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Thursday, 29 March, 2001, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
Palace ghost laid to rest
Hampton Court Palace BBC
An Elizabethan figure has been "seen" at the palace
The ghost of King Henry VIII's fifth wife may be little more than a draught of air, say psychologists.

If you suddenly feel cold, and you're in a haunted place, that might bring on a sense of fear and a more scary experience

Dr Richard Wiseman
The famous Haunted Gallery at Hampton Court Palace near London, UK, is reputedly stalked by the spirit of Catherine Howard, who was executed on 13 February, 1542, by a monarch apparently enraged by her pre-marital affairs.

Visitors to the room have described hearing screams and seeing apparitions in the gallery.

Concerned by the reports, Hampton Court authorities called in the professionals.

Elizabethan figures

A team of ghost-busting psychologists, led by Dr Richard Wiseman of Hertfordshire University, installed thermal cameras and air movement detectors in the gallery.

About 400 palace visitors were then quizzed on whether they could feel a "presence" in the gallery.

More than half reported sudden drops in temperature and some said they sensed a ghostly presence. Several people claimed to have seen Elizabethan figures.

But Dr Wiseman's team said the experiences could be simply explained by the gallery's numerous concealed doors.

These elderly exits are far from draught-proof and the combination of air currents which they let in cause sudden changes in the room's temperature.

Column of cold air

In two particular spots, the temperature of the gallery plummeted by up to 2C.

"You do, literally, walk into a column of cold air sometimes," said Dr Wiseman. "It's possible that people are misattributing normal phenomena.

"If you suddenly feel cold, and you're in a haunted place, that might bring on a sense of fear and a more scary experience."

At one stage, the experts thought they might have discovered a supernatural intruder.

It was 0600BST when the thermal cameras detected a figure moving about the gallery. But when it walked to a cupboard and took out a vacuum cleaner the experts realised it was no ghost.

'Ghosts' of plague victims

Dr Wiseman is not only an expert in the psychology of the paranormal but a professional magician.

He said people's own beliefs in ghosts or other phenomena, coupled with the power of suggestion, played a large part in any reports of a ghostly presence.

About one in seven people believe they have seen or felt a ghost at some time in their lives, he said.

Dr Wiseman's team is due to visit Edinburgh to look at reported hauntings in the city castle, its South Bridge Vaults and Mary Kings Close, where plague victims were walled up.

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