Psychic detectives

By Jon Donnis

Interviews with Ciaran O'Keefe

Welcome to the site, for those who are unaware of you or your work, could you please give us a quick history lesson detailing how you came to be where you are today?

The academic side to this ‘history lesson’ begins with an undergraduate degree in the US. I studied a BA Liberal Arts degree, double majoring in Music and Psychology. For each major I had to complete a final year thesis – for the music it was a thesis on Japanese Contemporary Music focusing on Toru Takemitsu, this culminated in a verbal presentation of the thesis with piano performances of some of his works and influences. For the psychology part, I completed a thesis on Paranormal Beliefs & Experiences in conjunction with a researcher from the Institute of Parapsychology (now Rhine Research Center). Following the degree I took a winding road for a couple of years (including warehouse work, nursing, and teaching English in Spain) then did an Investigative Psychology MSc at Liverpool University. Whilst there, independent research encompassed the geo-spatial behaviour of serial killers, mental maps of computer criminals, hypnosis in a legal setting and police-informant interaction.

My MSc. dissertation examined the utility of psychic detectives and external advisors to criminal investigations, and the style of their accounts. Off the back of the masters I was invited to apply for a PhD at University of Hertfordshire under the supervision of Professor Richard Wiseman. I recently completed the PhD entitled “Assessing the content of advice given by practitioners who claim a paranormal ability”. I’m now employed at Liverpool Hope University College where I lecture and do research in various aspects of psychology. I specialise in Parapsychology, Forensic/Criminal Psychology and Music Psychology. In addition, which is the reason why I’ve come the attention of this site, I frequently participate in television programmes examining various aspects of the paranormal.

Lets start off with your work at Liverpool Hope University and your work with Prof. Richard Wiseman.

You recently replicated some tests that were originally done by Prof.Gary Schwartz in America, Where as Prof. Schwartz's tests were favourable to the mediums tested, the tests you did were not favourable. Could you please tell us all about these tests, and how you and Prof. Wiseman came about to do these tests?

As part of my PhD I tested 5 mediums. What follows is a very simplistic description of the study: On the first day a medium would provide readings for 5 sitters. This would be repeated using different mediums, the sitters would remain the same. During the entire study, none of the mediums were aware of the identity of the sitters, or of any of the other mediums, and during their assigned day they would be seated in a room isolated from the sitter’s room. At the end of the study the sitters were provided with all statements from all mediums and instructed to rate how accurate each statement was. If a medium had a genuine ability one would expect the total accuracy ratings for a sitter’s own reading to be higher than for other readings.

The mediumship testing was conducted as part of my PhD, which was supervised by Prof. Wiseman. The PhD focused on testing special claimants (including psychics and mediums) and also examined the linguistic nature of their readings and how this may account for clients being convinced of a higher level of accuracy than in actuality exists. Unfortunately a well-publicised misinterpretation of my test of mediums is that it is a replication of Prof. Schwartz’s work. This is not the case. On the contrary, Prof. Wiseman and myself have been vocal critics of Prof. Schwartz’s earlier testing (a copy of such a critique can be found here: Although I’m partly grateful to Prof. Schwartz for renewing an academic interest in ADC studies (after-death communication studies) I am quite judgmental of several elements of his experimental protocols.

In all your years studying mediums and claims of psychic ability, have you ever come across anyone who could prove to you genuine psychic ability?

No. The wealth of evidence for psychic and medium ability comes from anecdotal accounts, from the psychics themselves or from people who have had readings in the past (i.e. the clients). Psychologists are aware of problems with recounting prior experiences and so, evidentially, we should focus on ability within more controlled environments. The wonderful accounts from psychics and their clients, that I hear on a daily basis, however, are what captivated me about the field originally and that keep me constantly searching for the truth, exposing the lies and, perhaps one day, finding the psychic who can...

Spiritualist Medium John Tunbridge has claimed that yours and Prof.Wisemans Mediumship experiments were seriously flawed.

