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The South Shields Poltergeist

I've always thought that the Enfield Poltergeist was one of the best attested. It's often discussed, being relatively recent and the subject of a full length book This House is Haunted by Guy Lyon Playfair and Maurice Grosse. But here's a very recent case that is its equal in terms of persistent and extreme phenomena. It's described by paranormal investigators Mike Hallowell and Darren Ritson in their new book The South Shields Poltergeist: One Family's Fight Against an Invisible Intruder.

The case occurred over several months in a terraced house in South Shields, a coastal town in north east England.  It started in December 2005 with anomalous movements of furniture and objects, and the following June came to the attention of Hallowell and Ritson, who staged an investigation over a period of several months. The victims were a young couple, Marc and Marianne, and their three-year old son Robert.

Some typical incidents logged by the couple early on include the following:

21.4pm: We ... found two chairs had been stacked on top of one another on top of the table in the bedroom.

12.40pm: Bed, box and drawers were heard moving in [Robert's] bedroom] upstairs.

5.00pm. The chest of drawers [from Robert's room] was pulled out onto the landing on the top of the stairs and the large box full of stuff was moved from one bedroom to another.

5.10pm. While in the bedroom two toys were thrown at Marianne and Marc.

5.20pm: the door leading into the kitchen opened three times on its own..

Often investigators arrive after the disturbances have lost much of their force and don't see much happening. But that's not the case here. The authors were present during many of the disturbances, and photographed and filmed many of them. One particularly convincing incident was a plastic water bottle which one of them saw and photographed balancing diagonally on the table, a quite unnatural position.

Repressed emotion in living individuals is quite often thought to be responsible in cases of this kind, but the investigators soon rejected this. They had a strong sense of an independent entity wanting to stir up trouble.  In fact it soon became obvious that the poltergeist was trying to frighten the couple. Once they found their child's rocking horse hanging by one its reins from the loft hatch in the ceiling. In another particular sinister incident, a large toy bunny was found in a chair placed at the top of the stairs, holding a box cutter blade in one of its paws. The poltergeist also took to writing threatening messages on a doodle-board in the child's bedroom, and in the later stages sent text messages to Marianne's mobile phone, such as 'get you bitch' and 'You're Dead'.

As time wore on the phenomena intensified. Big red weals appeared suddenly on Marc's torso and vanished equally mysteriously, in front of several witnesses. The investigators watched cupboard doors swinging open, light-shades swinging, the quilt on the bed moving. The couple were seriously frightened when the child himself was moved. On the first occasion they found him lying on the floor tightly wrapped in his bed quilt, with a plastic table on top of him. The child himself seemed to be asleep, but his eyes were wide open, as if he was in a trance. Another time the child appeared to have vanished altogether, and was eventually found in a closet, tightly cocooned in a blanket.

In fact no real harm seems to have ever been done, but the couple were terrified, and the authors speculate the poltergeist was trying to create fear in order to generate emotion that it could feed from. They compare the case with the Amherst Incident of 1878 in Nova Scotia, where death threats to the occupants were found scratched on the walls.

What to make of it all? The case fits a classic pattern in many ways, and reads like a very detailed account of what we are long familiar with from other accounts. The investigators quickly eliminated any possibility of Marianne staging a hoax - she was obviously frightened, and in any case was not involved in phenomena they themselves witnessed. They were at first less sure about Marc, largely because he didn't seem to react very much to the incidents, and was the type who might have enjoyed playing pranks. But they were certain he could not have been responsible for incidents they witnessed themselves, and by the end of the investigation had totally abandoned any idea of fraud.

I'm certain this book will soon become a classic of its kind, a very full and detailed description of eye-witness testimony, that will be compared with the Enfield case (Playfair provides a short foreword) and the Columbus, Ohio case described by William Roll in Unleashed.  I'm not sure how much it will resonate with people who are not already convinced that such things do happen. I  would personally like to have seen more independent corroboration of the kind that one often gets in other cases - from reporters, police officers, social workers etc. It's true there are 15 or so statements from other eyewitnesses, but most of these are from paranormal investigators who the authors invited to the house, and only witnessed one set of phenomena. The quantity and quality of eyewitness testimony can count for as much as of the phenomena itself.

On the other hand it might not have been in the couple's best interests to involve other people. And it's good to see such a rich episode being written up so fully and so readably. As a recent in-depth description of a puzzling phenomenon the book has few rivals, and will be an important addition to the literature.


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Very interesting. I haven't looked into much literature on poltergeists but now you've piqued my interest. I may look into this book.

Aw, it's not on sale in the US website. Am I able to import this? As silly as it's sound, it's something I've never done before.

You should be able to, may take a bit longer. But have a look at the 'used and new' offers on the UK website - a couple of US dealers say they have it in stock.

