Scottish poltergeist story is highly questionable, even if the police say they saw something

Cross posted from Doubtful by Sharon Hill

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A story about a family in Rutherglen, Scotland, who called in police to report paranormal phenomena, rode the media wave yesterday into today. The original source was the local Rutherglen Reformer paper that appears digitally on the Daily Record (UK) website. Here is the main story: Rutherglen family call in police after witnessing paranormal activity

A desperate Rutherglen family were forced to call in the police after witnessing apparent paranormal activity in this home.

[…] officers were left stunned when they witnessed clothes flying across a room, lights going on and off, oven doors opening, mobile phones flying through the air and even a chihuahua dog on top of a seven foot hedge.

The terrified family, who live on Stonelaw Road, called police in a panic on August 8 and 9 after two days of bizarre occurances. It is understood a sergeant and two PCs witnessed the incidents.

Several question IMMEDIATELY arise and are not answered by any of the news reports:

  • Who were the officers who responded?
  • Did the offices actually witness what is described? Where are the detailed reports?
  • Did the family call on both days? Why?
  • “It is understood” that various policeman witnessed it – what does that mean? Why are no names included?

I looked for all reports of the incident. What I found was a repetition of the Daily Record story with the same unsourced quotes. All stories include a stock photo of a chihuahua, as well, which I thought was humorous. Adding the bit that the dog was affected by the phenomena adds greatly to the interest in the story, but also allowed for some egregious exaggeration as I note later on.

Let’s establish the situation, though. In a nutshell, the story is a parade of second or third hand anecdotes, lacking details and specifics, by the family (a mother and teenaged son) and unnamed police sources. Not very credible at all. Here’s what else we get from the same piece [with a timestamp of 10:09, 13 AUG 2016 BY DOUGLAS DICKIE]

And another source was quoted in our sister paper, the Daily Record, saying: ““These were incidents that were witnessed by our own officers. Incidents that are not easily explained.”

“But officers with more than 20 years’ service are saying they’ve never seen anything like this. It really is something that down-to-earth police officers are having trouble getting their heads round.”

Is this “source” an official police spokesperson? Why no name? That is very suspicious and not credible. Another article from same media source provides this incredible headline.

‘Poltergeist’ baffles hardened Police Scotland officers after they witness paranormal activity including levitating dog [13:00, 13 AUG 2016 BY JANE HAMILTON]

“Baffled” is used far too often. But did they really witness a levitating dog?

Even a chihuahua dog which was playing in the garden was then discovered sitting on top of a seven-foot hedge.

A source said: “The officers attended expecting it to be a mental health issue but they witnessed the lights going off, clothes flying across the room and the dog sitting on top of the hedge.”

Apparently, the dog just appeared on a high hedge and there is not a witness that it levitated. So, this headline claim is, technically, a lie. All we get from a sourced spokesperson is this:

A spokesman for Police Scotland said: “On 8 and 9 August police attended a house in Rutherglen to reports of a disturbance. No evidence of criminality was found and advice and guidance was given to the family.”

That’s a typical official statement. But it’s not at all like the unnamed source info. Was one of the officers providing the source information? Was it firsthand? We just do not know but that would be actually important details to have.  So, we can list what seems to be reliably true as follows:

  1. A family is having some serious issues in their home, and
  2. The cops investigate and find no criminal activity, but confirm the serious issues exist. They provide no explanation – that’s not their job.
  3. The police are not used to seeing this type of report so it’s a bit bizarre for them and they don’t know how to handle it. (Baffled might not be the exact right word for this, then.)

The family is said to be “devoutly Catholic” and “extremely distressed” having “experiencing violent and unexplained circumstances”. They left the residence and are living with relatives. There is no word on if the activity followed. The new report says the cops contacted the Catholic Church.

The family at the centre of the drama are devoutly Catholic and police did seek assistance from the church.

A priest has been to the house in Stonelaw Road and performed what has been described as a ‘blessing’ at the property.

The police also appear to be investigating the family’s background and history of the property to see if similar reports occurred. It’s also noted that they are “working with doctors and social services to provide support.” That’s a very reasonable course of action.

What should we think of this story? First, note the popularity of Enfield poltergeist tale this past year. There were two movies about it including the big budget and completely fictionalized “The Conjuring 2” giving the story from 1977 new life. When such stories are passed around, they are more apt to be remembered and believed as true, even if portrayed as fiction.

