Sarah Sparkes interviews Stephen White (Ste), lead investigator for Merseyside Paranormal – one of several paranormal groups operating in and around Liverpool. Ste has been a paranormal investigator for approximately five years.
What is a paranormal investigation? What led you into the field of paranormal investigations?
Paranormal investigation can be wide ranging. Merseyside Paranormal organise events at haunted locations, which the public can attend. Some of these locations are quiet expensive to hire, so we have to charge people to cover the costs, however Merseyside Paranormal are a non profit making organisation and I don’t make a living from paranormal research.
Some of investigations are in urban public locations or in public buildings like chapels that can be free to enter. We may also be asked to investigate a private house, in these instances just a couple of us from the team will go along.
I’ve had a lot of paranormal experiences myself, these experiences have happened to me since childhood. During the 70s we dabbled a bit with the Ouija board in our house, me and my mother and my brother – I think everyone did back in the day. Anyway, I think my brother opened some kind of doorway and fetched something into our house, which, well the stories could go on and on about that, because a lot of things happened in the house! Over the year, these occurrences have fueled my enthusiasm to seek the answers behind what has happened to me.
What do you think qualifies you to be a paranormal investigator?
Basically just experience. At the beginning, just watching other people doing it, learning how to use the equipment. A lot of it is just down to technique really. A lot of other paranormal groups might not like the way I work and I might not like the way they work. It’s all down to technique and I do get a lot of results from my technique and the way I work. I think it is just down to experience and enthusiasm. It gets under your skin and you just grow with it and go with the flow.
What is a ghost?
That is a hard question. There are a lot of different types of ghost, but a ghost is basically energy. You’ve got the Stone Tape Theory, you’ve got residual energy, you’ve got intelligent energy; everything around you has got an energy, holds energy and you can’t kill energy. Wood, Stone, granite, limestone, they all hold energies. And a dead person – where does their energy go? No one knows the answer to this, but their energy, it’s there somewhere, on another level, in another plane. Whether it’s residual or intelligent energy, whether this energy can manifest and show itself – when people say ‘a ghost’ this is usually what they are talking about. When they have seen a manifestation of a figure they’ll say “ I’ve seen a ghost”, but, a ghost can manifest as much more than this and really there are many different interpretations of ‘a ghost’.
Read more on stone tape theory here : http://www.parascience.org.uk/articles/musings.htm
Why does such a surprising large percentage of the population of the UK believe in ghosts?
I think ghost belief in the UK has increased probably because of the movies fueling peoples interest. Also a lot of haunted locations are getting a lot of press coverage and that is enticing people to go and see them. A perfect example of that would be 30 East Drive which had a lot of press coverage of the haunting there. There was a film made based on the events there, which led on to the house being purchased by the person who made the film and the story has just grown and grown in popularity over the years which continues to this day. There are also a lot of paranormal groups popping up and running events for the public to join them on ghost investigations. It’s all just slowly increased throughout the years, its a bit of a trend I should imagine.
more on 30 east Drive here: http://www.30eastdrive.com/
Why are some locations said to be more haunted than others?
Some places are more haunted than others and I think that this could be due to what’s known as the Stone Tape theory. If you’ve got say, a prison where a lot of people were ill treated or the death sentence was practiced there and the building is made of heavy sandstone or limestone or granite that can hold that energy within the walls, then its’ a perfect recipe for a haunting. There’s a lot of different reasons why some locations or buildings are haunted, it could be a modern building where someone has died there who loved the place and doesn’t want to leave, it could be haunted by someone who committed suicide who doesn’t’ know they have died, – there are all kinds of different reason really.
Why do you think Liverpool has so many ghost stories and ghost believers?
There are certainly quite a few notorious haunted locations in Liverpool. One of the main ones is Newsham Park Hospital, the old maritime orphanage which became an asylum. I think there was something like 3000 deaths in that building. It’s an old building, built in heavy stone, which can hold a lot of energy. There’s a lot of stories to be told in that building. In the 1800s when the building was an orphanage, the children were living in very poor conditions and when they died, they had no family to bury them and they were cremated in that building and their souls are just hanging on there, there’s a lot of trapped energy in that building.
