Thursday 30 May 2013

Helen Duncan

The strange case of Helen Duncan combines paranormal investigation with government conspiracy, a perfect blend for HPANWO. The case manifests on several levels and there is a lot of contemporary research into it still going on; it continues to arouse considerable controversy even though it came to a head almost seventy years ago. Helen Duncan was a psychic medium from Perthshire, Scotland. She was born in 1897 and died in 1956, and in 1944 she was the last person ever to be imprisoned under the archaic Witchcraft Act of 1735. According to the most prominent sources, she was a clever illusionist using magicians' tricks; however a new book has recently been written which calls that slur into question and attempt to redeem her, Helen Duncan- The Mystery Show Trial by Robert Hartley, published in 2007 see:

"Hellish Nell" got her nickname not from her paranormal talents but from her tomboy personality and fiery temper, something that she'd display her entire life. From cradle to grave she had psychic abilities of the rarest kind. She was never very much good at school but she found that if she placed her writing book under her desk for a while and took it out later "somebody" would have written in the correct answers. She also alarmed her classmates and teachers by going into a trance and yelling portents of doom at them. No doubt a Skeptic would say she was suffering from temporal lobe epilepsy, see: However she proved very useful in other circumstances; once when a man got lost in a snowstorm, Helen's remote viewing assisted a rescue party in finding him. As she grew to adulthood she found a way to control these experiences. She soon became a member of an elite order of mediumship, that of the physical medium; somebody with the ability to produce physical effects in the world around them via psychic means. A lot of nonsense had been written about the history of Spiritualism; contrary to popular belief it did not begin with the Fox sisters, but is something that has always been a part of the human world and probably always will, see: Helen Duncan was no more than the modern equivalent of the shaman or village wise woman; what we today call the "supernatural" was once considered as natural as the air we breathe. She came from a poor family and both she and her husband were too sick to work so she decided to earn a living in the world of seance Spiritualism. She induced "raps"- loud knocking noises, spirit voices and telekinesis- moving objects without touching them. In 1929 she first channelled a spirit called "Albert", who in his last incarnation on Earth had been a man from Sydney, Australia who had died in 1909. Sitters at her seances also encountered a three year old girl called "Peggy" who had died the same year and worked alongside "Albert" in his contact with Helen. Helen also managed to produce "ectoplasm", a strange material that issues from a physical medium's body while in trance, that forms into recognizable shapes, like the faces and bodies of departed souls. In this segment of my new fictional novel, The Obscurati Chronicles, I describe an ectoplasmic emission; scroll down about half way:
By 1930 Helen had gained a reputation as a highly proficient psychic and her business was booming. Then psychical researchers came knocking on her door anxious to discover if her apparently miraculous powers could be proven true scientifically. In October Helen jumped on a train to England for an expenses-paid trip to the laboratories of the London Spiritualist Alliance. This trip was to prove very troublesome for Helen; she was denounced unequivocally as a fraud and numerous articles were published in the media discrediting her abilities as no more than conjuring tricks. However it's possible that these articles were biased due to personal issues because, being a guinea pig for the LSA, she signed an exclusivity contract which she subsequently broke, perhaps unwittingly. Maybe she didn't know it at the time but there was a lot of rivalry in psychical research in those days. The LSA were in stiff competition with a solo maverick in the field called Harry Price; here's his official website: Price had initially tendered for the project to research Helen Duncan himself and had been passed over in favour of the LSA. This infuriated him. However he approached Helen privately and offered her a large sum of money to do some sittings in his own laboratory, and to keep this secret from the LSA. Helen agreed. When the LSA found out they hit the roof; Helen was staying in London on their tab and was moonlighting behind their back with their arch-enemy. There must have been some very heated phone calls ringing through to Price's office and Helen was caught in the middle. It eventually affected her relationship with Price and she had a blazing row with him one day in the