Stories about paranormal investigators who trespass and then end up in some sort of trouble are a dime a dozen these days, but this one made me laugh. Not so much because of what happened or because this is a funny story, but mainly just the way the British media uses certain terms. “Ghost detectors?”
GHOST hunters from Potters Bar and Barnet who were discovered at a ‘haunted’ old Bedfordshire church by police officers on a routine late night patrol have been found guilty of causing criminal damage while they were there.
They had been told about the former St Mary’s Church on the outskirts of Clophill by another ghost hunter who claimed he had been punched in the face by a spook.
The men, who had been smoking cannabis, told the police they had been scaring each other in the grounds of the Grade 2 listed building and its Heritage Centre, Luton Crown Court heard.
The two police officers found no drugs on them or in their Audi and BMW cars and they were allowed to go once the officers had taken their details.
But they were arrested after it was discovered that damage had been caused to an iron gate and masonry at the supposedly haunted old church, which is a Grade 2 listed building.
Prosecutor William Noble put a figure of £4000 on the damage caused, but some lawyers for the defence disputed that amount.
Judge Richard Foster told the six young men after the verdicts on Friday: “This was despicable conduct, you should be absolutely ashamed of yourselves. You went there on some ghost hunt and got involved in mindless vandalism.
“This was a Grade 2 listed building and is on the buildings at risk register.”
He gave them all 12 month community orders with 80 hours unpaid work. They were all also ordered o pay £500 compensation.
The six defendants pleaded not guilty to causing criminal damage on the night of Sunday 5 October 2014. They are Thomas Williams, 23, of Ridgeway Road, Barnet; a youth who was 16 at the time, from Potters Bar; Christopher Brennan, 19, of Manor Road, Potters Bar; Samuel Lavell, 25, of Old Field View, Barnet; Andrew Huntley, 20, of Highfield Way, Potters Bar and William McCarthy, 20, of Mount Grace Road, Potters Bar.
PC Luke Williams told the jury of 3 men and 9 women that he and a colleague had driven up a single track lane to the church while on patrol at 11.30 at night. He said he went over to the BMW and the Audi and could smell cannabis.
“They said they had smoked cannabis and were on a ghost hunt. They said it (Clophill Church) was one of the most haunted places in Bedfordshire.”
When no cannabis was found, they were free to go. After the damage was discovered in the daylight, they were arrested.
In an interview, Christopher Brennan said he had driven the Audi to the church while Tom Williams drove the BMW.
He said: “We decided to go to Clophill as we heard it was haunted. We all tried to scare each other.”
Previously he said they had gone to Cold Christmas Church at Thundridge near Ware in Herts, having heard it was haunted.
There, they were told about the haunted church at Clophill by other ghost hunters. “We met two people at Cold Christmas who said they were ghost detectors. One said a ghost had punched him in the face.”
During the police interview, he alleged that the damage was caused by another youth known as Simple Steve, who ran off when the police arrived. He said he saw him later that night at Flitwick railway station.
Historic England has been working closely with the local trust, Bedfordshire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service to repair the church, reduce criminal activity and bring the offenders to justice.
Greg Luton Planning Director for Historic England in the East of England said: “This case sends a clear message that damage to churches and protected heritage sites is not acceptable. The local community are vigilant and encourage a determined response’
Mark Harrison, Historic England’s National Policing and Crime Advisor, added: “The damage was caused by a small criminal minority who have no appreciation for England’s heritage. This case sets an important precedent in the fight against heritage crime.”
Again, as always, the moral of the story here? Don’t trespass. Especially if you are a group of ghost detectors.