Then you’ve got Williamson’s Tunnels underground, built under direction of Joseph Williamson. A very rich man, it’s said that he just created employment for the poor and deprived and orgnisd the building of miles of wonderful tunnels underground. Again, these Tunnels are built into the rock, holding a lot of energy and there was a lot of people killed and hurt during the making of the Tunnels.
There’s a lot of ghost stories in Liverpool, there are many ghost walks, but it’s not just Liverpool, it’s all over the country really. If you just look around, there are old buildings everywhere, holding a lot of energy and there are an awful lot of haunted locations throughout the country. Our investigations are not limited to Merseyside, we spreading our wings further down the country all the time and visiting some fascinating places.
What is the most haunted place in Liverpool you have investigated?
The most haunted place I’ve investigated in Liverpool has got to be Newsham Park Hospital. However, it gets investigated so many times, you’ve got some big groups taking the public in and out three, four, five up to seven nights a week. What you have to remember is that a lot of the souls in this building were once human beings.These souls are not puppets, when people are going in and asking them to do things, asking them questions constantly, day in day out, they get fed up and something happens that we call ‘going flat’ and then the activity can just die off. When the Old School House out the back from Newsham Park wasn’t touched for a good few months, all of a sudden there was unbelievable activity there. I myself witnessed poltergeist activity at that time. Then the place was ‘hammered’ shall I say, with people constantly there all the time and the activity dropped again – it just went dead. They are just draining the souls energy all the time, asking ‘them’ to do things. Energy has to build up and in some cases feed off our energy and ‘they’ just haven’t got the energy to perform or ‘they’ might get fed up of performing for people every night. As I said, they are not puppets, they are not performing seals. There is a right way and a wrong way of asking a lost soul questions and getting an intelligent response. You don’t want them to jump up and down to your commands all the time.
More on Newsham Park: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newsham_Park_Hospital
Are their common ghost characteristics described by their percipients?
From personal experience I would say that most people talk about seeing orbs, but in a lot of cases people don’t know the difference between orbs and dust and lens flare etc, Also people report seeing shadows, Mainly in their peripheral vision, but sometimes you can see these shadows head on, sometimes in a human form or just a black mass moving along. Definitely I’ve found that orbs and shadows are the two most common things that people see.
Do types of ghosts change throughout history and across different cultures?
What I do know is that you can get ghosts from different cultures and eras. Just at the weekend a colleague of mine played me some EVPs and we could hear many Northern European accents in amongst these. We’ve had voices from different periods of history such as the War of the Roses. It’s incredible, when you think you are actually having a conversation with someone from all that time ago it does make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. For instance Drakelow Tunnels, it’s said that part of the Tunnels go under an Iron Age graveyard and one of my photographs from this site has what looks like an image of an old iron age man in it.
What technologies do you use in your ghost investigations?
We use state of the art equipment in our investigations today. We use a lot of night vision cameras. We use full spectrum cameras, which pick up things which the eye can’t see. Full spectrum cameras pick up from infra red to ultra violet, going beyond what the human eye can see in this range. We use thermal cameras and sensors. We have EVP recorders – very sensitive recording equipment. We’ve recently be working with one called the Parabola Box. We have Ghost Boxes which pick up white noise and pick up voices in between radio frequencies, but the Parabola Box works on vibrations. There is a lot of echo coming though in the voices, we have to tweak the recordings to get the vibrato and echo out of the voice and the results we get are unbelievable. We’ve been having good interaction and conversation with spirits, both normal and really deep dark stuff too.
The equipment is constantly improving all the time, when you think you’ve got everything you need, something else will come out. I’ve got crates of equipment and I just started out with one bag.