laboratory and even struck him physically and walked out. She later apologized and the project continued. Skeptics have made a big deal out of this barney and claim it blew up because Price wanted to have her medically examined and she knew if she allowed this she'd be caught out as a fake; it was a textbook trick of mediums in those days to hide props in their mouth, nose and "pelvic region". The truth is very different; after Helen returned to the project she agreed to have a full examination of her body, including x-rays. However soon after she decided she had had enough of the entire business and began accusing Harry Price, his assistant Molly Goldney, and even her own husband, of manipulating her behind her back. This new argument centred around an employee of Helen's business Mary McGinley. McGinley had "revealed" that Helen was faking ectoplasm by swallowing and regurgitating cheesecloth to make it look like ectoplasm, the first time this possibility had even been suggested. However Price and the LSA wrote in their reports that this is exactly what Helen had been doing all along, even though hardly any of this alleged cheesecloth was ever obtained; Price claims to have taken a sample of it once which he says was cheesecloth mixed with egg white and tissue paper. How Helen managed to swallow this, keep it in her stomach, make it invisible to x-rays, bring it up in the laboratory and then swallow it again without leaving vomit stains everywhere, has never been explained. Skeptics have bent spoons, done cold reading and performed bare-handed surgery, but none have ever swallowed, regurgitated and then swallowed again, a six foot square piece of cloth, without using their hands and making no mess. It turned out that McGinley was probably a mole planted by the LSA, but the damage was done. Helen broke the agreement she'd made with Price by unexpectedly returning home before completing the number of experiments she'd promised to do. Price probably joined the LSA in their dismissal of his subject because he wanted to beat them to the line over which investigator had been humiliated the least by Helen. The 1930 study was used later in Helen's career to blacken her name, but it was not nearly as conclusive as its proponents state; it was not completed, either in its official form at the LSA or in its unofficial form after Price poached her. It was also catastrophically riven with personal animosity. What's more, as we'll see shortly, distinctive political and legal reasons to blacken her name would turn up a few years later.

Just when Helen may have wondered how things could possibly get any worse, along comes a woman with a nature as sinister as her name, Esson Maule. Esson Maule was a writer who approached Helen in 1932 with the professed intention to write a book about her. Helen was reeling from the London debacle and swiftly agreed in the hope that she could regain a bit of her formerly good reputation. Helen arranged to meet Maule in Edinburgh to conduct a seance with her at a Spiritualist Church. However during the seance it became clear that it was a trap. Maule believed that Helen was a charlatan and had tricked her into a position where she could expose her. At a prearranged signal during the seance, Maule and her accomplices jumped forward and made a grab for the ectoplasm. Helen screamed and there was a fight in which Helen swung a chair at Maule. Maule then contacted Harry Price and together they reported Helen to the police for fraud. The evidence was a white cotton slip that Maule and Price accused Helen of wearing at the start of the seance and then taking off and using to imitate ectoplasm. However Helen was a large, stocky woman and the slip was about five sizes too small for her; nevertheless the court still found her guilty and fined her ten shillings. The press reinforced their derision of Helen Duncan and it was only in the specialist Spiritualist newspapers that she found any support. The editor of the Psychic News (see: wrote an article highlighting a large number of discrepancies in Maule's testimony; also none of the other witnesses in the Spiritualist Church would back up Maule's statement. The tiny cotton slip and Esson Maule's testimony formed the cornerstone of the case. So why did Helen lose? We'll come back to that later.
Over the following years, despite all the negative publicity, Helen continued to practice as a physical medium. In 1939 the UK declared war on Germany and World War II began; with all the people killed in the Blitz and mounting casualties in the armed forces, interest in Spiritualism burgeoned. Helen did not miss cashing in on this growth in the industry, however soon her activities would stray away from the world of Spiritualism into the realm of politics and espionage; the resulting calamity would make the Edinburgh trial pale into insignificance.