Second, I immediately noticed the similarities to the Ammon family case of early 2014. This case also had Hollywood-like depictions of a haunting and played up the points that credible witnesses like the police and medical staff had been a bit freaked out by the events. The same exaggeration of anecdotes took place. The facts were almost certainly less dramatic. Professional investigators weren’t allowed in. Another common point is that the Ammon family was religious as well, believing in demons. It’s worth consideration that these two cases stem from religious families because their beliefs frame and direct the interpretation of anomalous events and what to do about them. Then some rather mundane or innocent events take on a frightening life of their own.

This Rutherglen story was posted on my Facebook group Group of Fort – a serious discussion about anomalies and paranormal claims in the news. Again, the idea that police witnessed it was used to bolster the idea that it’s true and should be taken at face value. I disagree. It’s a fallacy to assume that just because a police officer (or a doctor or a pilot or a scientist) says they saw something weird means it should be considered more reliable. It bears attention, for sure, since they are not motivated to suggest they have experienced the unexplainable. But, even police make bad witnesses sometimes and can be fooled by misinterpretation. Everyone can. Anecdotes are really poor evidence because the witnesses are inherently biased by their worldview and are not usually in a position to objectively observe what is happening. The situation is certainly not controlled and usually can’t be replicated under controlled conditions. Why give special weight to the police observations regarding these observations as paranormal? Any visitor to the house could have reported seeing the exact same, unexpected, things.

Today, the mother has spoken out about the unwanted attention they are receiving. Unfortunately, the Shreenan family is experiencing the backlash of paranormal news events as well as being deluged by many self-proclaimed “experts” of the paranormal offering their services. The Daily Record reporter of this story also takes these “experts” ridiculous claims of paranormal interventions as true. None of these folks are objective or scientific. They believe in the paranormal and work to reinforce that belief. It’s guaranteed they would find something in the house if they are allowed to go in. And it’s certain that an objective comparison of all their independent reports (controlling for cross-contamination, of course) would be different and not provide any testable hypothesis or reliable conclusions that could be used as convincing evidence of a poltergeist phenomena. I say that securely because in over 100 years, we still have no convincing body of evidence to say what, if anything, poltergeist (or hauntings) are. We have a lot of stories. We have a lot of speculation. That’s all.

The Daily Record keeps updating the story with new pieces, knowing a hit when they see it. They contacted “Scotland’s only official demonologist,” Jason Love. Love commits the same fallacy as the others by thinking that, “The testimonies from the police strengthens the case that this was poltergeist activity.” It does no such thing.

Love is a psychiatric nurse and, as such, provides some good advice about what he would first explore such as physical or mental activities going on in the background, psychiatric issues, or medications that can cause hallucinations. He also points out that, “If you have a parent who says they’re hearing and seeing things, soon the child will pick up on that and begin to ‘feel’ these things too.”

In other words, if the parent is a believer and frames these concerns in a way that suggests paranormal or supernatural entities, the child can be deeply affected and will be drawn into that scenario as well. It’s too bad that Love then goes off the deep end with talk about “residual energy” and baseless (and wrong) paranormal tropes:

This is when visual ghosts actually manifest on the property and are usually connected to the house or the land. It could be that the property was built on an old graveyard, battlefield or even a convent.

He puts forth unsupported speculation about the “negative energy” of adolescents causing poltergeist activity, speaking as if he is an credentialed expert in polt activity. I would refer instead to actual professionals in parapsychology who have studied poltergeists and who admit they don’t know what causes the incidents. Psychic “energy” isn’t plausible, doesn’t make scientific sense, and isn’t supported by solid evidence. Rampant speculation that sounds more like it came from a movie script (which is might have) is very different than the tone from historical parapsychology researchers. To top it all off, the Daily Record mentions that the TV show Most Haunted was contacted. So, you know where this is going – on to the faux-documentary para-reality junket. How annoying. If this really IS unusual activity, it should not be relegated to pretend investigation for a TV show.

This is where we run into a big problem – one that I’ve been focused on for the past several years. The media reports these stories as real, and self-styled inexperienced paranormal researchers and “psychics” descend on the story and play the investigator role. Then, journalists treat them as actual experts and as knowledgable. It presents a distorted view of logical and rational investigation since what these ghost hunters are doing is not investigation but reinforcing the socially popular belief in the paranormal. It’s sham inquiry in order to present a dramatic setup and conclusion that the world is mysterious and baffling, and that paranormal activity exists. This is not how we establish facts and reasonable conclusions to questions about the world. Inquiring minds just don’t want to believe, we want to KNOW.

Science is the best way we have of gaining reliable knowledge. Science is a long and difficult process undertaken by a community with resources and rules to follow. What science isn’t is one or even a number of people with anecdotes that can’t be reproduced, tested, or verified multiple times. A sound conclusion requires a collection of evidence with threads that intertwine and reinforce each other to support a common plausible explanation for what is going on. It can even be a new and bizarre explanation but it has to be supported by things we already know to be true and to make internal sense.