Let me quote a letter he wrote for The Times September 23rd 2004

As a working medium for many years, I would utterly dispute the article printed in today's issue of The Times (September 23rd 2004).

I have recently undertaken a mass on-line séance in a voice chat room. Cold-reading was eliminated as the only way to communicate was either via voice technology or typing out text which appears on the screen.

Only one person could talk at a time, which was the medium, and the only way for the sitter to respond was via text typing. On each message given, the sitter was located first time, the communicator was recognised, and the communication readily accepted.

Richard and Ciaran's experiment is seriously flawed on several points.

1) It was a single experiment that they have not yet repeated. The results of such an experiment would be deemed unacceptable data by the majority of researchers in any field of science.

2) The statistics of the "hits and misses" are not published for scrutiny.

3) The assumption is that having chosen a medium to sit for a specific sitter, that the spirit communicator working with the medium would actually be for that specific sitter chosen by the researchers. It may not be the case, the communicators may have made use of the experiment to show how the Spirit communicators choose the medium.

4) This is most definitely not the most comprehensive experiment to date. Prof Gary Schwartz of the University of Arizona has undertaken far more extensive experiments with far greater controls than the Wiseman/O'Keefe one, and his experiments have been repeated, and maintained significant results. Enough for the Professor to publish the book "The Afterlife Experiments" with the sub title "Breakthrough scientific evidence of life after death".

Mr Wiseman is not a sceptic as he would claim, he is a professional debunker. He constructs experiments (many without mediums), which are very often scientifically flawed and he then claims he has proved mediumship doesn't work. His experiments are as useful as a scientist trying to prove a bridge cannot be blown up, and thus, having not used any explosive material in his experiments claims he has been proved right.


John Tunbridge

Spiritualist Medium

So how would you answer the claims he has made against you?

I’ll answer each of his 4 numbered points in turn and then his final comment about Prof. Wiseman.

1) It was a single experiment that they have not yet repeated. The results of such an experiment would be deemed unacceptable data by the majority of researchers in any field of science.

This experiment was a single experiment. There are many debates and studies within Parapsychology and Mathematics that tackle the issue of, what is called, atomistic scoring of free response data (i.e. readings produced by psychics). Many academic articles in a maths publication (namely the Annals of Mathematical Statistics) during the 1940s focused on this scoring problem and the difficulty in applying statistical tests to a single claimant. It is for this reason that the application of a particular experimental method from the 1960s and the use of a specific data matrix, developed by the same researchers (i.e. Pratt & Birge, 1969), and a permutation analysis was deemed the most highly appropriate. I endeavoured to progress previous research into mediumship and I’ve made no extravagant claims about this specific experiment disproving all mediumistic claims, merely the ones I tested.

2) The statistics of the "hits and misses" are not published for scrutiny.

Currently this is true. The experiment and it’s conclusions were reported in the Parapsychological Association Convention this year (i.e. 2004). Attendees at the Convention would have had access to copies of the report in the proceedings and at the presentation. An article version of the experiment has been submitted to the British Journal of Psychology and, following various editorial changes, we await its publication. At this time it would then be available to anyone for scrutiny.

3) The assumption is that having chosen a medium to sit for a specific sitter, that the spirit communicator working with the medium would actually be for that specific sitter chosen by the researchers. It may not be the case, the communicators may have made use of the experiment to show how the Spirit communicators choose the medium.

Hypothetically, yes. In addition, another potential problem is spirit communicators providing evidential communication for anyone in the building. Continued correspondence and communication with other ADC researchers will, hopefully, mean these theoretical problems could be dealt with. For now, we are dogged by numerous unfalsifiable hypotheses such as the example given (i.e. we can’t prove or disprove them).

4) This is most definitely not the most comprehensive experiment to date. Prof Gary Schwartz of the University of Arizona has undertaken far more extensive experiments with far greater controls than the Wiseman/O'Keefe one, and his experiments have been repeated, and maintained significant results. Enough for the Professor to publish the book "The Afterlife Experiments" with the sub title "Breakthrough scientific evidence of life after death".

