Express & Star

Ghosts? What people see is a brief snapshot into the past

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The other kids at school were interested in Airfix models and toy cars, I was interested in monsters and the films of Christopher Lee," chuckles Nick Duffy.

more"It was a childhood thing and developed from there. I was also interested in Big Foot and things like that and it just went on and on."

Nick is sitting in front of his computer in the living room of his normal semi-detached house, photos of his three children are on the wall, scented candles are dotted about and a stack of Xbox games rests by the TV.

However, look a little closer, and the signs are there that all is not quite as it seems in the Duffy household.

The bookcase is heaving with stories about ghosts and witchcraft and a silver skull sits on the window ledge.

"I founded West Midlands Ghost Club back in 1989 along with Len Jackson and Darren Simpson," the 46-year-old says. "It was the only group in the area and started off really small and grew from there.

"Our aim investigation-wise was always to be objective, we didn't want to get carried away. We would just go into places and do a stakeout. No psychics, no EMF meters, we have no use for all of that. These days, people have those things for novelty value. It impresses people, but it's not worth much.

"This sort of thing has always attracted strange people – I think we even outgun ufology when it comes to weirdness – but ever since shows like Most Haunted, it's become ludicrous, the lunatics have taken over the asylum."

For almost three decades, members of the club have been visiting the spookiest and scariest places around the region, using audio visual equipment, temperature recordings and trigger objects such as crucifixes and old coins to find proof of ghosts. The focus for them has always been objectivity and a calm and measured approach.

But things have changed recently – hauntings, ghosts and spirits are now big business. Ever since shows such as Most Haunted and Ghost Hunters, people have been desperate to experience all things paranormal and, quite frankly, be scared witless.

"These days, people charge the ghost groups to come in and investigate and it's like a theme park. There's speakers and cameras etc, it's all set up. Investigations and ghost tours are big business and places manipulate their ghostly heritage for fiscal gain.

"If you just want to go and be scared, then go to Alton Towers. Some groups now go charging into places and behave as though they're in a carnival.

"We have never paid for an investigation and we never claim a place is haunted just for the sake of it.

"There are some people out there who will take advantage. I remember once, we got a call from an elderly lady who thought her house was haunted. We went round to talk to her and she reported things like objects moving from the cupboard or all the lights in the rooms being on. Unfortunately, it was clear the lady was suffering with dementia and was moving the things herself. We reassured her and said she had nothing to worry about and her home was not haunted. But then she called a psychic and he said she had the spirit of a 21-year-old man living in her house and charged her £65. It was awful and irresponsible."

So, having said all that, does Nick actually believe in ghosts?

"I am sceptical and I, myself, have never experienced the sight of a ghost. Once, I was in West Bromwich's Manor House and one of the members said they saw the ghost of a little girl following me – but I never saw it," he says, raising an eyebrow.

"I don't believe in ghosts being the spirits of the dead coming back to haunt us or levitate candles and the like but I do subscribe to the idea of certain places holding a memory. What people are seeing is a quick snapshot into the past, like watching a piece of film. I think that's why people mainly see historic-looking figures, such as old ladies in period costume in manor houses or workers on old factory sites. And I think certain places are more susceptible to this than others, you often get clusters of hauntings. For example, Great Barr and Shrewsbury have a lot of hauntings and the St Matthews area of Walsall."

Spending hours on end in creepy old buildings or trying to contact the dead via séances ("We've tried that, it is a little embarrassing shouting out to an empty room 'is anybody there?'.") seem strange ways to pass the time for a man who admits that as a youngster he couldn't even walk into a room without turning the light on first.

"I'd say I have a healthy fear," the grandfather-on-one from Willenhall admits. "But I just stomp about now and I'm OK. I don't think spirits are out to get us or hurt us, I don't think they scratch or bite.

"Although, I know someone who was home alone and was standing at the bottom of the stairs when a Henry Hoover came flying down from the landing and struck him. Although it was a very soft impact, it almost bounced off him, as though somethnig was just trying to make contact." Henry Hoover aside, Nick is keen to dismiss a number of paranormal incidents.

"Orbs on photographs? Dust particles," he explains. "It even says in the camera manuals. The vortex effect in pictures? A human hair over the lens.

"See? People are so desperate to experience anything paranormal they'll go along with anything. That's not right, that's not proper paranormal investigation."

Nick chuckles one last time.

"We may be nutters, but at least we're objective nutters."

Elizabeth Joyce