The Whittington Hospital Ghost

This article was originally published on the on January 18th 2012  on the London24 website by Kate Ferguson (reporter).  You should be warned however, that It starts off quite clichéd. Here is a small excerpt:

 “A bolt of light flashes across a corridor, and the illuminated face of a young boy appears out of the dark. This is the mysterious image which ghost hunter Leonard Low says proves that something paranormal lies beneath the Whittington Hospital in Highgate”.

See what I mean? Of course, none of these things would have actually happened, it is called dramatic licence. It is quite obvious, that these “details” were chosen to flesh-out the back story of the image after Leonard, or perhaps Kate viewed it (whoever had creative control of the article). This is quite normal in dramatic storytelling, and we have experienced a similar situation with The Feeley Case. Here is the original article for those interested.

Leonard Low.

Here is the image that Leonard Low took

So what happened, and what is the story behind this image? Well it seems Leonard was visiting a friend (ex partner) who was having surgery at the hospital when he was “told by nurses of a strange presence in the 19th Century arches deep underground”. Quite how that particular conversation arose, I don’t know.  So “Armed with his camera and accompanied by a curious Whittington administrator, he descended down to the basement to investigate the paranormal tales”.

Leonard was quoted as saying:

“Nobody had been in this area for years,” said the 44-year-old. “The ground was crystallised like snow.  We began walking down this long corridor with files all around us. We walked for around five or six paces when we saw something down the corridor moving. There was something hovering in front of us and getting closer and closer. We saw this trail of light – it was flashing all over the place. Then I saw the ghostly image of the young boy.”

I think we can add a modicum of rationality to this story, the “snow” that Leonard saw, was undoubtedly formations caused by the capillary/wicking action of the concrete, and subsequent salt precipitation. The rest of the tale, I have a really hard time believing. Hovering and moving objects? Trails of light? Flashing? The timely appearance of a ghostly child?

You can clearly see what has happened here in this photograph. After it was taken, something looked odd in it. So an entire tale was constructed to bolster the story into something far more dramatic. You see there are several flaws in this story. In the image, we can clearly see a dark corridor, with a light source at the end. It first appears to be an open doorway (but the image is cropped). The “trail of light” appears to be a motion blur of the light at the end of that corridor. This would be caused by taking the image while moving and having an incorrect ISO setting for those lighting conditions. Alternatively, it could even be a long exposure with motion. Here is a great example of that:

We can also see that the details of the “head of the child” is actually a light fitting on the ceiling, and the area that would be the “eyes” is the lower edge of the lampshade. There is also a large volume of light from the flash being returned to the lens, from the nearby filing system on the right. This adds even more light pollution to the camera aperture. However, this is all but obscured by the amazingly bright yellow light, which is the flash reflecting off a metallic surface, which appears to be a box of some description that has been placed on top on a step ladder (see larger image).

The full unedited image would be invaluable in establishing exactly how this was achieved, but unfortunately, the only image readily available is quite small, edited and overly compressed.

That should be enough information to help you to “make up your own mind” about this image, but what I am most disappointed by, is the decent into sketchy historical references to provide a basis for this “apparition”. We are used to seeing this type of pseudo-history from Most Haunted, and what makes it completely unnecessary, is that hundreds of people die in hospitals every day.

“The Whittington hospital is steeped in history, dating back to the 15th Century when a leper colony was founded there. Mr Low believes the ghostly apparition of a young boy who appeared before him was the spirit of a child called William who lost his life there in these early years”.

One might ask how Leonard knows this to be true?.

This story was also published on the website, where they add additional details as to where Leonard got this information.


“With the help of analysis from mediums, he believes that the pictures depict a 10-year-old boy called William suffering from leprosy. He said: “I would love to go back. I’m fairly convinced it’s a ghost, the place is haunted. The stories I’ve heard were from nurses who have been there for 40 years.”

Mediums? Well that is totally reliable information then, given their previously high success rates. It is almost like the medium might have read this:

“It was not the first time the father-of-two has felt the presence of those beyond the grave. When Mr Low was 21 an apparition of his sister in her nightgown appeared to him – a fortnight after she died”.*

**This does sound remarkably like a Crisis Apparition (Apparitional experience).  They are allegedly quite common among surviving family members who are recently bereaved.

“Describing the extraordinary pain he experiences when in the presence of a ghost, Mr Low said: “I get pins and needles in the back of my head and I find it hard to see. It is as if my skin knows there is something there.” NB: (You would be forgiven, after viewing the above publicity still of Mr Low, to assume he may also get those same pins on the forehead).

