her neighbour, and say ‘we’re having some strange problems, are you experiencing anything?’ But I said, try not to give the game away, don’t be precise about what’s happening. And she left, she left with that. And the next day I was going about my work, and she appeared. This is Sandra. She appeared in the doorway and she was gesticulating that she wanted to speak to me. So I went over to speak to her, and took her into an interview room, and she said ‘Yes!’ And I said ‘Yes what?’  She said – ‘She’s got ghosts.’ And I couldn’t believe that. Now I’ve got three families and one hadn’t disclosed, and wanted to move. My belief in the situation was total now.

Narrator: So what exactly is going on here, and how unusual is it on a modern housing estate. When we began to research these questions we found to our surprise that events like it seem to occur right across the country. Alan’s counterpart, for example, housing officer in Brixton, South London, was Harry Cleverley.

Harry Cleverley, Retired Housing Officer: When people were disturbed or frightened and so forth, the majority of housing people just laughed and said they were soft in the head. And I went along and I could sense the atmosphere and I knew that they weren’t. Some were of course. We had some  try it on to get a new flat. Some would come along and say ‘we’re haunted’ and I’d say ‘No you’re not!’ But in a lot of the cases this was true, and the people were terrified. They had no reason to be terrified, but they were. And I used to get called to – not only in my own council, I went up to Nottingham and did some exorcisms up there, friends of mine. And there was a council estate there that was haunted. And the reason was that the previous owner of the land resented the council estate being built on his land. And this is what frequently happens, spirits are still possessive, they’re still materialistic, they think ‘that’s mine, what are they doing on my property.’  And you have to explain to them that it’s no longer your property and you no longer have any need for it. I felt I had a responsibility to these people who were living in the property, and if the property wasn’t up to scratch then we had to do something about it. If the roof had leaked, the councillors would have had to sanction work to be done, and they would have done. But if it’s something like a spiritual thing, they didn’t believe it.

Narrator: The fact is of course that we don’t live in a society that accepts the paranormal as real, so when it does occur, or seem to occur, the natural reaction is to brush it aside and seek any other possible explanation rather than confront it. When we looked into the history of this area we discovered it had been built on a site formerly occupied by rows of Victorian houses which had been built to house the workers in the cotton mills. Before that it appeared to have been church land, partly used for farming, partly as a large burial ground. But there were no clear leads. But if you’re responsible for a modern housing estate where people tell you their houses are haunted, who do you turn to? Alan, in some desperation, turned to the local ghost club.

Kenny, Stockport Ghost Society: The Stockport ghost society became involved in the activity in these houses on this estate in the beginning of June. We was called in by the council because apparently there was three or four houses that were having unnatural activity within their homes, i.e. banging, footsteps, even people sort of walking through the living room or running through the living room. And the council didn’t know what to make of it, they didn’t know who to turn to, so they got in touch with us. So we came down. And the first thing we do, obviously, is interview the tenants. At the end of the interviews we found it really uncanny that all the people were giving the same sort of story. So with the council’s permission and the tenants’ permission, we got a number of people together from the ghost society. We was all sat very quiet one night in this house. I was sat at the back of the room,  one of my colleagues was sat in an armchair facing me. It was very quiet, we had the light subdued but not dark enough as you couldn’t see each other or see the surroundings. I was just sitting, watching, listening – it was very quiet. And then suddenly at the side of my colleague Barbara appeared a fourteen, well appeared a girl, a young girl, that I estimated to be at least fourteen years old. Although she only remained for at least three to four seconds, it was long enough for me to get a description of her, and to write it down. And the description was – yes, she appeared at least fourteen to fifteen, she had long hair, sort of lightish brownish hair, she had a very dull grey long dress on, up to her knees. She had what appeared to be greyish socks on, which didn’t quite come up to her knees and left a gap between the edge of her dress and the top of her socks. And brownish shoes. But whether it was imagination on the shoe side of it, it appeared that she had one shoe that was built up, and gave me the impression that she had one leg longer than the other.

Narrator: Kenny and his group came to a dead end. And as the paranormal activity continued, they turned to a professional psychic medium who had been involved at the estate previously as part of another enquiry. Helen, the medium, immediately claimed that she picked up a sense of evil. She was even prepared to describe it.

Helen, Psychic Medium: I first realised that there was a man here as soon as I walked in, actually. I think I mentioned it to Kenny, who is a member of the Stockport Ghost Club [grimaces]. Then I felt the presence on the stairs and I could see a hooded… a dark… clothes, not a dark person, but a dark entity on the stairs. I feel sort of a…. a religious type person. But I feel he hid behind that. And the real person underneath wasn’t so good. But people came to him because of that.

Narrator: Helen visited to the houses and spoke to the people. She then decided to hold a séance, to provoke an encounter with whatever was causing the disturbances. But the séance was inconclusive. Several people claimed to have sensed the presence of something evil, but there was no direct confrontation, no resolution. By definition, the paranormal is slippery and elusive, it doesn’t correspond to worldly timetables. But there was a clear sense of frustration and violence in the houses.