In 1941 Helen conducted a series of seances all around the country in which "Albert" appeared to the sitters in ectoplasmic form. The procedure for these seances was standard. The sitters would gather on rows of chairs in the Spiritualist Church or seance room. Helen would strip off her clothes and undergo a thorough examination by a nurse to verify that she was not concealing anything about her person; this would be witnessed by several female members of the audience. Then Helen would put on a plain black dress and walk into the seance room and sit on another chair behind a curtain. The lights would all be switched off except for a single forty watt red bulb. Then the curtains would be parted and the seance would begin. But Helen's life changed forever when she conducted one of these events on the 27th of May 1941. "Albert" appeared as usual and announced to the sitters: "I'm sorry to have to tell you that a British battleship has just been sunk. I have fourteen hundred spirits newly arrived who were among her officers and men." There was a gasp from the audience; nobody had heard of any Royal Navy battleship being sunk. Such an occurrence would surely have been in the news, but it hadn't. Fatefully, one of the audience members was Brigadier Roy Firebrace, a famous astrologer and spiritual researcher, but also an army intelligence officer. After the seance he went straight to his office and made some enquiries with the Admiralty. It turned out that, yes, a British ship had been lost, HMS Hood, an Admiral-class battlecruiser, had been destroyed by the guns of the German warships, Bismark and Prinz Eugen. One thousand four hundred and fifteen men had gone down with her. Hood was the largest and most powerful ship the Royal Navy had and her loss was a major blow to the war effort. This came at a time when morale was very poor on the home front, it was the height of the Blitz and just one year since the Dunkirk Evacuation, people were expecting Hitler's forces to land at Dover any day; therefore the Government decided to keep the loss of Hood top secret. Firebrace was astounded; as a believer in Spiritualism himself he would have immediately understood what was going on. It seemed Helen Duncan was able to reveal state secrets via the testimony of the dead. You can bet this well and truly marked her card, in fact Firebrace confirmed this after the war, see here at about 13.00: In November that same year Helen went on a tour of southern England and held a series of events in Portsmouth at a small makeshift Spiritualist centre called the Master Temple; it was just a room in a house above a chemists shop. On the 25th during a seance at 4.30 PM Helen materialized a man who identified himself as a sailor aboard the battleship HMS Barham which was currently fighting in the Mediterranean theatre of operations. He told the audience that he had just been drowned as the ship sank. Again the audience was dumbstruck; they had heard nothing of the sort in the newspapers or on the radio. A woman in the second row recognized the apparition as her son and broke down with grief. The news delivered during the seance spread like wildfire all over Portsmouth and beyond. The wartime intelligence services would probably have started keeping an eye on Helen because of that, even if agents hadn't already been planted in her audiences. As with Hood, the Government chose not to publicize the loss of Barham; even relatives of the eight hundred and fifty crew members killed had not been informed. What was being whispered in hushed voices in the cabinet war rooms is not known, but Brig. Firebrace did confirm that he was consulted by the security services about what could be done. However the Government must have had a few Skeptics who spoke out against anybody who took Firebrace seriously. It seems that they chose not to act immediately because Helen was permitted to carry on practicing her mediumship for the next two years. Everything changed in January 1944 when Helen returned to Portsmouth. What happened next is one of the most unusual legal dramas in history; why you think it took place will depend on your point of view. Helen was arrested and prosecuted for fraud, as she had been in Edinburgh twelve years earlier; however this time her accusers drove it all up to a completely new league. 