It seems Leonard Low is not only a “ghost hunter”, but also claiming to be a “medium” or “sensitive”.

I realised that there were several aspects of this story that should be checked, so I called Whittington Hospitals press department, and spoke to their press spokesperson. In the interests of making this article sound as cool as Kate Fergusons, we shall call him Mr X.

I asked Mr X a few questions, and with a blistering efficiency uncommon in the NHS, he researched all of my answers. I asked Mr X “was it really a hospital administrator who accompanied Leonard to the basement area”? The term bothered me, because I assumed that a senior hospital administrator would be a very busy person indeed.  Mr X assured me that a hospital administrator had indeed accompanied Mr Low to the basement, but the administrator was actually a secretary.

I asked Mr X, if “a spokeswoman for the hospital said they are aware of reports of a ghost lurking there”? Mr X also assured me this was true, that some members of staff believe the place to be haunted, because they sometimes hear noises they cannot explain. No surprises there. I think this is true of most large public sector work locations. I myself have been told ghost stories by nursing staff.

My final question was perhaps the most important one. You see this is not the first time Leonard Low has been in the press. Way back on April 19th 2008, The Mirror ran an article titled “Hospital in ghost cover-up”. In the article Leonard Low claims that he was banned from the hospital after he photographed a spook in the building’s basement. Mr Low claimed that the Spiritual and Pastoral Care department of the Whittington Hospital had banned him from returning “on religious grounds“.

Mr X spoke to the spiritual and pastoral care department and they remembered Mr Low, but the person who liaised to Mr Low originally has since moved on. After contacting this person, they did not recall Mr low being banned, or banning him themselves. This was quite an accomplishment on the part of Mr X, because this information was from five years ago. The Mirror article goes on to say “Leonard Low took the snap in an area which used to house smallpox wards while researching for a new book. Draw from that what you will, but lo and behold, the tale of the Whittington ghost is explored in Mr Low’s new book, the True Story of the Pittenweem Poltergeist.

The Worst Ghosts of 2011

It’s that time of the year again where we cast an eye back over 2011 and depress ourselves by re-reading web and newspaper coverage of potential-but-not-quite ghost stories. We did the same last year. It’s been tricky, but we’ve managed to cut the worst stories out there down to just five and they are outlined below. Enjoy!

The Worst Ghosts of 2011

The G.S.I Team

#5 – The Braunstone ghost

The Braunstone ghost haunted a family home, causing the family to live in fear as it allegedly started fires and punched family members. This spook and it’s antics made the newspapers, and even saw the investigators involved, G.S.I Paranormal, interviewed live on national television, so you’re probably thinking that is must have been a quality story, but you’re wrong. This ‘ghost’ and the ‘evidence’ that came with it was mediocre nonsense that we’ve seen numerous times before.

This case needed proper investigation – not only because of the nature of the reported phenomena, but also because of the potentially vulnerable people involved. What this case got instead were ghost hunters who are carbon copies of paranormal investigators from television shows. With an array of gadgets that don’t actually do anything useful and a lead investigator who claims ghosts talk directly to him, their investigation provided nothing we haven’t seen before, and nothing substantial.

The evidence they provided on ‘This Morning’ – a national television show aired in the UK, consisted of videos of orbs that the investigators refused to believe could be dust or insects. There was also an alleged ‘spirit vortex’ caught on camera by the this team too which, in all honestly, appears to be a piece of wire (like a mobile phone charger wire, perhaps) hanging in front of the camera. Nothing impressive or groundbreaking.

Orb video one

Orb Video two

The Spirit Vortex/Portal video

Then there was the most amazing evidence ever. Footage of a ghost changing the temperature on command… or, a ghost hunter unaware of how a laser thermometer works. As you will see in the video below, Don Philip believes that a spirit is changing the temperature as he asks it to, when in all reality, it is his misuse of the thermometer that causes such an effect.

Watch from the 03:00 mark

The saddest thing about this ghost isn’t the eye-witness reports from the family in residence, or the rubbish ‘evidence’ provided by the ghost hunters, but in fact the closed-minded and outdated way in which they investigated the case. They let down the people who live in the house greatly, and that’s why their temperature changing spook made it into our ‘worst ghosts of 2011’ list.

More from Don Philip further & GSI down the list…

#4 – The Coventry poltergeist

A Coventry council house played host to a ghost that allegedly pushed two pet dogs down the stairs – one of which sadly died through its injuries. This ghost story first broke on The Sun website where it was explained that the single mother and two children witnessed an array of odd occurrences ranging from chairs flying across rooms to doors being wedged shut from the other side, trapping the family.