For issues with some of Schwartz’s work see my answer to an earlier question. On another note, publication of a book is not evidence of comprehensive and well-controlled research, it is not the usual scientific route of showing the field what has been done. This goes for any academic researchers, including myself. The usual route is through the process of submitting an article to a scientific journal and having it reviewed by your peers. As for Schwartz’s experiments having “far greater controls,” I think Mr. Tunbridge should define “greater”. Does this mean ‘better’ or ‘effective’? Does it mean ‘a greater number’? Does it mean ‘bigger’? With regard to the earlier experiments covered in his book “The Afterlife Experiments” I would argue that it does not mean wholly ‘effective’. Additionally, Schwartz’s work was not the first most comprehensive programme of research either – for interested readers of this website see early work by Saltmarsh & Soal, J. B. Rhine etc. Though Prof. Schwartz does not cite such early work anywhere in any of his publications (please correct me if this is not the case) he has communicated to me his knowledge of such work in our first face-to-face encounter.

Before I turn to his criticism of Prof. Wiseman I’d like to commend Mr. Tunbridge’s reasonable research attempt into mediumship readings. His use of technology, readily available, in order to reduce cold reading effects is admirable. Notice I say ‘reduce’. Cold Reading also relies greatly on the Barnum Effect and this is not negated in his investigation. This reported study, however, is substantially more valid than the majority of independent research that has been presented to me in the last few years and I look forward to it’s publication and, therefore, public scrutiny.

My final point relates to Mr. Tunbridge’s comments on Prof. Wiseman, and the credibility of the mediumship work. I would recommend any future criticism of science is focused on the actual experiment rather than a character assassination of one of the co-authors. The mediumship study under scrutiny is due to be published with me as first author. Prof. Wiseman’s role was a supervisory one to ensure I followed the accepted practice of psychology. It forms part of my PhD and the methodology arose out of many many months of reading previous work in this area and discussion with statisticians, colleagues and my supervisor. Feel free to level any further, more educated, criticisms of methodology and analysis directly at me.

What are your thoughts on Prof.Gary Schwartz? Do you rate him as a genuine investigator of the paranormal?

I have the utmost respect for his attempts to approach after-death communication from a more scientific basis and his influence in making people aware of this line of research. My views on some of his research can be found earlier in this interview.

Do you have any more tests with psychics or mediums coming up?

I’ll continue conducting tests of special claimants as long as claims are made. I’m currently conducting several tests including one looking at the abilities of a psychic who claims to be able to divine the personality of pets and an ongoing study focusing on the use of dowsers in missing person or serial crime cases. In the near future testing will focus on more ‘well-known’ psychics and mediums.

Lets move onto your work with the excellent Jane Goldman Investigates program.

For most people this will be the first time they will have seen you on television, how did you come to be involved with the show?

Originally Dr. Matthew Smith was approached to do the show. He couldn’t commit to the number of shows they had commissioned. Matthew and myself frequently pass each other consultancy work since we are similarly qualified. Additionally, our offices are in the same building in the same university and we’re both part of the Parapsychology Research Group ( ). So, basically, I accepted the offer and have done the first series and some episodes in the second and look forward to doing any future ones.

Jane Goldman Investigates has come across as a genuine look at the paranormal, from the excellent first series to the equally good second series, what is it do you think that makes it work so well?

I have total admiration for Jane Goldman and her approach to ‘fringe’ areas. She is a genuine sceptic meaning that she is open-minded and continually questioning. Her investigation of various aspects of the paranormal legitimately reflect her search for the truth and her openness to all possibilities. I think the show works so well because of that.

We recently saw the episode where Jane investigated the Enfield Poltergeist.

What are your lasting thoughts on that case, and do you think it was possible that the whole thing was faked?

In poltergeist cases generally, we have to be open to the unfortunate possibility that phenomena is faked. The motivation for such fakery is plentiful. The Enfield Poltergeist investigation was conducted by several eminent researchers within the field of psychical research, whom I have the utmost respect for. Their accounts of the phenomena they witnessed are truly compelling and leave me to acknowledge that if the experiences occurred as recorded then it is the best recorded evidence of poltergeist activity.