Helen was probably expecting to be sent to the local magistrates again for another moderate fine or, at the very worst, a week or two inside under the Vagrancy Act; this was the usual way the law dealt with mediums, but to her shock her case was transferred to no less than the Central Criminal Court of London. Here Helen stood trial under the Witchcraft Act of 1735, an archaic statute very rarely used in over a hundred years. However if convicted the felon could be sentenced to as much as nine months in jail. The arrest occurred on Wednesday the 19th of January; when one of her seances was "busted" in the same way Esson Maule did it twelve years earlier. During one of the sessions two of the sitters switched on torches, leapt forward and "grabbed the fake ectoplasm". The two moles were a young naval officer Lt. Stanley Worth, and a policeman, Rupert Cross. It was an organized raid, a posse of policemen had been waiting outside and as soon as the two men disrupted the seance they burst in. The photo above shows Helen walking to the Old Bailey with her husband; I can imagine the confusion and distress that was going through her head. Why had her charge been escalated the way it had? Why was she appearing in a court that was usually used for trying lords, traitors and serial killers? Why was she denied bail? As I said above, how you analyze this event will depend on your opinions on the paranormal and how honest you think the Government is. On one level it was an open-and-shut case: Helen Duncan was advertizing herself as a psychic medium when all she was doing was psychological tricks and sleights of hand, the kind of scam James Randi would have exposed, if he hadn't been too busy at the time escaping from handcuffs while hanging over Niagra Falls. The State had a cast iron case because there was multiple, firsthand eyewitness testimony of her chicanery in action as well as a former conviction for the same offence and a psychical expert who rejected her paranormal abilities fourteen years earlier. What's more the pre-sentencing character witness, the Chief Constable of Portsmouth Police, told the Judge that she was "pest on society" a heartless exploiter of vulnerable, grief-stricken people; this left the Judge no choice but to impose the most severe sentence: nine months in prison, which, as far as a superficial glance can tell, she richly deserved. But is it really that simple?

Firstly, we need to look at the background of the personnel involved in the trial and Robert Hartley, the author of Helen Duncan- The Mystery Show Trial has done some painstaking research into their histories. Firstly the Crown chose John Cyril Maude KC to be the prosecuting counsel. This was despite the fact that Helen was being tried in Court Number 4 and Maude was simultaneously conducting another case next door in Court Number 1; he was defending a man accused of murder in, funnily enough, Portsmouth, the same place Helen has been arrested. One of the key witnesses to that case was Chief Constable Arthur West, the same Chief Constable who hammered home Helen's maximum sentence. As we shall see this was not the only role Chief Constable West played in the imprisonment of Helen Duncan. What's more the defendant in that other trial had accused West of framing him, and he ended up being acquitted. Maude was constantly nipping between Courts 1 and 4 as he juggled both cases. In his absence from Court 4 his assistant, Henry Elam, conducted the Crown's case against Helen. Why didn't the Crown simply bring in another barrister to prosecute Helen, somebody who could concentrate 100% on putting her away? Well, it's certainly true that John Maude KC was regarded as one of the finest and most successful barristers in the country, but could there be another reason for picking him? His education is almost monotonously textbook elite, Eton College, then Christ Church College, Oxford. He was also a member of the Middle Temple, one of the quasi-secret societies, the Inns of Court, which all barristers have to join. What's more a year after he sent Helen Duncan down Maude was elected a Member of Parliament. But perhaps most importantly of all John Maude was head of MI5's Section B19, a wartime unit responsible for tracking the sources of rumours; the kind of human intelligence gathering that would be necessary to monitor Spiritualist mediums. If that is the case then he would have investigated Helen in his job as an intelligence officer as well as jailing her in his job as a lawyer. The choice of judge is interesting too. It was His Honour the Recorder of London Sir Gerald Dodson, and there is an authentic letter in existence from the Department of Public Prosecutions (since 1986 called the Crown Prosecution Service) specifically recommending Dodson to preside over the trial of Helen Duncan. Sir Gerald Dodson was a former officer in the Royal Navy who was very active in charities and advocacy groups to do with the Navy and naval veterans; and he would therefore have been deeply involved emotionally in the sinking of HMS Hood and HMS Barham. Another man who would almost certainly have advized the prosecution was a senior Naval Intelligence officer called Commander Ian Fleming. He had previously spied on Spain and also had monitored the Moscow Show Trials in 1933, and the manner in which Helen's trial was conducted indicates his influence. In a way Helen's prosecution was a show trial, hence the title of Hartley's book. Fleming was also very interested in the paranormal and occult. He was a member of the Society for Psychical Research as well as a close friend of the famous purveyor of Magick, Aleister Crowley. Like Firebrace, Fleming would have immediately grasped the implications of Helen's activities. If Ian Fleming's name sounds familiar to you, this is probably because he is today very famous for being the author of the James Bond novels, which have of course spawned a very popular series of films. Helen's defence counsel was Charles Loseby; he was not a barrister, so was not a member of any of the furtive and slippery Inns of Court, but he was a highly experienced solicitor and also an ardent Spiritualist. He believed passionately in Helen's cause and wanted badly to win the trial for her, but sadly he made some fatal mistakes; he thought that by proving Spiritualism true he could get Helen acquitted. The most obvious problem with that is that the indictment was against the personal machinations of a particular medium, not mediumship in general; the second problem was that he hinged his case on the false assumption that the court would give him the chance.