Although unlikely to be paranormal in nature, the things witnessed by the family were interesting and worthy of research. Yet, their story was let down with the accompaniment of a rather dodgy video documenting questionable poltergeist activity.

See our recreation (enacted by Hayley with the help of Sharon) below:

The initial experiences may have been genuine, but the poltergeist video certainly isn’t.

It’s okay though, because The Sun got Derek Acorah in to sort things out… 

#3 – The Thorpe Park Monk

The investigation took place in November 2010, but the ghost alleged to haunt Thorpe Park didn’t make headlines until February 2011. According to South West London Paranormal Group who were called in by ‘Thorpe Park bosses’, oddities witnessed by workmen building a new ride at the theme park were caused by the spirit of a headless monk, buried in the ground that the ride was being built upon. The team report of the investigation shows a clearly biased approach to their investigations, with several members claiming to be sensetive to ghosts/spirits. Not only that but their conclusions were questionable, with team founder Jim Arnold saying:

‘We carry out these kinds of investigations quite regularly, with medium to weak results being reported on a weekly basis. ‘Thorpe Park, however, was more striking as results were picked up immediately, with orbs, ghostly images in photography and ouija reaction results being strongest around the site where they were proposing to build Storm Surge.

‘The results were so strong, we felt the only explanation could be that an ancient burial ground or settlement was being disturbed, prompting the extra paranormal activity.’

Not only was the methodology used psuedo-scientific and dodgy, but so was the evidence provided. Our favourite is below.

It’s more likely that the evidence collected by SWLPG was the product of suggestion and confirmation bias, and Thorpe Park saw the chance to grab headlines off of the back of this. Readers may remember that they did something similar around the time they opened the Saw Rollercoaster. Spooky,

A still from the Walton Horse video

#2 – The Walton ghost horse

I first discovered the Walton ghost horse one day when visiting Professor Chris French’s Facebook profile to leave a message. There was a video posted on there by Don Philip, the lead investigator for G.S.I Paranormal UK.

Of the video and recording, Don says:

 its enclosed 4 walls no windows, in the middle of nowhere with no passing traffic, people or neibours[sic],that store room was a stable in the 1800s and its approx 2.45 am in the morning. The video camera caught it, the video camera then shows the digital recorder playing the evp and finally the evp from the recorder played at the end, now that would take some debunking or a hell of an alternative explanation considering the sound is obviously in the room with us and so clear and loud.

It is clear from the video that the people present believe it to be a horse, referred to as ‘Bubbles’ by one of the women present. Apparently this is because they found a grave marker close by for a horse called ‘Bubbles’. That’s a claim that requires evidence, but all we have is this odd noise that Don and his friends are claiming IS evidence. The problem here is that there are so many possible alternative causes for such strange noises (often referred to as ‘Electronic Voice Phenomena’) that before anyone can say ‘this is supernatural’ they have to be able to cross off every possible natural cause.

The G.S.I team cannot do this, and as they’re the ones who are making the claims about this recording, the burden of proof sits squarely with them. Also, Strangely, when I asked them to elaborate what they were claiming the noise was in our conversation on Facebook they all seemed to be very evasive and vague about it. Despite the fact that they identify it as a horse in the actual video (as you have hopefully just seen or heard above).

Professor French had posted in response to the video on his Facebook wall that he was busy but would be interested to hear my opinion on the video, so I had a good listen numerous times and came to the following conclusion:

To me it sounds like nothing more than something being dragged along a rough surface, such as a floor or worktop – the sound being interpreted as a horse braying or snorting is the sound of friction between the object and the surface.

I believe the link you are making with the sound being a horse is because you’ve accidentally primed yourself with the reputed haunting of the building – you call the horse by it’s name suggesting there is rumour the place is haunted, or associated with a dead horse called Bubbles. If you were to take away that association and listen to the sound I do not believe it would be linked to a horse by anyone present.

Electronic Voice Phenomena isn’t a sturdy method of paranormal investigation due to the lack of data involved, and the influencing factors at play beyond the control of the person conducting the EVP session.

I also played the recording to a friend of mine who keeps horses without telling her what the noise was thought to be. She didn’t recognise the noise, and when I suggested it was a horse she didn’t agree. The same happened when Chris French played it to his daughter who also rides horses. Take away the priming information – that it is a horse, or that a horse is buried there – and people don’t make the link.