In the first series Jane conducted a blind test with a medium, where the medium gave a reading to a woman behind a blind. The medium scored roughly 75% hit rating. Which at first seems very impressive. Luckily Jane recorded everything that was said and applied the same questions to herself, and 10 of her friends, she found out that much of what the medium said could apply to anyone, especially one of her friends who recorded a 90% hit rate.

Do you think this test was fair? and do you think it shows up how a medium can apparently give very good readings, even though they are being vague?

The test was extremely fair in giving a viable opportunity for the medium to show-off their ability. Fortunately, as a result of Jane’s astute investigative mind, she also tested the hypothesis of the Barnum Effect (i.e. the psychological phenomena whereby people accept general personality interpretations as accurate descriptions of their own unique personality). The effect relies on a client thinking that the information being provided is explicitly and solely for them. Jane’s test reveals this to be the case. This sort of testing in the media needs to be encouraged more in order to educate the public and provide them with the necessary knowledge when visiting psychics and mediums.

Is there anything interesting coming up on JGI that you would like to tell us about?

The second series was a fascinating trawl through unusual subjects (e.g. Voodoo, alien abduction, possession etc.) which is now finished. I only hope that future series are commissioned to ensure more critical investigations of wild and wonderful human endeavours. If that is the case, I’ll be recommending several particular paranormal claims worthy of scrutiny.

Now i would like to move on to Most Haunted, (Hiss's and Boo's around the BadPsychics office)

How did you come to be the replacement for Phil Whyman?

Karl and Yvette had been asking Matthew and myself for one of us to attend an episode investigation for some time. Matthew attended the episode on Croxteth Hall and then it wasn’t until June last year when I said I’d be happy to tag along for the Black Swan episode (Devizes, Wiltshire). It wasn’t until discussion at MHL (Derby) that I actually ‘joined’ the team as an investigator. As far as I was aware, I wasn’t an immediate replacement for Phil. He had left earlier for reasons I’m still unaware of, and I filled an empty space.

In a previous interview with BadPsychics Phil Whyman had the following to say regarding you.

Cieran: I have never met Cieran. I know he is an academic (parapsychologist) and I’m not really sure if that’s a good thing or not when it comes to investigating paranormal occurrences.

Academics in the field of parapsychology always seem very aware of their status and can be a little bit loathed to admit to something that they cannot explain, and this sometimes results in odd explanations…like the Clerkenwell House episode of Most Haunted where Karl Beattie seems to have been cut by unseen forces on his forehead and Cieran’s explanation is an insect could have done it. How…?

Surely something of the insect type capable of causing a cut like that would have to be fairly hefty. Oh, and it was the middle of winter (February I think), when insect activity is at its lowest in England. However, I’m not saying that it was paranormal, merely that I don’t (and numerous others who have seen the eppy) think it was an insect. I think parapsychologists should relax a little and just admit when they are at a loss for an explanation to something. I have also been told that parapsychology as a whole barely touches on the world of the paranormal.

How would you react to his comments about you and Parapsychologists in general?

Parapsychology is defined as the scientific study of ESP and PK. ESP (Extra-Sensory Perception) covers telepathy, precognition and clairvoyance. PK (Psycho Kinesis) covers any phenomena that shows alleged action of the mind on inanimate objects – this includes macro PK (visible effects such as spoon-bending) and micro PK (effects only visible using monitoring equipment, e.g. altering the decay of radioactive material). Additionally PK covers any ‘group’ PK effects such as ouija (where, rather than communication with spirit, one theory postulates that it is the collective action of a group of minds on the glass or planchette). Some parapsychologists define poltergeist activity as RSPK (Recurrent Spontaneous Psycho Kinesis), where the phenomena is centered around, and is the result of, a specific person in a location. Phil states that “I have also been told that parapsychology as a whole barely touches on the world of the paranormal”. The above definitions show that this is definitely not the case.