Poltergeists, ghosts and hauntings have been studied exhaustively by amateurs and professionals for over a hundred years. We still can’t even define what they are or how to reliably experience them. So how can we come up with well-rounded explanations about them? Sources like the Daily Record and all tabloid news sites that love to cover stories like these, write shallow accounts in contrast to the type of thorough, careful reporting that I would like to see. I’m afraid a boatload of cases will never be enough unless these data collectively can be verified and ultimately provide an internally consistent, testable theory about the phenomenon.

That doesn’t mean that cases like this aren’t really interesting. They probably have some fascinating explanation (or several explanations). Just not a paranormal one. The Daily Record editorial staff noted that this family needs support. They do. They deserve help. Just not from amateur investigation groups or people who call themselves “demonologists”. But, once again, this media outlet mischaracterizes the situation by reinforcing the police officer’s credibility as witnesses. The Daily Record has overblown the reports by the police and provided very little facts to back up their dramatic headlines. Instead, they are rolling with the popular appeal of the story, even providing related footage that is not only hoaxed but misattributed and unchecked.

Inline with the Rutherglen story updates is this one: Spooky Footage Shows Poltergeist Trashing Man’s Home as It Hurls Utensils and Slams Doors, dated 13 August 2016, claiming a video titled Angry Demon Ghost destroys kitchen shows a kitchen being trashed by a polt. The Daily Record says it was recent, by a man named Brad Prior. But Prior’s YouTube page dates the video January, 2016. And, Brad looks exactly like a known YouTuber called Mellowb1rd who produced a series of videos just like this years ago. Oh, wait, the same video was posted on Oct 1, 2010, also as “genuine” even though Mellowb1rd has been roundly accused of faking every one of these sensational videos with clear thread. That’s some extraordinarily crappy “journalism” there, Daily Record.

Notice the drawer and cabinet door open and things fly around, but they don’t close and nothing defies gravity. Only the open oven door closes. Conveniently left open. The videos are immediately dubious as they can be reproduced without recourse to supernatural entities.

This startling local paranormal story reveals that the Daily Record is a poor source of factual news. If this was a real confounding case, I would hardly look to them to provide respectable reporting of it.

I have reached out to the Society of Psychical Research in the UK to see if they have been contacted and if they will investigate this spontaneous case. They don’t commonly do that as much as they have in the past. And, ideally, such an investigation should include trained skeptical investigators who have definitively exposed past hoaxes. I’d like to see some reliable, objective and informed reporting on this curious case, especially in the media. I’ll keep wishing… but it won’t happen. Spooky tales get eyeballs and clicks – that’s all that seems to matter to the media.

  26 comments for “Scottish poltergeist story is highly questionable, even if the police say they saw something

  1. Perry
    August 14, 2016 at 4:32 PM

    Have you thought about sending this to the Daily Record? I doubt it would make a difference in their reporting, but it would be interesting to know how they reply to your criticisms, though I suppose they would just ignore you.

  2. Jani L
    August 14, 2016 at 4:48 PM

    You seem to have contradictory information in your version of the story. On the other hand, you are saying that you have no idea what happened. And while you have no clue what’s going on, your diagnosis is that family needs help. Maybe they do, maybe they can manage quite well without any help. Maybe they are just making up good story for newspapers, and they do not need any help with that. Who knows.

    Usually journalists contact first police, not parapsychological society, if there are claims that someone has reported some cases to police, such as claimed rape, or as in this case, claimed poltergeist activity. Police can either confirm or deny that they have called to investigate such case. If they deny, you can doubt the whole story. If they confirm, you can be relatively sure that there is claimed poltergeist activity going on, and you can try to find out more details from the mentioned location.

    And you do not need SPR to study claimed poltergeist case. Maybe they do get interested, maybe they do not. Either way, even one individual can do a lot with little spying cameras etc. if they are allowed to study & record such case – thus you have opportunity to look for wires and record general view from the scene while spying cameras are doing most important part of the job, in the case something happens while individual does not see the whole thing (as it often does, I guess). In the past this was done by leaving camera on the scene and letting people understood it was off while camera operator was elsewhere, but in the modern days you do not need that kind of tricks.

  3. Robert Turner
    August 14, 2016 at 6:16 PM

    This is exactly the sort of long, substantial, meaty work we have come to expect from you. Good to have you back.