The prosecution witnesses all reported that they had been lured to the seance in Portsmouth by promises of seeing something truly supernatural and had instead been confronted merely with Helen Duncan herself covered in a white sheet pretending to be ectoplasm. The only problem was that this white sheet was never found even though one of the sitters reported seizing it at the moment the police rushed in. It is odd that on every occasion people have lambasted Helen for faking her act using white sheets or cheesecloth, they have never actually produced said textiles; even though she had performed innumerable times in both Spiritualist institutions and psychical research laboratories. The closest anybody came to it was Esson Maule and the extra-small vest mentioned above. Their case was centred around a series of witness testimonies; luckily for them the principle witness was a highly respected pillar of the community, a young naval officer called Lieutenant Stanley Raymond Worth. Worth is still alive and living in New Zealand; he reports that he was invited to the Portsmouth seances by some friends who regularly used to attend Spiritualist events, what they called "the spooks", as a form of entertainment. As soon as he saw Helen Duncan in action he could plainly see that she was a complete mountebank and made it his "duty to bring her to justice!" He reported her to the police and this is why the raid took place, and for no other reason. Lt Worth's links to the police are interesting. He's the son of one senior police officer and the nephew of another. He was also was a part-time Special Branch constable himself; not to mention the fact that his closest family friend was the aforementioned Chief Constable Arthur West he also knew the police officer in charge of the raid. Perhaps the dodgiest factor in the role of Lt. Stanley Worth is that he lied under oath when asked directly by Loseby if he was involved with the intelligence services. His direct answer was "no" and that he was simply "spying on his own account", whatever the hell that means! In fact it has been revealed since that he had been selected for detachment to the Naval Provost's intelligence division. This could well mean he could be reporting to Fleming and Maude; how strange considering the role of those two men in other parts of the trial. All the personnel on the prosecution side of Helen's trial are distinctly starting to look like some kind of secret cabal. Lt. Worth is further implicated because it seemed one of his acquaintances tried to make some money off Worth's clandestine campaign against Helen. One of the other regular sitters at Helen's events made a bet with a friend of his in Oxford that Helen Duncan would be arrested in Portsmouth within two weeks and that her principle accuser would be named Stanley Worth; he won the bet. The only way he could have known all this beforehand is that if Worth knew in advance what was planned and had let it slip, either accidentally or deliberately; did he even have a cut in the bet? The suspicious factors stack up even further when back into Helen's life came psychic investigator Harry Price; you'll recall they had met fourteen years earlier and he had allegedly revealed her trickery to the world. The DPP asked Price to consult, but he was not ordered to appear as an expert witness; his job was to brief the prosecution witnesses! In other words Worth, Cross and the other prosecution witnesses were coached. This is highly irregular and could be interpreted as an attempt to pervert the course of justice. 