Where the confusion may arise is from the view of parapsychologists as scientists sitting in a lab conducting experimental work on each of the phenomena in question. Here, Phil may have a point since the majority of parapsychologists rarely conduct field work. Field work is inherently fraught with difficulties and, in terms of controlling the environment to ensure the effect is solely paranormal, almost impossible. However, there is a wealth of literature written by parapsychologists who have conducted investigations into haunting cases (e.g. William Roll, Michaeleen Maher, James Houran etc). I consider myself as a parapsychologist who, in addition to laboratory work testing special claimants, also ventures out into spontaneous cases, and has submitted and published reports on such investigations.

Most Haunted viewers are aware of incidents where I have admitted being “at a loss for an explanation to something”. The next series will also include a particular incident where I’ve worked very closely with Jon Gilbert, the soundman, to examine a fascinating sound clip, and am still analysing it. At this point in time I am “at a loss for an explanation”.

The ‘insect’ incident at Clerkenwell House of Detention, elsewhere referred to as the ‘attack of the kamikaze midgets’, was merely offered as an alternative explanation. Phil’s comments make perfect sense (though to say it was “when insect activity is at its lowest in England” does not negate the possibility of the presence of insects). In retrospect, even days after making the comment, it was over-simplistic and I feel it is the actual injury that throws doubt on my explanation. In the studio other explanations were offered but I’m happy that this one made it to screen and provoked so much questioning. If viewers start to question phenomena, and even my explanations for the phenomena, then I’ve succeeded in fulfilling my role as resident sceptic and ‘paranormal investigator’.

As you have already said you have been following for a while now, so you will be well aware of my thoughts on Most Haunted and Derek Acorah in particular.

So i would like to ask you your opinions on some things that we have found out on this site.

During an interview with Louie Savva i asked him a few questions about Most Haunted Live 10, i would like to ask you the same questions to get your opinion.

Specifically Derek Acorah and Brian Shepherd, both of whom were coming out with many names and details which were later shown to be fully correct, and many people were rightly impressed.

But then it became apparent that near enough all of the information the two psychics were giving could be found on one single webpage

In fact what made it worse was the fact that the names being reeled off by Derek in particular were even in the same order as they appeared on the website.

Now we know that thousands and thousands of servicemen passed through the base, all of whom can be traced with a bit of detective work, yet Derek Acorah only seemed to be mentioning names which could be found on one single webpage.

In your honest opinion, what do you think is happening here? are we looking at a massive coincedence where Derek's guide Sam just happens to only be naming people from this site, or is something else going on?

My role on the show is not to ‘test’ Derek. From my earlier comments the reader should be aware that to truly examine the authenticity of claims of mediumship a parapsychologist should be able to control the environment and conditions and ensure apparent communication with spirit is not as a result of perfectly natural explanations. This is for the medium’s benefit as much as the scientist’s. If convincing evidence is produced spontaneously in an uncontrolled environment the medium is open to as much criticism as any scientist supporting it. The use of mediums in haunting investigations, however, comes from a long tradition of similar work within psychical research and I see its potential value. Indeed, although the establishment of evidential communication is tough in such an environment I relish and enjoy working with mediums such as Derek and David and the alternative explanations that they provide in a haunting investigation.

In the particular incident you’re describing I prefer to offer no explanation for the information the mediums came up with. Unfortunately there are too many unknowns and, given the availability of information in the public domain, as I’ve said frequently on many other TV occasions, any paranormal explanation is less conceivable.

However, you’re also opening up a proverbial ‘paranormal can-of-worms’ since there are many alternative explanations for the information gathering…it could have been paranormal, but not mediumistic. For example, if there is such a thing as paranormal communication then either of the mediums could have been telepathically extracting the information from those around them who’d read the site, or even the site author. I do prefer simpler explanations but I hope you realise, from the above explanation, the difficulties in assessing alleged spontaneous mediumistic communication on live television.

I also asked Louie Savva about Richard Felix on MHL10, again i would like you to give your honest opinion if possible on what you think is going on. Richard Felix the resident historian claimed live on the show that the info that Derek was coming out with was extremely rare, even indicating that he was the only person with the book that had that information in, yet within a few minutes of googling and on the official website for the location all the information was found.