The Kinect Sensor is something we use – it’s the one kids play with with the X-Box. A sensor picks up human figures as matchstick figures. We have software programs on a computer or a tablet which links these two together – the Kinect and the Tablet. This means we have two screens connected to the computer the real time and the black screen. The real time frame is running software that works something like a thermal camera. If you were standing in the pitch black, it would show you up as an outline figure, like a thermal image. What the computer does then is it puts dots throughout your body, your head forehead, chin, cross your shoulders, down your arms and then the computer joins the dots with lines so you then look – on the big screen – like a black screen with a matchstick man. So if anything is trying to form in the dark next to you, the sensor tries to pick that up and tries to form a figure. Sometimes you just get blob with funny lines or you will get a fully formed figure standing next to you. We’ve ‘them’ sat down in chairs, climbing ladders, shaking your hand, putting their arm out to you, responding to the question ‘would you like us to play some music from the period you were from’ and they have waved to tell us they would like us to play some music.
Photograph of alleged spirit manifestation of a young boy on the Kinect Sensor during an investigation in Williamson’s Tunnels
© Sarah Sparkes 2016
What methods do you use in your research?
We use different methods on different investigations and locations. I’ll give you an example. Last week we went on an investigation and it was in a building in a communications bunker its an MOD place. We took a lot of WW2 songs to play, music from the era which spirits from that era could connect and respond to.
Do you consider that there may be some psychological factors behind ghost belief ?
A lot of people think that ghosts are all in the mind that when they see or experience something, the first thing they consider is if it was all their imagination, was it all in their mind. A lot of the time people come to us because they have been asking themselves this questions about what they experienced. They come on an investigation with the us, to find the answers out for themselves and to see whether it was in their minds. We had someone at the weekend who was asking this question and the message I got from them after the event was, “now I know that it’s true and it’s not in my mind”. But, “ is all in my mind?” is naturally the first thing people think. I did myself – when you’re getting older you start to think, was it my vivid imagination as a child, was that the case? So, you start looking again and think, OK now I’m an adult can I experience something similar, I’m not a kid with a vivid imagination and I know my own mind now. We tend to help a lot of people who have come to find that answer out, rather than just doing an investigation for the fun of it.
How can you prove that ghosts exist?
How can I prove ghosts exist? That’s a difficult one, because with the technology we have today, we get better results and we get better photographs and recordings EVPs etc. But then, because of the technology we have today there are so many people who can fake it, who can photoshop photos and edit audio recordings so there is always fuel for the skeptics.
I’m like an open book, I have very wide ranging beliefs about various things, but I think, no matter how much I try to prove ghosts exist, there’s only one way you’re going to find out if they do and that’s when you pass over yourself.
What is the most extraordinary experience you've had on an investigation and can you briefly tell it?
An extraordinary experience on an investigation that stays with me concerns a friend of mine. He had come along to quite a few investigations. He was a big lad and fearless, not frightened of going into ‘unknown territory’. If I asked him to go in a dark room on his own it wouldn’t bother him. He asked me if he could do a lone vigil in 30 East Drive, locked in the coal shed. The coal shed was the place where the father of the Pritchard family, who lived there in the 70s, was attacked by an entity that haunts this house. My friend was only in their a few minutes and when I asked him if he was OK he complained about pains in his stomach. I didn’t like the sound of his voice so I went to check on him. When I opened the door he was stood there with his head down, couldn’t see his face and his right arm was all twisted and his hand was like a claw twisted upwards. My first thought was he’s had a stroke. I shouted and shouted his name. He lifted his head and looked at me – this was close friend, but I barely recognised him. He was starting to look like something off the exorcist his eyes were black and drawn down and he was looking at me in a very very strange way. I grabbed him by his clothing and dragged him out the building and when he got to the front garden whatever it was that was effecting him let go. His whole body was jerking and twisting he was going through various emotions, crying like a baby. He is still suffering psychological effects from this experience today. He’s never been on an investigation since and he says he never will. He will never set foot in that house again