Book Review: The South Shields Poltergeist

Book Review: The South Shields Poltergeist

2010-03-28 10.26.30

Publisher The History Press UK were kind enough to forward Gary and myself a copy of “South Shields Poltergeist: One Family’s Fight Against an Invisible Intruder” by Michael J. Hallowell & Darren W. Ritson.

The story is the true account of a poltergeist event that occurred in South Shields, UK. Here is the official book description:

This new book details the authors’ investigation, over a period of several months, into what they believe to be the most intense, protracted and documented case of its kind. In December 2005, a family began to experience typical but low-level poltergeist-like phenomena in their home. Slowly but steadily the phenomena escalated, and in July 2006 the authors were asked to investigate the case. During the following four months, the investigators documented on audio tape, video and with hundreds of still photographs the following phenomena: the male occupant of the house having his upper torso slashed severely, without human intervention; knives, coins and other objects being thrown around without human intervention; a bottle of mineral water balancing on its edge and defying the law of gravity for several minutes; sinister telephone and text messages being received by the female occupant of the house, whilst the telephones the calls were seemingly coming from were disabled; written messages, seemingly from the poltergeist, being left on a child’s “doodle board”; bizarre lights floating in and out of solid objects; and, children’s toys spontaneously “bursting into life” and speaking to the investigators. The authors have collected many eye-witness statements and have consulted experts in numerous fields both here and abroad. These include graphologists, university lecturers, paranormal researchers and medical personnel, some of whom have witnessed these startling phenomena for themselves. Here is a chilling diary of an ongoing poltergeist case which rivals any previously documented.

The following reviews are the opinions of the editors of about the book


The book has mistakes that were made by the authors that can be considered anathemas for the reader. First and foremost, I find it extremely difficult to enjoy a book when I catch errors in the grammar. Although I myself am guilty of making grammar mistakes in my daily writings, I think when publishing a book you might want to go over it with a fine-tooth comb. One other grammar related annoyance was the incorrect and overly-used word “Polt“. Switching between using poltergeist in one paragraph and polt on the other, can leave you frustrated after a few hundred pages. Another small annoyance would be the use of “cliffhangers” in almost every chapter. Ending a chapter with “…[This] would lead them to some very disturbing conclusions“, “That would soon change” or the most annoying one: “…Just minutes later the two investigators would, without warning, be thrown into the centre of a protracted paranormal maelstrom” and then follow that with a description of Mike possibly observing something cross his field of vision and a split second later one of the family member yelling an “ow! god! did you see that? it hit my hip!” A plastic toy nut from the kid’s work bench lay on the floor. Very anti-climactic.

The book is around 324 pages, not counting the 30 or so pages of eyewitness statements at the end of the book. Although this is considered the average amount of pages of a book, the problem here lies with what is actually filling up these pages.

A lot of the writing in the book is redundant. (More on that later) There are also a lot of chapters that are long and winded. Some even contain cases in which the authors previously worked on. Something that  I feel is irrelevant to the title and focus of the book. Why would you dedicate a chapter or two to cases that you’ve previously worked on? This makes me believe that the goals of the authors were not clear. As if in the middle of writing this long and drawn out story, they reverted back to using the same writing style they’ve used for their other paranormal related books. In my opinion this makes the book read like a “Paranormal 101″ type of book.

An example of this would be in chapter eight (there are 43 chapters!). Within the fist few paragraphs, the authors go into a rant of badmouthing other paranormal investigators. Talking about their “strange-looking gizmos and gadgets”  while referring to others as “bumbling glory seekers [who] are a pain to the backside to serious researchers“. This to me seems like an irrelevant rant. It has nothing to do with the “Family’s fight against the invisible intruder”. Why attack others?  By doing this, you don’t validate your work as a researcher, you just come off as amateurish in nature. Especially when you are talking bad about the gadgets that others use, when you in turn use the same ones.

The authors also take a few pages to chastise spiritualists the use the word “energy” in the context of the psyche or paranormal. Suggesting that they do not know what they are talking about when they use this word. For example one someone says “this room has bad energy”. The authors take a few pages in their book to chastise those who use the word and exclaim that those who do, do not know what they are talking about. A few chapters later, Mike himself describes the poltergeist as being “…essentially energy, and not a sentient being, it couldn’t be banished…

Besides the bashing they do on other paranormal researchers, at times, the book reads like a personal advertisement for the authors. There are so many references to Mr.  Hallowell’s spiritual background and practices. Sometimes, the information is so redundant that you find yourself catching its hypocritical nature. For example, Chapter eight states:

“…Mike has Native American heritage and takes the cultural and spiritual side of Indian life very seriously. He admits ‘look at the world through Indian eyes’, and will therefore interpret evidence in accord with his spiritual and cultural leanings. What he will not do, however, is alter the data and use it selectively to fit his beliefs’.”