I ordered it off US Amazon last night. I have previously ordered books off It worked well - not that much longer a wait.

Thanks for the tip on this book, Robert. I'm looking forward to reading it.

If spirits have the ability to do such things, why are the reports of such phenomena seemingly few and far between? One would think that there would be many spirits out there who would want to take advantage of an ability to produce such dramatic effects in our world, either for good or bad.


There are a number of answers to your question, but the simplest is that they do happen with great frequency. Poltergeist phenomena are very common.

What is unusual is (a) the strength of the incidents, (b) the length of the occurrences, and (c) the presence of independent observers.

By way of comparison, earthquakes happen all the time (at least where I live) but only the occasional one is strong enough to make the news.

Hi Tony,

Thanks! That is interesting. I wish these things were investigated more often, with less opposition from hard line skeptics. I also wish I could experience such phenomena myself, but without any negative aspects!

Hi.I'm one of the authors of The South Shields Poltergeist - One Family's Fight Against an Invisible Intruder. Just a quick post to say thanks for generating such a sensible (and interesting) discussion about our book. Keep up the good work - and all comments (positive and negative) are welcomed.

The best way to order our book is by going to The History Press website or ordering on-line form Amazon or whatever.

Finally...I just love Paranormalia.

Best wishes,

Mike Hallowell

Welcome aboard, Mike. My copy of the book came in the mail today, and I plan on reading it once I'm done with Opening Minds by Simeon Hein.

Thanks, Mike :)

Just a quick note to let you know that the official South Shields Poltergeist website has now been launched and can be found at

Co-author Darren says "Hi", and is well pleased with this discussion, as am I.

Our book has already started to cause ripples throughout the paranormal research community, and we wouldn't have it any other way.

Here's some breaking news exclusive to Paranormalia: We're working on a second book - a follow-up to The South Shields Poltergeist - and we're quietly confident that it will be more riveting than the last. You heard it here first, folks.....

Best wishes,

Mike (and Darren)

I looked at The South Shields Poltergeist website. The visuals and language used seem very sensational to me -- like reading a tabloid newspaper instead of a site about serious research.

Interesting comment, but the website is about us and what we do - period! Our serious research and work is kept for our books! a website is a website, its there to keep people informed of what we are doing, thats all, So does it matter what it looks like, or reads like....?


"The visuals and language used seem very sensational to me"

I'm puzzled. The "visuals" simply are what they are - a record of things as they transpired and were not sensationalised in any way. I'd be interested to know which specific images you're referring to, and why you feel they were "sensationalised".

" reading a tabloid newspaper instead of a site about serious research".

I think it would be better to judge the way we've treated the subject by the content of the book, and not by a website which simply gives a brief synopsis of the case. Further, if we're to be accused of not engaging in "serious research", I think it would be better to criticise how we actually conducted our research instead of criticising the style of our website, which is a totally separate thing.

Personally, I think that there's an attitude amongst some that anything "serious" should be presented in a dry, academic manner. This might please high-brow sophisticates,but doesn't go down well with the general public. Darren and I attempt to cross the line and make our books appealing to both the serious researcher and the lay-person alike. Remember - Guy Playfair wrote the foreword for our book, and no one would accuse him of not being a "serious" researcher! For him to be so enthusiastic over the book I guess we must have done something right.

Just in case anyone thinks we can't cut the mustard when it comes to "serious" research, you should know that we have lectured about the case at the Society for Psychical Research to an audience of well-qualified peers - and very well received indeed.

We don't want our work to be lightweight, but neither do we want it to be stuffy and boring. Obviously we can't please all of the people all of the time - but we try to satisfy as many as we can.


Mike and Darren,

It was not my intent to criticize the quality of your research, as I have not yet had the opportunity to read your book, although I hope to at some point. Your research may well be outstanding. I have always felt that poltergeist phenomena is worthy of being taken seriously, although I've never experienced it myself. All I was doing in my comments was sharing my personal reaction to the appearance and some of the wording on your site. I guess I was expecting a site that would look more like the Society for Psychical Research site. I don't really have any problem with the photos on the site, but more with the graphics and colors used for the text. And it's just me. For all I know your site may draw many open minded people to read your book, and that would be great! I would think that ideally your documetation of this case should bring the scientific community to its knees! But the book will have to be widely read for that to happen, I guess.

Hi Mike,
Thanks for the feedback. We'll bear in mind your observations and see if the site can be improved - we're always happy to receive ideas as to how it can be made better.
Another point to bear in mind is that we're not professional web-builders and probably have made a few bloomers!
I know that I tend to use colours too much (you should see my lounge - its like an explosion in a paint factory)but bear with me - I'm trying to moderate my tastes!

Best wishes,


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