In fact, this is something that happened time and time again. I downloaded the noise, you see, and played it at several ‘skeptics in the pub’ events that I spoke at. I played it at Edinburgh, Bristol and Westminster and nobody was able to identify the noise as a horse. That’s hundreds of people who listened to the recording who, without being prompted that it might be a horse, were unable to identify it as such.

Verdit: Not a horse ghost. Neigh.

Paul Drake, the man who hunted the ghost dog

1 – the ghost of ‘Nigger’

A team of paranormal investigators, Paranormal Lincs,  claimed in November that they had made contact with the “spirit” of the dog owned by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, the heroic pilot who led the Dambusters raids during the Second World War.

Wing Commander Gibson led the Dambusters raid in 1943 from his base at RAF Scampton, near Lincoln, just hours after his black labrador, called ‘Nigger’*, was run over and killed.

The first sighting of the ghost dog was reported in 1952, so what, you might ask, prompted a paranormal group to undertake such an investigation?

It was the photo below.

It was taken in the 80’s and shows shows a Labrador among a school group at a memorial to the Dambusters, close to where Gibson’s dog was buried. The photographer is said to have claimed the dog appeared from nowhere just as the photo was being taken, refusing to be shooed away and, as soon as the photo was taken, the dog disappeared, never to be seen again.

Of course, there is no proof that this happened – we only have the word of one person to go on, but that’s never stopped ghost hunters before. Not to mention the fact that those from the ‘Paranormal Lincs’ team didn’t even speak to the photographer directly. This is just a recycled story with no verification.

The paranormal team conducted their investigation and are convinced they not only detected the ghost dog, but also that they spoke to Guy Gibson himself.

The Daily Mail reported: 

After staking out the base at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, now the home of the Red Arrows, ghost hunters are convinced it is haunted by a ghostly Labrador. The lead investigator, Paul Drake, said:

‘There is definitely paranormal activity there. One of our investigators felt a cold spot and when we measured it, it was eighteen inches, which is about the height of a dog. The curator of the museum has told us that he has felt for years that he has had a presence following him and he definitely feels that it is that of a dog.’

One investigator who stayed overnight at the base last month even claimed she heard a dog growling when she entered Gibson’s former office.

‘I definitely heard the growl of a dog’, said Michelle Clements, 45. ‘Three of us heard it and we all agreed it was a dog. It was a really low growl. It wasn’t a happy yap at all. It sounded sounded like he was warning us to stay away.’

After scouring the base with infra-red lights, proximity sensors and video cameras, the team say they picked up activity which suggests the pilot was trying to speak to them.

‘I do believe we spoke with Guy Gibson,’ Miss Clements, a school dinner lady from Leicester, said. ‘We asked him if he was with his girlfriend Margaret and he said yes. We also played some old music from the 40s and there was a response to that as well.’

It isn’t specified what activity they picked up, but a quick look at this BBC article shows that the team used K2 meters to talk to the ‘spirits’ which is quite ignorant.

A quick look on the teams website forum sheds light on the sort of evidence we are dealing with.

‘…we got loads of orbs and one that looks like a face and an arm. The Atmosphere felt strange as if their was people in there watching us.’

‘…the K2 meters were going crazy. I played some vera lynn to get things started. it looked like he was singing along to the song which was sweet of him :).. he also just wanted us women in their we found out as he didnt like the men.’

‘…about 9pm we got all the equipment set up in both guy Gibson office and the hanger ( museum ). we had alot of orbs in the hanger.’

‘…we went into the next room to his, his agented ( personal secretary). ha ha i dont think he was impressed by us because the k2’s were going mad as we werent standing to attention.’

‘It was wierd that i took pics showing an orb above the reporters head as well as other strange things considering we were not doing a full investigation.’


To summarise once again, this investigation took place because of a ghost story associated with a photo that is decades old. The investigators used ghost hunting gadgets that don’t do as claimed, and accepted things such as orbs and cold spots as evidence that a ghost was present. They presumed these ‘ghosts’ they were communicating with, or detecting with their gadgets were that of Guy Gibson and his dog simply because of the ghost story they were chasing.

Worst. Ghost. Ever.

There you have it. The worst ghosts of 2011. If you think we missed a story why not post it in the comments below? You can also follow us Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.

*we used the name of the dog in context and mean no offense.