We know that Patrick O'Boyle who works for Antix had been doing prior research on the internet a month or so before the show, as he had left many comments on sites asking for info, so its not like the crew didn't know this info was easily found, so the question is,

Is Richard Felix deliberately trying to mislead the public as to what is and isn't easily obtainable information, or what is or isn't in the public domain?

I don’t think there’s any deliberate attempt on Richard’s part to mislead the public. Richard does get genuinely excitable about information brought forward by Derek on the live shows and, I think, occasionally disregards the possibility of the internet as an information source and, as an historian, prefers more reliable published sources. The validity of internet sources may be harder to verify than written information. Academics for example, as a rule, do not rely heavily on the internet for research material. Double-checking information provided by mediums against that found on reliable web-pages is, however, as you rightly point out, necessary to establish the rarity of any apparent communication.

Next we go onto Dereks apparent possession by Squadron Leader James Maclachlan.

He was talking to Yvette (As James) and started to show Yvette his right arm, saying how painful it was and so on, but we know from the official website that, and i quote

"SQUADRON LEADER JAMES MACLACHLAN, having lost his left forearm"

He had lost his left arm and not his right as the possessed Derek had claimed.

As a sceptic, what do you think of such glaring mistakes? and do you think that anyone can really take such possessions seriously when there are so many mistakes?

In that particular incident I seem to remember having a particular line of questioning also. This was an attempt to establish the truth and to provide viewers with enough information to question the possession rather than simply accept it on face value. I’m not stating whether the possession was genuine or not, merely that the specific questions about his knowledge of spitfires was my process of searching and continually questioning any paranormal claims I witness. The mistake with his arm whilst being possessed by Squadron Leader James Maclachlan merely raises more questions. I hope the identification of these mistakes by viewers continues as I wholeheartedly encourage healthy scepticism and beneficial argument. There are, however, consistent descriptions by mediums of purported communications that point to an unclear and somewhat ‘hazy’ end product. Essentially the claim is that these exchanges are rarely given with such clarity to be free of mistakes. This maybe an additional reason for the ‘arm missing’ incident.

I would like to ask you a few questions about Derek Acorah in particular.

As you will be well aware, Derek has continuously made massive mistakes, from telling ghost stories on MH which were actually made up by owners of the premises, (Wellington Hotel in Boscastle)

He has also been possessed by a Man called Frances Mills, yet with a bit of research we know Frances is a femenine woman.

We also have the most controversial episode of all Clerkenwell House Of Detention from series 2.

Plus we have many more instances of either blatant cheating or mistakes so bad that cannot be ignored.

With all this evidence in mind, can you please tell us what your thoughts are on those things?

I cannot comment on any particular incidents I, myself, have not investigated fully. Additionally, readers will already be familiar with my feelings about establishing mediumship evidence in an uncontrolled environment. With regard to mistakes made by psychics and mediums, in their defence parapsychologists are aware of the elusive nature of any psi ability as I’ve mentioned previously. Even Derek has admitted in the past that ‘sometimes he makes mistakes’. When it comes to specific information about a location or person I could understand the difficulty in establishing the facts clearly. In a busy haunted location where a medium is allegedly receiving a multitude of information from multiple sources I could perfectly understand them not getting the correct information all the time. As for mistakes you mention about ‘Frances Mills’ this raises merely more questions about the veracity of possession claims.

Regurgitation of ‘created’ stories is, unfortunately, not an indication of cheating. Having been involved with similar incidents in the past with other claimants, it merely lessens the veracity of communicating with spirit but it is an unfalsifiable hypothesis with regards to paranormal communication. What do I mean? – Even though the story is confabulated, if there is anything to paranormal communication couldn’t the medium have extracted the information telepathically from the human origin of the story?

To get an answer to your question with any clarity, i.e. to get a black-or-white ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response, viewers will have to settle for my constant badgering of mediums in future episodes.