A few chapters later, we find out how Mike entertains the idea of the poltergeist attacker recording television shows about ghosts, in the family’s TiVo. If you are not familiar with the way TiVo works, it reads and remembers certain shows you watch, and by some algorithm it suggests and records (depending on your settings) other shows you might like. For example: I like watching paranormal documentaries on the Discovery channel. I usually do not record them since they are not worth watching later, but sometimes I do. Last month, TiVo thought I would be interested in watching Ghost Whisperer on Lifetime television, so it recorded a few episodes. (No, I don’t like that show).

Marc, the boyfriend and one of the victims, openly admitted to showing interest in the paranormal and recently taking steps to learn about it. Would it not make sense that he must have been watching paranormal related shows on television, therefore influencing TiVo to record other ghost shows? Instead, the authors manipulate or alter the data they are receiving to selectively fit their beliefs and suggest that this is an intelligent “polt” that can program a TiVo to record programming by the Discovery Channel or what ever channel. As if the ghost that is supposed to be so malevolent would use tactics like recording ghost shows on television to send a message.

The other issue I had while reading this book was that the authors find themselves explaining and giving a definition of what a Poltergeist is. It felt like chapter after chapter there was a new introduction to what a poltergeist is and a story regarding a case that the authors had worked on. If this information was omitted, I think it would of cut down the length of the book to only 100 or 200 pages. Seriously.

Overall the story of the South Shields poltergeist reads like an overly dramatic minor poltergeist case. That is, if there was really a poltergeist to begin with.

As I find out, Marc (the boyfriend) admits to faking evidence to scare his girlfriend. He hangs from the window, a stuffed animal by its neck. now, for this to become a poignant part of the book, I have to first talk about the evidence the book presents. The evidence are a few photographs of a knife laying on the floor. To which the ghost is attributed of throwing. One of the complaints was that the poltergeist or ghost was re-arranging the kid’s room. moving stuffed animals around. a very comical photograph is presented to the reader as evidence of the paranormal activity. It shows a stuffed bunny rabbit with a kitchen knife placed on its side, while the blade end is resting on another stuffed animal’s neck.

Now, because we know this whole ordeal was pushing Marc’s girlfriend to the point of a nervous breakdown, why on earth would Marc play a joke on her and hang a stuffed animal by its neck in her child’s room?  Because he is an insensitive asshole who decided to play a prank on her, that’s why. So why don’t the authors examine Marc’s purpose or character further?

In fact, they don’t really analyze the evidence to some extent. In the book, they claim that the poltergeist manifested urine in a particular spot of the house. There was no lab analysis done to determine if the urine could belong to any of the house’s occupants. Instead we learn that Mike goes behind the home owner’s backs and takes a whiff of the wet spot to see what it is (he does this so that the owners do not become alarmed). Once he smells the urine, he goes on to say that the “polt had pissed on the floor“.

It seems that instead of working to weed-out the possible pranks, the authors are more focused on writing this book. They go on in a few chapters to talk about how they were being stalked by the poltergeist. How it was creating files in their computer that upon looking at the icon, they did not recognize it; but when they clicked on the file the screen went completely white and in the center, all in a large and black font was the words “HA HA”.

Of course, the file then deleted itself. So are they suggesting that not only does this poltergeist have the uncanny ability to re-program someone TiVo for paranormal shows, but also can remotely create a programmed script on someone’s computer? Complete with a full-screen graphic of the words “HA HA” ?

In a more concise and simplistic review, I’d have to say the following:

The haunting is meticulously logged,  not by the researchers, but by the family that was affected. So most of what is being said has to be taken with a grain of salt. The book is long, winded and redundant. It is overly-sensationalized and they way it reads from start to finish, is as if the authors’ main goal was to write a best-seller while at the same time, haphazardly investigating the paranormal claims.

The photographical evidence presented is weak. A photograph of a knife on the floor, a stuffed animal with a knife on its side and a child’s doodle board with random scribbles does not constitute as strong evidence. Something that the authors push in their book descriptions.

Overall if I was not aware that this was being passed as factual events, my assumption would be that this is just a fictional story; because that’s how it reads.


I try to be open minded yet skeptical when I read books of the paranormal. I definitely am not afraid to leave my comfort zone intellectually and have no problems in learning from reading, but I had problems with how this book was presented to the reader. The preliminary read from my viewpoint is this: It’s an OK story, but keep in mind the story should be viewed at as a story, which I will allude to later. The book is a hard read, and what I mean by ‘hard’ is you’ll have to grind it out to finish it. I found myself wanting to skip paragraphs towards the end due to the redundant nature of the writing, in which every detail of every occurrence is pointed out, and not just for the sake of evidence. Sometimes the dialogue in the book just makes you want to scream. Why put it there? Wouldn’t it be better to write a brief about what was said than to drag out a dialogue, especially when I doubt the actual conversations were copied verbatim anyways?