  4. BobM
    August 14, 2016 at 9:44 PM

    X2. I thought the site had been abandoned. 🙂

  5. Darren Middleton
    August 15, 2016 at 11:11 AM

    Great Article, i did the same thing that you mentioned as soon as i read this, look for all the reports, and i feel exactly the same, nothing concrete in Evidence is actually provided, your right, if the police witnessed it, why not give their names? although the ridicule they would get from friends, colleagues etc would be immense, i sort of understand why they wouldn’t.

    Tbh most stuff that is reported in tabloids is always exaggerated, and weird stories like this always get hyped more than what they actually were. Ive been interested in this all my life, and have yet to find anything that cannot be determined by Science.

    Dont believe this is for publicity etc, however something is going on with this family, convenient that a Priest has already been to “Bless” the house. Yet no mention of his name either?

    Too many unanswered important questions to actually understand all of this at prsent

  6. it's me
    August 17, 2016 at 8:39 AM

    Great article., In all of history nothing paranormal has ever been proven. We always find a rational ,reasonable explanation to those unnatural events. Most who believe these types of stories are the religious because it is already imbedded in their minds , that these things are real and do exist in our world. I would need much proof and evidence of such claim before believing it.. and this story has none of that.

  7. Graham
    August 19, 2016 at 12:49 PM

    Welcome back. Thanks for a great article.

  8. Mark
    August 20, 2016 at 2:36 PM

    Although its obvious that i may be talking rubbish and lying to you, i personally know a police officer and hes confirmed that although he wasnt there himself, the official report made by the police officers does not contradict the daily record article at all .

    A female police officer went upstairs and whatever happened she was outside very soon refusing to go back in.

    Yes, police officers are human too, but they are certain as to what they seen.

  9. August 20, 2016 at 6:59 PM

    Sorry, that isn’t helpful evidence. Just hearsay.

  10. August 20, 2016 at 7:00 PM

    Certainty is no indicator of accuracy.

  11. Chris f
    August 21, 2016 at 8:18 AM

    I notice you said you said that this case will have a explanation but just not a paranormal one so my question is this how do you know there is no paranormal explanation and what gives you the right to say what is and what isn’t I suggest your not even open to the possibility of the supernatural this one fact alone disqualifys you from any true and honest enquiry.cf

  12. August 21, 2016 at 12:18 PM

    Show me a case that is unequivocally “paranormal”. The term is exclusionary – that which appears outside normal. To include ‘paranormal’ as an option makes no sense. The best you can possibly say if you can’t find a reasonable explanation is “I don’t know”. It’s not reasonable to think any investigator can exhaust all possible non-paranormal options. Our imaginations are limited and people and nature are creative.

  13. Charles
    August 22, 2016 at 1:53 PM

    False. Science is about description (observation) first. You can try an explanation after.

  14. Kevin
    August 24, 2016 at 12:53 PM

    Just heard about the ‘Rutherglen poltergeist’ from a Scottish friend who – despite a university education and an otherwise critical mind – seemed halfway inclined to believe the story, whereas I instantly smelled a rat in all the plausible-looking but crucially unsourced ‘evidence’. My friend read out the first few Google hits from the Daily Record (a Scottish rag hardly known for its objectivity), but failed to scroll down a little further to your site, which – as I’ve just let him know – does a pretty effective demolition job on the whole silly affair!

    I stopped believing in fairy tales around the age of four, and see no reason to do otherwise in this case. But in a world where Harry Potter can be praised by adults as ‘literature’, I guess we realists are a dwindling majority.

    Anyway, keep up the good work!

  15. Chris f
    September 18, 2016 at 10:29 AM

    My case still stands, it’s something that’s outside the natural realm,also consider the Cardiff poltergeist and the Enfield case both of which multiple witnesses were observing things beyond the natural no I think that when a case comes up like this the naturalists come in and poo poo it they do this because of there hatred of anything supernatural thank you again for your time and allowing me to respond sorry I hadn’t replied I’ve been busy have there been any updates on this case since the article? Kind regards cf.

  16. Chris f
    September 18, 2016 at 11:01 AM

    I post this to show you bias worldview when it comes to the supernatural notice he says no matter what we can’t allow a divine foot in the door in other words even if the evidence does point to supernatural we have to eliminate it sounds really bias to me

    Amazing admission
    Professor Richard Lewontin, a geneticist (and self-proclaimed Marxist), is certainly one of the world’s leaders in evolutionary biology. He wrote this very revealing comment (the italics were in the original). It illustrates the implicit philosophical bias against Genesis creation—regardless of whether or not the facts support it.

    ‘Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.
    It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.
    The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that Miracles may happen.
    [but see the difference between origin and operational science—Ed.]’
    Reference
    Richard Lewontin, Billions and billions of demons (review of The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan, 1997), The New York Review, p. 31, 9 January 1997.