Remember that Most Haunted is a televised investigation of a haunted property by a team. As the show has developed the level the experience of several team members has increased and so has knowledge and healthy scepticism. Vigils are conducted as genuine attempts to gain testimony of experience and evidence. Purported paranormal evidence is captured in other forms (e.g. audio anomalies), aside from alleged after-death communication via a medium. This evidence is gathered, examined and argued over by the team (i.e. Karl, Yvette, John D., Jon G., Stuart etc.). Just wanted to publicly add my support for the rest of the MH team.

Do you believe Derek Acorah has any genuine psychic ability?

No comment.

Do you think Derek Acorah has ever wilfully cheated on MH to present himself as being psychic?

No comment.

In your opinion does Derek fake his possessions? And if not how would you explain them?

No comment.

Gwen Acorah has been spotted carrying around her laptop on many occasions while MH have been filming, have you ever seen her carrying a laptop while filming MH?

I have never witnessed Gwen carrying her laptop, or using any laptop, during any MH filming that I’ve been in attendance.

Right lets move onto something else before Antix give you the sack (LOL)

I have been told you are quite a pianist, can you tell us about your musical aspirations, and about any performances you have made?

I am a classically trained pianist. I’ve been playing the piano since the age of four. I studied music at university and, whilst there, had a jazz quartet and performed at a regular night spot near Washington D.C. Whilst doing my PhD I regularly rehearsed with a cellist and performed classical duets a few times. I’m always composing solo piano contemporary numbers. I shall never give up music.

I would like to talk about Colin Fry, have you ever worked or come across Colin Fry in your work, and if so what are your thoughts on him and his work?

I’ve met Colin Fry a couple of times but can only base my thoughts on his ability on his show, ‘Sixth Sense’ (I’ve only seen a couple of taped episodes), and one stage show (‘The Best of British Mediumship’) that I was kindly invited to attend. Unfortunately, these two scenarios are not the sort of controlled environments where parapsychologists would be able to comment definitively on whether an ability exists or not. A parapsychologist would merely be able to say there is enough produced of interest to warrant further investigation. That is exactly how I feel, though, unfortunately, Colin is an extremely busy man and timetabling studies would be a nightmare. In addition, I’m aware that he has an aversion to being scientifically tested due to unsatisfactory experiences in the past. Despite this, my brief interaction with him showed him to be incredibly committed to spiritualism and it’s teaching.

12 years ago, Psychic News magazine were reporting on a new medium called Lincoln (Colin Fry) who was apparently performing amazing spiritual things, from spirit manefestations, seances, spirit cabinets, floating trumpets and producing ectoplasm.

Then unexpectedly they suddenly ran a story claiming that Colin Fry had got caught red handed, when during a seance held in the dark, a trumpet was floating above the table, someone switched the light on and there was Colin Fry holding the trumpet.

Since then Colin has no longer publicly participated in physical mediumship. What are your thoughts on this part of Colin Fry's act and do you believe that any physical mediumship from spirit manefestations, to floating trumpets or whatever is actually real?

I’m aware of the Psychic News accounts but cannot comment since I’ve seen no other record (i.e. video, audio or photographic), haven’t checked the validity or reliability of the source and, therefore, cannot make a valid assessment of the case’s authenticity.

Most parapsychologists involved in spontaneous case research (which includes physical mediumship) are fully aware of the tradition of spiritualism trickery that built up around the late 1800s/early 1900s. A wealth of rare writings on how to fake physical mediumship have been produced, the majority of which are in the magic domain. Because of this, parapsychologists treat physical mediumship with a great deal of care, rarely relying on eyewitness accounts (though this may be the starting point for an investigation) as evidence but preferring film evidence. Due to the conditions required for most séances, i.e. low level lighting and absence of night vision cameras, the capturing of physical mediumship is unheard of. I’d love to add to my collection of ectoplasm photos and glorious accounts of levitating objects with ones achieved recently under pseudo-controlled conditions. Better still, maybe add to the collection phenomena witnessed first-hand.

