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Saturday, 27 May, 2000, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
Who you gonna call?
Hollywoods interpretation of ghostbusters
Hollywoods interpretation of ghostbusters
Ghostbusters have moved into Hampton Court Palace. But who are these real-life detectives of all things paranormal? By BBC News Online's Jonathan Duffy.

If objects start flying around your house and a mysterious knocking is visited on your walls, who are you gonna call?

Ghostbusters are not just a figment of Hollywood's imagination, they exist in real life as well. Now, one of Britain's leading ghost hunters has moved into Henry VIII's old home, Hampton Court Palace.

Dr Richard Wiseman, researcher, writer and lecturer in psychological phenomena at the University of Hertfordshire, has set up thermal imaging equipment in the palace.

He hopes to hunt down the ghost of Catherine Howard, one of Henry's six wives, who was accused of adultery and beheaded at the age of 20.
Catherine Howard
Ghostly presence - Catherine Howard

Fellow ghost hunter, Maurice Grosse, has been working in the field for 25 years and he has been called out to hundreds of cases. While he takes issue with Dr Wiseman's methods of research, he believes strongly in what he calls "anomalous phenomena".

He relies on video cameras and tape recorders to track his quarry. But even that does not always match up to the rigours of the job.

"The problem is that you are using physical instruments to look at a non-physical phenomenon. If an apparition was seen be a human being there's no guarantee that a camera would pick it up, and vice versa," he said.

Don't call me a ghostbuster

He shuns the folksy term "ghostbuster" partly because he does not simply look for ghosts. His main area of interest is poltergeists.

These can take the form of spontaneous fires and water rushing down a wall (which can suddenly dry up, leaving no trace) as well as psycho-kinetic activity - movement of physical objects with no physical means.
Hampton Court Palace
Haunted house - Hampton Court Palace

It was this sort of activity Mr Grosse witnessed in the case of the Enfield poltergeist - probably the best-known poltergeist case in recent history.

In 1977, he led an in-depth investigation for the Society for Psychical Research - an organisation of which he is a member and which has researched paranormal activity since the 19th Century.

The case, which centred on a council flat in north London, made headline news at the time. It started when a chest of drawers shifted across the floor of a child's bedroom.

This was followed by objects being catapulted across the room and, eventually, the poltergeist used one of the children as a conduit for its voice, says Mr Grosse.

Six-month stay

"It was the biggest case I've been involved in and probably the most documented there has been in the whole world," he says. He lived in the flat for six months and witnessed poltergeist activity almost every day.
Pictured by ghostbuster Julie Hunt
A "ghost" pictured at the Ram Inn, Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire

For those that believe in such things, the thought of sharing living quarters with a poltergeist is enough to instil sheer, unbridled terror. But not for Mr Grosse.

"I'm not scared, certainly not of the unknown. I do this as a job and so I have to be professional.

"For most people it's a very upsetting phenomenon. It goes against everything that one's been taught about the rules of the physical world."

Consequently, he finds himself often having to deal with distraught "customers". But his belief that most poltergeists are not stirred up by restless dead souls is a comfort to some victims.

Social worker

"There is a social services side to the job. Most poltergeist phenomena are caused by a very high level of stress among people. I'm talking about marriage problems, drinking problems, someone who is seriously ill."

Unlike the Hollywood Ghostbusters, he does not set out to capture ghostly spirits - in fact, he doubts they can be captured. Instead, he says, they tend to go away with time; as stress levels in a household fade.

"A success as far as we are concerned, is to have got scientific evidence that proves a phenomenon has existed."

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24 Apr 99 | UK
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