Over the course of the trial all the sitters present at Helen's seances in Portsmouth were put in the witness box. The testimonies varied enormously between defence and prosecution witnesses. For example, all of the Crown's witnesses report the same basic effect: the curtains opened and a human figure that looked like Helen Duncan moved around with a white sheet draped over her; the voices they heard were all very like Helen's. Sometimes she revealed her face and it was definitely Helen Duncan's face. Clearly Harry Price coached them well. As I said above though, no white sheet was found by the police even though Worth and Cross said they "grabbed it" and the police were on the scene too in a matter of moments. When questioned by Loseby on this point Worth's answer was: "Well, obviously somebody hid it just in time." Obviously? This is very much a circular argument fallacy: Nobody found any sheet because somebody hid it- How do you know somebody hid it?- Well, how else could we have failed to find it? Worth said that somebody sitting in the audience wore an arm sling and that was where it must have been hidden. However it seems strange that the police didn't think of that and search for it there, even if somehow the concealment of a piece of linen big enough to cover a twenty stone woman could be secreted quickly enough to escape their gaze by somebody with one a bad arm; in the chaos of the raid too. Loseby's witnesses on the other hand, who received no coaching that I'm aware of, tell a very different story; they report seeing Helen sitting securely in a chair while a mysterious white semi-fluid substance issued from her mouth and nose. The fluid morphed into the shapes of people, dead people, whom some audience members recognized; for example, in the case of the Barham sailor. "Albert" and "Peggy" also appeared from time to time and were described in detail that matched from witness to witness. These entities conversed with the sitters, touched them and even in one case, kissed them. Another witness, Mrs Anne Potter, saw her mother who spoke to her from just two feet away and she was easily recognizable, down to the moles on the skin of her face. A parrot, a cat and several other animals also materialized in ectoplasm. When the spirit withdrew from the ectoplasm the witnesses report that it sank into the floor and evaporated. The prosecution placed a great deal of emphasis on the seance lighting. The seance room was a converted upstairs lounge above a chemists shop at 301 Copnor Road, Portsmouth. You can see from the modern photo of the premises below that it has a large bay window; that was the room in which Helen's events took place. However this was covered by a blackout blind, as most windows were during the Blitz. The room was lit by a white light when not in use, but when the seance started that light was switched off and the bulb was removed for safety; bright light can harm a medium in trance. The only light left on in the room was a forty watt red lamp; in fact occasionally "Albert" even requested that somebody put their handkerchief over it to shade it more. According to Lt. Worth the light was so deeply red and so dim that it was impossible to see the details the defence witnesses claimed they saw; but there's a contradiction here: Lt. Worth and PC Cross were in the second row of seats; yet they were very positive that they could identify Helen Duncan as the ghostly figure. Then they try to claim that the witness who saw their dead friends and relatives should not make such a claim because the light was too bad to be sure; this was even though some of those witnesses were in the front row, just a foot or two from the curtains. There were also multiple contradictions between their police statements, their preliminary magistrate testimonies and their Crown Court testimonies. Unfortunately Charles Loseby did not challenge these discrepancies enough during his cross-examination of the Crown's witnesses. This was because the plan for his defence was to wait until the next phase of the trial when he thought he could have the entire case dismissed in one fell swoop; he would get Helen to hold a seance in the courtroom and so prove that she was a genuine psychic!
"If Mrs Duncan is a materialization medium, then there is a Spiritworld near her at this moment... and a guide right here... possibly waiting for an opportunity to help her. Let us call him! Yes, here in the Central Criminal Court of London. Why not? She requires a curtained off partition and a red light; nothing more." So petitioned Loseby to the court. The judge refused point blank. After an appeal by the defence counsel Dodson agreed to let the jury decide. He polled them and they elected not to. I wonder how close that poll was! Who on the jury did not want to see something like that!? If I'd been there I'd have voted "yes" without a second thought. Dodson's refusal is of course legally understandable on one level, for the reasons I said above. The reality of Spiritualism was not on trial; a particular self-proclaimed Spiritualist medium was; whether the true manifestation of spirits was possible, or if it were even possible, whether Helen Duncan herself was capable of doing that herself, was not relevant to the case. She could have been the greatest medium the world had ever seen, spewing out ectoplasmic entities left, right and centre at will... but if on just one occasion in Portsmouth she decided to cheat with cheesecloth; that, and that alone, was the concern of the court. But there is another level to the issue; if Helen had been allowed to demonstrate her powers in court in front of the judge and jury it would devastate the prosecution's case because they would be in a position in which they'd have to prove that a woman who was provably capable of producing genuine psychic phenomena would need to cheat. Did she just have her off-days and had developed fool-proof illusionism for those occasions? Maude and Elam had spent the entire trial portraying Helen as a ruthless harridan who had made a life-long career of double-dealing artifice; a successful demonstration to the court would show her to be a very different kind of woman indeed. What's more, if it were true that Dodson, Maude, Worth and all the rest were in league with each other to put Helen away on the orders of their Government then there's no length they would not go to the secure such an outcome... including rigging jury polls.