Helen: It sometimes causes…  bad temper in the people that live in these places [a door is full of holes], it causes them to react with violence and temper.  Er, I think that all three houses have had… little pockets of bad energy like this. I don’t know what to call it. But you find it a lot. It’s also in that other house but has been covered up.

Narrator: So what sorts of explanation can we find for what is going on on the estate – apparitions apparently flitting from one house to another. Constant poltergeist activity, that is to say bursts of unexplained energy moving things around, even apparently throwing a man across a room. There are it seems two main schools of thought on the basis of this kind of activity. One is that it’s generated by the people involved.

Maurice Grosse, Paranormal Investigator: I would say that there are forces at work which we don’t know anything about at all. Maybe one day we will. And how the mind is controlling those forces. Because there’s no doubt about it in my mind anyway, that these forces are controlled by the mind. I am fairly convinced in my experience, that high stress situations cause poltergeist phenomena. Of course they don’t cause it to everybody! Otherwise we’d have poltergeists all over the place. But to certain people, we don’t know why, in certain situations, these high stress situations, they happen. But I would think it’s probably a housing estate that’s overpopulated, people might be having monetary problems, and I think that these conditions are a breeding ground for high stress, which in itself brings on poltergeist phenomena in some cases.

Kenny: Poltergeists will feed on pure energy, it will feed on your fear, it will feed on your electricity in your house. It will feed on your children. The more you fight, the more you row in your house, the more angry you become – he loves it. And it appears that this is what’s happening around here.

Eddie Burks, Psychic Medium:  Because we’re not familiar with them, and they come as an awful shock, we don’t know how to deal with them. And we try to deal with them sometimes by exercising our will against them. But this is futile. A characteristic of evil is the development of the will, in a negative sense. And so any attempt that we normal persons make to negate their effects, we are operating a less practised will.

Narrator: But several distinguished paranormal investigators would argue that poltergeist activity is closely related to spirits or entities, call them what you will, trying to make contact in some way with the living world.

Prof. David Fontana, Society for Psychical Research: It may well be that if your belief system encompasses something like this, if you believe that there’s life after death, that events of this kind would strengthen that belief, because it would seem as though the personality of somebody who’s died that persists for some time after death, and still wants to interact in some way with the living people. Some of these cases are associated with particular houses and people that have lived in the house years ago. And one explanation put forward sometimes is that the person doesn’t realise they’re dead, even, and they’re hanging round the place where they used to live, and they may be  rather disgruntled to find other people  living there in their house. And so they make all sorts of disturbances to try and drive people out. That’s one explanation. It very much depends on your belief system. If you’re a very very hard nosed scientist of course you have to fall back on the idea that people are either fools or liars. But the number of cases that we as a scientific society have gathered over the last century would rather discount that. Because these are not just things that happen to very impressionable people. They’re things that happen to people very much like you and myself, open-minded people who are reasonable witnesses, who know what has happened to them.

Narrator: So what advice might these people give to the people on the estate? Is there anything practical they can do to calm their fears, or break out of the cycle of events?

Maurice Grosse: I would say to the people in Gorton, the best way to tackle this is to tackle it head on. To recognise that phenomena is happening. And that first of all it’s not going to harm you. It looks as if it’s going to harm you, but it won’t harm you. Get interested in what’s happening. Once you’re interested in what’s happening, take the stress out of the situation and you’ll find it’ll start to diminish. But while it is happening, because I don’t believe that in most cases anybody can actually do anything about it except the people themselves involved. Once they reduce that stress situation they will find that the activity will start to go away.

Narrator: Significantly none of the experts rubbished the events, they didn’t question the fact that something was taking place. Nor did they question the reality of the fear. When we visited the houses at night, the families were camping out on their living room floors, afraid to go upstairs. It was almost like a scene shot during the war. And once implanted, fear is difficult to eradicate. Several people simply want to move away.

Sandra: Like before I moved here I could go to bed any time I wanted, one, two, three o’clock in the morning, and I was on my own then. But since I’ve moved here I haven’t been able to do that. I’ve been going to bed about half past eleven because I’ve been too scared to go after that.

Mandy: I’m worried about what’s going to happen to Chloe. With being pregnant as well I’m trying to keep as calm as possible with all the things that are happening, it’s hard to.

Sandra: I want it to all clear up, that’s all I want, so I can get back to normal.

Vinny: We just want to be rehoused, and get out of here, and put it behind us and try to get on with our lives.

Narrator: One family already has moved away, unable to cope with things they can’t see or touch or even begin to explain. Those unexplained events continue.

Tony: Basically you just can’t believe that things you’ve seen in movies and everything could happen to you. You think it’s all far fetched and you just sit down and watch it. Until it happens to you  - then you know there is something out there.