  17. Anon
    September 19, 2016 at 1:56 PM

    The property is a ground floor flat. Explain how the officer could go upstairs?

  18. PatHana
    September 19, 2016 at 2:16 PM

    A while before this incident was reported I had been experiencing poltergeist like activity in my own home (which I have evidence of). I posted about the activity on a forum as I had also dreamt the poltergeist was about to get ‘up to something’.

    Less than a month later this report from the Daily Record appeared.

    I thought it significant since I pass this house almost every day and live quite close. I’m not connected to the house or the occupants in anyway that I am aware of.

    The activity in my home has not stopped however.

  19. September 19, 2016 at 2:36 PM

    Unfortunately, we can’t do too much with personal claims of activity like this. So, I don’t have a response to that. Lots of people perceive weird things going on. There is typically never enough information supplied or obtainable to make a decent conclusion about it.

  20. PatHana
    September 19, 2016 at 2:56 PM

    I could back up my claims to the activity with witness testimony & electronic logs; it triggered infrared motion sensors on three separate occasions. I could provide links to the posts which show clear time and dates of postings highlighting the post where I predict through dream that it was going to do something.

    I have witnessed things moving right in front of me.

    You’ll require extra-ordinary evidence I’m sure.

  21. September 19, 2016 at 3:26 PM

    Yes because you are suggesting that something extraordinary is happening. But all those things you mention can have many of alternative explanations that are not extraordinary.

    In order to demonstrate that there is something new and extraordinary at play, we can’t just rely on eyewitnesses and incidents that people interpret as paranormal. It has to make sense based on what we already know to be true – gravity, thermodynamics, psychology and unreliability of eyewitness testimony, for example. That will give us understanding.

    I and most of the community of people who do science are not ready to throw away centuries of established knowledge for some incredible stories. I know that sounds harsh and it will not delegitimize your feelings or beliefs, but just reflects why there is strong skepticism about this topic.

  22. PatHana
    September 19, 2016 at 3:54 PM

    Strange weak magical forces observed thousands of years ago before electricity was really understood were probably considered magical and paranormal and thus dismissed by some and not others before someone’s epiphany allowed us to wield these weak forces evolving our understanding of the electromagnetic, quantum & nuclear theory and the like.

    An observable all-encompassing fractal like force in the form of the ‘standard model’ in physics complemented with other supporting theories and quantum interpretations of ‘observable’ phenomenon; all open the potential for possibilities including but which are not limited to the paranormal. In my opinion.

    Eyewitness testimony is a good place to start. If you dismiss eyewitness testimony because it’s your website’s policy or because someone told you to, then you are not doing science or yourself any real favours. You could bias the results.

    Scientists are people too who bias and misinterpret data. They even make mistakes.

    I understand your scepticism. I am a rational person myself. I hope you experience something which smashes your rationality to bits as I have. However, Sciences’ understanding of the Universe is incomplete, it is evolving but large parts remain open to speculation and open to interpretation.

    To suggest you have all the answers by which to dismiss my observations is quite frankly rude, especially since you have not taken the time to examine, or simply to even properly consider any evidence I would/could present.

  23. Perry
    September 19, 2016 at 4:42 PM

    “Eyewitness testimony is a good place to start.”

    As a lawyer, I know from experience that eyewitness testimony is some of the easiest evidence to refute. Even as a law student with minimal experience, representing clients in minor cases where jail terms were not at risk, it was very easy for me to confuse and undermine a prosecutor’s witness who claimed to see certain things.

  24. PatHana
    September 19, 2016 at 4:48 PM

    A successful argument might even include said evidence.

  25. September 19, 2016 at 6:43 PM

    I never suggested I have all the answers. But, we currently have the technology and understanding to measure and predict such minute forces. Yet no evidence of psi? After 100 years of trying to explain ghosts, we are no closer, we are farther. It is rude of you to say that your experience is so special that it trumps all of human knowledge and understanding to this point and to assert stuff about science that isn’t correct. A scientific process is meant to reduce bias as much as humanly possible.

    I explained what it would take to make the case for paranormal events. It hasn’t happened even after thousands of reports that turn out to be unreliable. Your personal testimony is of as much value to me as that coming from informercials or political ads. It’s not reliable. I’m sorry if that comes off as rude but you are making the claim with the thinnest of evidence, not me. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

  26. PatHana
    September 19, 2016 at 6:56 PM

    Infomercial and political ad: I offer you my ‘invaluable’ and ‘unreliable’ testimony for you to happily reject. “The surrounding events of this article coincided with events that took place in my home which is in the same town as the aforementioned house.” :-p

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