It appeared at times that there was either confusion or lack of focus from the writers as they attempt to describe the habits and behaviours  of poltergeists, then switch to say that ‘their’ poltergeist wasn’t like that yet when the poltergeist would do something they would present the point that ‘that was how poltergeists act’ yet state how at other times ‘their’ poltergeist acted different. This is presented in a very confusing way, which makes you wonder how the poltergeist was supposed to act in the first place. It’s pointed out that poltergeists rarely harm people, yet it can (and does), then some introspection is done to question if poltergeists are bound by higher set of spiritual laws and cannot harm people. Why mention this point and then mention that the poltergeist does harm someone? It makes no sense. Another case in point is how it’s pointed out that poltergeists are very clean and tidy creatures, yet say that ‘theirs’ was not like that, yet in many chapters you read how the poltergeist tears apart a child’s room only to replace everything back to where it was. Sounds tidy to me. Anyhows, I am being nit picky.

Many of the events that occur in the book are what you might expect from a poltergeist. Moving objects around, playing with toys, stealing and throwing objects. Then it starts communicating via a etch-a-sketch styled toy. Then it threatens and scares people via the toy and others. Then it starts messing with the TiVo and starts recording bogus TV shows with scary names. It starts to steal and use the family’s cell phones, sending threatening text messages, and it doesn’t matter whose phone it used, even those of passerby’s in automobiles. It delete’s files on cell phones too, by the way.  Then it starts to alter and create files on computers, over distances. It gets rather unbelievable, almost ridiculous at times. This is how the poltergeist proceeds in this book. It actually builds itself into a crescendo before burning out at the end. This is due to the poltergeist needing negative energy to feed upon, and will use batteries and household appliances in order to supplement it’s diet, along with energy emitted by cell phones. No seriously. It’s in the book. One facet of this book I felt was rather unbelievable was how the poltergeist would ‘translocate’ items, in particular, the small child of the family. At one point, the family goes running around crazy as the boy goes missing, only to find him a short time later wrapped up in his blanket in the closet. The poltergeist is blamed. OK the poltergeist just ‘magicked’ your baby away for a few minutes. Do you think you would stand for this? The family thinks nothing of it, because they continue to live there and keep the family unit intact, when it’s apparent that the focus of the poltergeist is the man of the household who isn’t married to the female of the household and the child is not ‘theirs’. You would think he would be a goner after baby did a disappearing act. Not to mention mass amounts of the activity is centered around the room of the toddler, and it appears the family doesn’t mind this as the toddler sleeps and plays in that room throughout the book, even after disappearing for a few.

Annoyingly, you don’t know what is supposed to be in this family’s home at times. It starts off that there is a poltergeist, then there is a ‘quasi-corporeal companion’ living in the boy’s room called Sammy. Then they are not sure if Sammy is a QCC or the poltergeist, then it’s that the poltergeist is kicking the QCC out of the room, but then they think the poltergeist is the QCC. Along the way, apparitions are spotted and at one point, several people see what basically amounts to a shadow person. As stated before, this is just another of the author’s hairpin turns, you are just going to have to go along for the ride. It really puts the reader off  when reading the book, as you will driven through a series of thoughts and opinions with a totally different outcome towards the end. Kind of like a thrilling movie, don’t you think? If the book was written in a more structured way instead of going through the motions, the book would be half the size of what it is, and probably more readable.

I point out that this book should be accepted as story, not fact. There are various reasons for this, which are even presented to the reader in this book, albeit indirectly. It should be noted that there is absolutely no evidence offered to the public by the authors of this book. Most of what the authors will mention to readers in order to ‘validate’ this book is eyewitness testimonials from either: friends, family, organizations and entities they have founded and/or lead. The pictures are almost comical, and appear staged yet included are a couple of PR shots of the authors, just so you know who they are, by face. Never mind the ‘mountains of evidence’ they have on hand, they want you to know what they look like. The only impartial investigation comes from another paranormal investigation group, whose testimonial shows up on the -last- page of the book and appears most damning of all testimonials when read, stating “In our view, this case represents a good opportunity for a possible objective evidence of paranormal processes – as we believe paranormal events or fraud could only explain the case. However, serious consideration should be given to an increase in human and equipment resources coupled with a robust and widely consulted methodology. Only if this were to take place would the case, in our view, transcend the status of compelling subjective and anecdotal evidence into objective evidence from which firm conclusions could be drawn.

If this book were accepted as factual, it would be, without a doubt, the most compelling case for the existence of poltergeists, ever. It would outdo any other case of poltergeist activity from past accounts and more than likely outdo future cases, yet the reader will be left out in the cold at the end, caught in an apparent Catch-22, as the reader will find out. No evidence will be presented, none exists for public reference, you are just going to have to take it on faith. It almost strikes me as intentionally done in this fashion. I have read other books where no evidence is either presented or can be presented, and you have to take it on faith, yet I was ok with that, due to the nature of the book. The people were named openly, their residences referenced, their stories believable. In this book you will be presented with a family and residence cloaked in anonymity, occurances and events bordering unbelievable and astounding , at frequent or non-stop intervals throughout the book.

As far as pseudo-skeptics are concerned, you should not even be at this site reading this material, much less this article as your minds are pre-determined. Those of a skeptical nature will find the story OK, but should hold no hopes of any evidence being presented. Believers will find the story readable, although dry, but will have a hard time connecting with the characters of this book.