Shades of Grey

Organised Skepticism can be a double edged sword, a powerful tool if used correctly, but use it arbitrarily, or without understanding, and it can give you a nasty cut with the backswing. Such belief-based own goals were, for a long time, the preserve of the credulous believers and pseudo-scientific charlatans, people exploiting the easily led and deluded, yet the current rise of ultra-hardcore Skepticism at the fringes of what we do, with it’s seemingly arbitrary blanket judgements about how every believer in the unproven and unfounded is automatically either suffering from some form of undiagnosed mental aberration or knowingly exploiting the uneducated in an effort to turn a fast buck denies a fundamental rule of our collective experience of reality – the fact that our world is rarely black and white, but actually very many shades of grey.

As anyone who has stopped by my blog and read my fortnightly Woo Watch knows, I like to point the finger and laugh just as much as the next Skeptic, take a humorous snipe at those who make a career from believing the impossible or those who should in general know better, and for that very reason I never thought I’d become an advocate for a conscience within the Skeptical movement. But even I draw the line at the sort of black and white thinking that I have witnessed in numerous places recently, especially online, and the horrible thought that Skepticism itself might be falling into the same dogmatic patterns that we accuse others of. I didn’t come here to stand in the light of reason to watch my new island of truth sink into the same closed-minded belief based nonsense that I abhorred back when I was forced to attend a Church of England primary school in my distant youth, and I won’t watch it start down that slippery slope without voicing my concern.

For example, what do you think of when I say Psychic? Can there even be such a thing? Not according to our current understanding the world, no. I know that, you know that, and we all have a good laugh when we see one trying, and inevitably failing, Randi’s million dollar challenge. But not everyone is a Derek Accorah or Sylvia Browne. Some of these people actually believe in what they are doing, and they hold nothing but the desire to help others with what they erroneously perceive as their oh-so-special gifts. They are most likely not suffering from a mental illness, despite the frankly asinine statements I have heard recently, and while it could be argued that they are deluded, the most likely explanation is that they are uneducated and unable to understand exactly what is going on inside their own heads. They are seeking meaning in a world without a definite personal narrative, and just like the less hardcore Conspiracy believers, teen Witches and disinterested but loyal Religious adherents they make the best of the shreds of data that they have, never wondering if it is the right answer because they lack the vocabulary to even ask the question in the first place.

The bottom line is, we are the good guys in all this, helping to steer those who would know no better towards those very answers, as defined by the scientific method and critical thinking, and away from making the sorts of uninformed errors that result in them selling grandma to pay for just one more reading with Mystic Bob or donating the last of their wages to the slick preacher on cable TV. We should champion critical thinking, true, but that’s where the criticality should stop. While some of those out there in Woo Woo land are guilty of knowingly deceiving others, just as many are sadly convinced of their ability to defy the laws of our consensus reality, and through education, not humiliation, will we reach them. We are Skeptics, not cynics, and what use is our movement, our desire for change, if all we do is become that what we despise and see the world through the same black and white perceptual blinkers that leads inevitably to fundamentalism, in the process playing right into the hands of those who would accuse us all of adhering to a religion based upon science while seemingly pretending otherwise?

Glass Divination Challenge

Glass divination is a technique used by many paranormal research teams at supposedly haunted locations. The aim is to communicate with the spirits of the deceased, who push the glass around a surface (usually a table top) in response to questions. People sit in a circle and focus their ‘energy’ on the glass to help the spirit move it.

Think ‘ouija board without the board’ and you have glass divination.

Successful glass divination is a product of two things; either somebody around the table is intentionally moving the glass, or the people around the table are unconsciously moving the glass. The first is called cheating, the second the ideomotor response.

Scientific tests by American psychologist William James, French chemist Michel Chevreul, English scientist Michael Faraday (Zusne and Jones 1989: 111), and American psychologist Ray Hyman have demonstrated that many phenomena attributed to spiritual or paranormal forces, or to mysterious “energies,” are actually due to ideomotor action.

Furthermore, these tests demonstrate that “honest, intelligent people can unconsciously engage in muscular activity that is consistent with their expectations” (Hyman 1999).

They also show suggestions that guide behavior can be given by subtle cues (Hyman 1977).

The above mentioned ‘suggestions that guide behaviour’ include folklore tales attached to a building, or the stories told to the investigator about what has happened or been witnessed at the location, by the owner of the location owner/staff/residents. If you are aware of the fact that a woman who was murdered is said to haunt a corridor in the building looking for her unmarked grave, it’s likely that that knowledge will influence the way in which the glass moves.

There is a simple yet effective way to test whether the glass is being moved by the people resting one finger upon it. You need to be able to visually see the movement, and I have found that the best way to do this is by covering the glass with putty. Any intentional or unintentional movement of the glass by those touching it will show in the soft putty.

Here’s a demonstration:

Why not try using putty as a control, and letting us know the results?