On Friday the 31st of March 1944, the judge summed up and the jury retired to consider their verdict; this took less than thirty minutes: Guilty. The following Monday Chief Constable Arthur West gave her a such damning character assessment that Helen could not have expected less than the maximum penalty: nine months in Holloway Prison. As she was taken down poor Helen cried out in her broad Scottish accent: "I ha' nae even done anythin'!... Oh God! Is there a God?" In June she appealed unsuccessfully against the sentence and was finally released at the completion of her term on Friday the 22nd of September. Mr and Mrs Homer, the couple running the Master Temple in Portsmouth, were convicted as accessories and given a four month suspended sentence. On June the 6th, while Helen was languishing in her prison cell, there was a massive amphibious invasion of Normandy, France by British and Allied forces in Operation Overlord, catching the enemy completely unawares; history would come to know it as "D-Day".

The connection between the supernatural and warfare is stronger than you might think. It has a long history; both Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great used to consult soothsayers before going into battle. In 1429 a teenage peasant girl called Jeanne Roumée was put in charge of the French army because the king believed she was receiving divine guidance. The advice from Joan of Arc gave France victory over England at the Siege of Orleans. All through the Cold War both sides used psychic spies to keep tabs on what their enemy was up to. In the modern world paranormal powers are still a major part of government machinations, despite public ridicule of the notion, for example see: We are told that Helen Duncan's case was a simple and straightforward matter: she was a cheat and she had happened to be caught cheating. She had a fair trial and the outcome was that she was fairly convicted and punished for her crimes. But based on the fact of paranormal intervention into matters of statesmanship in the past, plus the other suspicious elements of her conviction, let me offer an alternative hypothesis: Helen Duncan was a real physical medium. The reason she was imprisoned was because her powers allowed her to gain classified information about the War from those who had been briefed into it and had subsequently passed away. She could then relate this information to anybody who happened to attend one of her seances, including Nazi spies. By 1944 preparations were underway for D-Day, a battle that was absolutely crucial to the outcome of the War. Preparations for the Normandy Landings included a massive top secret operation of training, logistics and deception. A fake village was even built in Dorset which you can visit today as a museum piece! The operation consisted of thousands of people sworn to secrecy; it was, to use my own terminology, a dangerously "top-heavy conspiracy". The planners knew very well how precarious the whole endeavour was. Helen Duncan represented an unpluggable leak; it would only take one of the people involved in D-Day to die before June the 6th, and only one enemy spy to be in the seance room when that person appeared in spirit, for secrecy of the whole invasion to be blown. Therefore the Government concocted a plan to put Helen somewhere where she could not practice her mediumship for the duration of the run-up to D-Day. They used intelligence agents in the police and legal system to frame Helen and imprison her. In fact in a way I'm pleased Helen was convicted and jailed because if that plan had failed they would probably have killed her. It's clear that the Prime Minister Winston Churchill was not cleared for the plan because he commented himself on the case on the 3rd of April. He sent a memo to the Home Secretary saying: "Let me have a report on why the Witchcraft Act of 1735 was used in a modern Court of Justice. What was the cost of this trial to the State, observing that witnesses were brought from Portsmouth and maintained here in this crowded London for a fortnight, and the Recorder kept busy with all this obsolete tomfoolery, to the detriment of necessary work in the Courts." Skeptics often claim that Helen was not a real medium at all, but because Winston Churchill was a believer in Spiritualism there was a sort of "climate of Woo" hanging over the British Government during his premiership; this memo comprehensively disproves that. To this day, the elderly Stanley Worth stands by his story, see: He doggedly maintains that he ended up at Helen Duncan's seance quite by chance because one of his mates invited him "to the spooks" for a laugh. He reported her to the police purely out of a feeling of personal indignation, and he feels that she got her just desserts. Is he being honest or is he still just doing his duty under the Official Secrets Act. Perhaps after sixty-nine years of telling this story, he has come to believe it himself. There's a fictional allegory in a novel by Brian Aldiss, a local Oxford science fiction writer, Helliconia Winter, the last book in a trilogy. The novel is set on an alien planet in which the inhabitants all have mediumistic abilities and regularly commune with their dead ancestors, a practice called "pauk" that is as common to them as eating and sleeping. One day the government on the planet decide to outlaw "pauk" because they're terrified that the spirits of the dead will reveal state secrets. When you can't silence somebody even by killing them, what do you do? Interestingly the government justified its policy by falsely claiming that "pauk" causes the spread of disease.