Most of us can watch a Colin Fry show and see how he is doing it (ie:Cold Reading etc) when you see such shows like Colins, do you ever roll your eyes at the people who take it all in as real?

No. The effect of cold reading and the use of the barnum effect is incredibly compelling and effective. I’ve seen professionals in a number of differing careers buckle under the weight of psychic evidence presented to them using simple cold reading. I’ve spoken to members of the public with very different socio-economic status, all of whom are taken in by these techniques. Education is the key. Inform the public that such techniques exist, make the explanation simple and salient and leave them asking the questions every time a psychic provides readings. In addition, provide the public with the ammunition to sort out the ‘bad’ from the ‘good’. I can’t comment on Colin Fry’s shows as they develop on television from the initial episodes to more recent ones unfortunately. Pay me for this interview and I may get cable!

Derren Brown is quoted as describing Spiritualsm as "Ugly" what are your thoughts on spiritualism?

It’s not necessarily ‘good-looking’, true. I prefer less deprecating words to describe it. But you can’t educate the public by dismissing over a century of paranormal practices and religious fervour with one critical word as Derren has done. You educate by beaming critical thinking to every household TV. That’s one of the things Derren did with his ‘séance’.

When i look at mediums i see what they do as being very damaging, especially when in my opinion its taking advantage of the vulnerable and grieving.

Do you think that such practising should even be legal in a world where they simply cannot prove its real?

Unfortunately the world is teeming with practising claims inherently more dangerous than mediumship (e.g. an over-reliance on various alternative therapies). There is no work examining the efficacy of mediumship (I’m working on it!) and whether it is harmful or beneficial to clients. In my opinion, in one-to-one settings, there is a possibility that it is damaging when the client is vulnerable, but, until research proves otherwise, it is only opinion. In terms of the legality of mediumship, there is an act in existence that provides the opportunity to bring charges against fraudulent mediums should there valid proof – The Fraudulent Mediums Act (1951).

Many times Mediums such as Colin Fry have justified what they do as helping people, and giving comfort.

Do you think its condescending of such mediums to be able to judge what is and isn't right for the mental states of someone who has lost a loved one? And do you think in the long run they do more damage than harm?

Afterall giving a heroin addict a shot of heroin will indeed make them feel better in the short run, but in the long run it does untold damage.

I’m really loathed to compare the effect of mediumship to something that has proven physiological detriments. Again, we’re dealing with an area that, common sensibly one could argue it is potentially damaging for vulnerable, grieving clients. It doesn’t provide such clients with the coping mechanisms for dealing with grief, whereas a bereavement counsellor does. But it needs research to show this really is the case rather than you or I speculating. In addition, we don’t know that interaction with a medium may be extremely beneficial. With regards to diagnosing mental health, I don’t think you’re using the right word when you say ‘condescending’. I think the word the word should be ‘dangerous’. It doesn’t happen often but there are cases where serious mental illness has been perpetuated by mediums reinforcing a delusion.

You along with Louie Savva and Matthew Smith have all expressed doubts in the validity and actual use of using ouija boards and table tipping as anyway to investigate the paranormal.

Does it annoy you when the likes of Derek Acorah, David Wells etc claim its proof of spiritual intervention? Especially in light of the masses of evidence that solidly points to explanations such as the Ideometer Response?

Yes. Though, to be fair, David Wells and I have discussed these techniques extensively, as we have with key events in the show. Our discussions have centered around the concept of consciousness and its role in aids such as ouija boards. Though he remains on the paranormal side of the fence, he also respects my line of reasoning, as I do his.

I would like to finish with a quick word association, in just a couple of words please write the first thing that comes to mind.

1.Derek Acorah Medium

2.Colin Fry Small

3.Uri Geller Cutlery vandal (Large)

4.Most Haunted Amazing. Love it!

5.Jane Goldman Respect

6.James Randi Rocks the boat

7.Prof.Wiseman Lucky, smart & thanks

8.Prof.Gary Schwartz Wry smiles

9.Table Tipping Psychology

10.Orbs Annoying nonentities

11.Ouija Boards Ancient diversion