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Friday, 14 August, 1998, 18:25 GMT 19:25 UK
Hypnotist cleared
Paul McKenna and manager
Paul McKenna with his manager, Clare Staples, on the steps of the HIgh Court after hearing the verdict
The hypnotist and stage performer Paul McKenna has been cleared by the High Court of turning a man who took part in his live stage performance into an "aggressive schizophrenic".

The High Court in London ruled that Christopher Gates, who sued Mr McKenna for 200,000 in damages, had not proved that he was affected by the experience of acting as a volunteer from the audience.

After handing down his judgment Mr Justice Toulson said that it was "perfectly understandable" Mr Gates should have believed that his sudden descent into schizophrenia was caused by the hypnotic experience.

He added that although his ruling would be a disappointment to Mr Gates and his "devoted" girlfriend Beverley Gibbs, his "misfortune in developing the disease" was of "natural origin".

On learning of the ruling Mr McKenna said: "While we feel great sympathy for Mr Gates and his family, today's verdict has proved conclusively that hypnosis was not and could not have been the cause of his schizophrenia."

Speaking outside the High Court Mr McKenna said he was "delighted" by the ruling, which he said cleared audience participation shows like Blind Date and The Generation Game. He said he was now planning a new series of his own shows in the UK.

Christopher Gates
Christopher Gates: Admitted to hospital nine days after taking part in McKenna's stage show
Mr McKenna said the judge's decision "will bring about an end to the series of alarmist sensational stories about hypnosis being dangerous."

He added that although he sympathised with Mr Gates, who received legal aid to bring the case against the hypnotist, the case had cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds "yet it should never have come to court".

"The Legal Aid Board were presented with the evidence before trial by my lawyers and should then have made an independent assessement that this case was inherently flawed."

"The time has come for the waste of taxpayers' money and injustice to non-legally aideddefendants to end."

'Bitter disappointment'

Mr Gates - a former furniture polisher who had told the court he lost his job as a result of the hypnosis - and his girlfriend were said in a statement from his solicitor, Martin Smith, to be "bitterly disappointed" by the judgment.

"It was never going to be an easy case but with three eminent professionals, one of them at the cutting edge of research into what happens to the brain during hypnosis, concluding that Chris's illness was triggered by what happened on stage, we thought we had enough to win.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith, Christopher Gates' solicitor: "We thought we had enough to win"
"The judge has found that the illness and the hypnotism were merely an unfortunate coincidence."

Mr Smith added the judge "set great store by the fact that there was no evidence before him of similar cases. For legal reasons we were unable to put before the court details of several cases involving Mr McKenna, with which we are dealing, in which other people allege they have suffered damage after taking part in hypnotic shows".

He said that if these cases had been put before the judge along with that of Mr Gates, "the outcome might have been different".

Mr Smith said the judge had not ruled that stage hypnosis was safe.

"We are quite certain that in future all stage hypnotists will give a proper warning of the dangers involved in volunteering to take part in a stage hypnosis show," he said.

The judgment follows from a two-week hearing last month in which Mr Gates, from High Wycombe, said that nine days after going to see Mr McKenna's stage show, during which he was invited up from the audience to take part, he suffered an acute schizophrenic episode and had to be admitted to hospital.

Mr Gates, 30, had told the court he was still hearing voices four years after seeing Mr McKenna's show, and would be forced to take drugs for the rest of his life as a result of his condition.

Mr McKenna had denied negligence and said Mr Gates' illness was not caused by being hypnotised.

'The star of the show'

After volunteering to take part in the show the hypnotist told Mr Gates he was a ballet dancer, Mick Jagger, an interpreter for aliens from outer space, a contestant on the show Blind Date, the conductor of a orchestra and a naughty schoolboy.

He also told him he was wearing special glasses that allowed him to see people naked.

Mr McKenna took the stand during the hearing and told the court he remembered Mr Gates as the star of the show.

Mr Gates told the court that following his performance he suffered severe headaches and was unable to sleep that evening. The next day he began giggling and crying at a redundancy meeting at work.

He later lost his job.

He said he heard "mumbling voices" which he believed belonged to Jesus or Moses.

'Afraid to have a shower'

Christopher Gates and Beverley Gibbs
Gates and his girlfriend, Beverley Gibbs, arriving at the High Court during the hearing
His girlfriend. Beverley Gibbs, wept in court when she testified that Mr Gates became convinced he was going to die and that God was watching him.

He became too scared to go to the toilet or have a shower because he believed Paul McKenna was lying in wait for him, she said.

Mr Gates also believed someone from the TV show Coronation Street was sending him subliminal messages from the fictional pub the Rovers' Return, telling him to stop drinking.

On another occasion he started laughing uncontrollably at a Freddie Starr show, the court was told.

Mr McKenna told the court he would never subject stage volunteers to a "traumatic, frightening and humiliating ordeal".

"My show is a fun show which people choose to participate in or choose not to if they wish."

Mr McKenna denied Mr Gates' allegation that he was brought out of his trance in an unprofessional manner.

Asked whether he believed hypnosis could trigger schizophrenia, the hypnotist said: "No, I didn't believe it then and I don't believe it now."

In his closing speech to the court at the end of last month's hearing Mr McKenna's counsel, Roger Henderson QC, had warned that all hypnotism stage shows may have to stop if he found that they brought on mental illness.

Paul McKenna and hypnotised volunteers
Willing participants: Volunteers under McKenna's hypnotic spell
Sillito at the Hiigh Court
The BBC's David Sillito was at the High Court for the verdict
Paul McKenna interviewed on News 24
Hypnotism is perfectly safe: Paul McKenna interviewed on BBC News 24
Paul McKenna outside High Court
'This proves hypnotism is safe': Paul McKenna outside the High Court
See also:

20 Jul 98 | UK
21 Jul 98 | Entertainment
24 Jul 98 | UK
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