Helen Duncan went back to Spiritualism after being released from jail and had a few more brushes with the law, although none nearly as serious as the one in 1944. She was the last person ever to be tried under the Witchcraft Act; it was soon replaced with the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951, which made life difficult for many Spiritualists until it itself was repealed in 2008; there have happily been no equivalent replacements. However, in all the years since and with new laws on their side, the UK Government have never come down as hard on anybody as they did on Helen Duncan in 1944. Helen performed her last seance on the 28th of October 1956 at West Bridgford Spiritualist Church in Nottingham. The establishment was raided by the police and Helen was badly injured. She had never enjoyed good health in all her life; the shock of what happened in Nottingham probably aggravated her condition and indirectly caused her death just a few weeks later on the 6th of December, back home in Edinburgh. However, her supporters have not gone away; here's their website: They say that Helen has been in regular contact ever since.

Maybe there was a deeper issue at stake in the strange case of Helen Duncan. Maybe it explains why Recorder Dodson blocked Helen's courtroom demonstration and also why Esson Maule got her nailed in 1932. Maybe there was a far more long-term and strategic goal involved than just D-Day. It all comes down to the fact that the acceptance of the truth of Spiritualism would inevitably result in the acceptance that there is such thing as Life-After-Death. At a senior level of Government I think there are people who know very well that the Afterlife exists; but they just don't want us to know. They've kept it secret for much more fundamental reasons than merely the concealment of military attacks. The official acknowledgement that when we die our consciousness neither ceases to exist forever, nor is tossed into the merciless hands of some vengeful God because you didn't put enough money onto the church collection plate, would have a profound effect on every aspect of human society. Atheo-Skeptics like Richard Dawkins and Andrew Copson claim that Life-After-Death would somehow reduce the value of our current life on Earth; I've never understood why they think that. I speculate that the official Governmental revelation that the Afterlife exists would probably have a very positive effect on the human morale (unless your self-esteem is tied up with being an MBA-er of course! See: It would probably eliminate the fear of dying; it would make grieving over the death of a loved one far easier to endure because it would constitute only a temporary separation, not a permanent loss; one which would eventually end with a happy reunion. From what I've seen, the Illuminati-controlled authorities guard the secret of spiritual reality closest of all. It's a bigger secret than the UFO's, bigger than Free Energy, bigger than 9/11, bigger than Atlantis, bigger than the Reptilians. This entails that its successful suppression must be even more quintessential to the survival of the New World Order than any of those other snippets of hidden knowledge. Why? I'm still not a hundred percent sure. I know why the Church wouldn't like it; it would mean that they could no longer control people using fear of Hellfire and damnation any more, but on a secular level it's more complicated. I suspect that the cover-up is still a long way from ending; in fact a few days ago I attempted to revise Helen Duncan's very biased Wikipedia page: and it was very speedily edited back. I think this is maybe the subject for another dedicated article. Perhaps one day we will all know the truth about the Afterlife and, who knows, in future court cases it may become perfectly normal legal practice to subpoena a ghost in the way Loseby wanted to subpoena "Albert".