The day a poltergeist attacked me: Skeptical about the supernatural? So was the Mail's MICHAEL HELLICAR - until he saw events so chilling they still haunt him to this day.
Journalist Hellicar was sent to report on the 'Enfield Poltergeist' in 1977
Over the summer, some 30 people witnessed the ghostly goings-on
Story to be told in series starring Timothy Spall and Matthew Macfadyen
The Enfield 'Poltergeist' Incident was a period of several years worth of high strangeness. A much under reported fact about this case is the girls played with an ouija board before the paranormal events began.
Enfield Poltergeist Full Story and Video
The first sign that something was amiss came when the children’s Lego bricks were hurled at me by an unseen hand. The next came a few minutes later, when a heavy kitchen cabinet crashed to the floor at my feet. Yet I had been alone in the room — or so I thought.
Scariest of all, though, was the very palpable atmosphere of fear. A malevolent spirit seemed to have taken up residence, moving the furniture, emptying drawers, sprinkling water, lighting matches and causing general mayhem, forcing the terrified Hodgson family who lived there to huddle together in dread.
It seemed to centre its attention on 11-year-old Janet, who was levitated above her bed, sent into violent trances and made to speak in a rasping male voice. Many of the 1,500 psychic occurrences there were not only independently witnessed but are verified by investigators’ photographs and audio tape.
No wonder the Hodgsons’ unremarkable council semi in Green Street, Enfield, North London, became notorious as the most haunted house in Britain. The story is being told in a three-part drama which starts on TV next month. Timothy Spall and Matthew Macfadyen play psychic researchers called in to investigate the haunting, and Janet is portrayed by 13-year-old Eleanor Worthington-Cox, who won an Olivier Award for best actress in the title role of Matilda in London’s West End.
It is creepy stuff, with moody music, special effects, dramatic acting, emotionally-charged dialogue and skilful editing; a mix that will ensure viewers go to bed afterwards — if they dare — with goosebumps.
However, for all the technical trickery and artistic licence, it is nowhere near as horrifying, nor as mystifying, as the real events on which the story is based.
I know, because as a newspaper reporter sent to write about the hauntings, I witnessed many of them first-hand as they unfolded 38 years ago in the summer of 1977. So did some 30 other people including police officers, neighbours, other journalists and BBC staff and even passers-by.
The Enfield Poltergeist, as the ghostly visitor became known, first made its presence felt soon after Janet and her older sister Margaret, 12, played with a ouija board.
‘The girls were changing into their nightclothes and complained something was making their beds wobble,’ their mother Peggy (played on screen by Rosie Cavaliero) explained to me after the haunting began. ‘I told them to stop messing about.
‘The next night, I heard screaming and banging coming from their room after they had gone to bed. When I went in, a heavy chest of drawers was sliding by itself across the floor, trying to block the doorway. The girls were terrified.
‘I pushed the chest back against the wall, but it slid towards me again. I tried, but I couldn’t stop it. I wondered if my two younger boys [Johnny, 10, and Billy, seven] were playing pranks, because they also slept upstairs, but they weren’t anywhere near the room.’
Over the next few weeks more furniture moved of its own accord; plates, cutlery, toys and books would go flying, and one night things were so bad Peggy called the police, who arrived to see a sitting-room chair lift off the carpet and move towards them.
One of the officers, WPC Carolyn Heeps, later reported: ‘It came to rest after about 4ft. I checked it for hidden wires or any other means by which it could have moved, but there was nothing to explain
In desperation, the family called in the scientifically respected Society for Psychical Research, who sent two members, Guy Lyon Playfair, the Cambridge-educated author of several books about psychic phenomena, and businessman Maurice Grosse to investigate.
Playfair, portrayed in TV’s dramatised version by Matthew Macfadyen, said: ‘I went in a few weeks after the trouble started. I had an open mind, and looked for a logical explanation. I soon found there wasn’t one.’
His first experience of the Enfield Poltergeist was when a marble appeared from nowhere and dropped like a stone at his feet on the lino floor. Over the next 14 months he would visit the house on almost 120 occasions — sometimes the ghost would be quiet, but on many others it would be running rampant.
On my first visit, it was as if the Lego throwing was an initiation — a newspaper photographer, Graham Morris, had already had a block hurled at him. Even more puzzling, the blocks were hot. And when I checked the wall fixings of the cabinet that had fallen to the floor, the screws were still in place. Janet was dismissive when I told her what happened. ‘Oh, that’s not unusual,’ she said. ‘What’s really annoying is when it pulls out all the drawers and leaves everything on the floor.’
Enfield Recordings and Transcript
On subsequent visits I experienced cold draughts, graffiti, water puddles appearing from nowhere, bad smells, and chairs and tables moving of their own accord. Other witnesses reported physical assaults, matches bursting into flame and fleeting glimpses of different apparitions, including an old woman and a man.
Spookiest of all, an imprint of a body would be found on one of the beds, as if someone had been sleeping there. Peggy would straighten the sheets, only to find the shape back again later.
On another night when the family were together in the sitting room with me, there was a slow rapping coming from Janet and Margaret’s bedroom, directly above. We dashed upstairs, but no one was there.
A few nights later, Guy Playfair heard ‘a tremendous vibrating noise’ coming from the same empty room. ‘It was as if someone was drilling a great big hole,’ he reported. He went in to find the fireplace torn out from the wall, where it had been cemented in. ‘It was one of those old Victorian cast iron fires that must have weighed 60lb. The children couldn’t have ripped it out of the wall, but in any case they weren’t there.’
On another occasion, with all the children in bed, the other SPR investigator, Maurice Grosse (portrayed by Timothy Spall in the TV drama), was downstairs compiling notes when he heard Janet screaming. He ran to see her being dragged out of her room by an unseen force. She was then hauled down the stairs and dumped at his feet.
Like so many of the ghostly incidents, it was recorded on audio tape, and some were caught by a remote camera set up by Graham Morris.
Not that the Enfield Poltergeist made it easy — Morris would set up his expensive equipment with flash guns powered by freshly charged batteries, only to find them quickly draining. Tape-recording was often difficult, too — a BBC team’s state-of-the-art machine, which worked perfectly outside the house, would sometimes inexplicably jam once inside.
Pictures show Janet being levitated off the bed, curtains twisting themselves into a spiral, pillows being thrown, sheets being pulled off the sleeping children. When I asked Janet if she realised she had been whirled across the room in her sleep, she said she had somehow drifted through the wall into the house next door.
‘I can tell you exactly what I saw,’ she said and described where various objects were situated. I checked with the neighbours, Vic and Peggy Nottingham, who confirmed everything in their bedroom was placed just as Janet had told me.
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