Who u gonna call? Ghostbusters!

Meet London’s answer to Bengali Baba!


Anaam Raza September 09, 2012

“It’s almost as if they want forgiveness. They say that they are aware of what they did during their time and it probably wasn’t the best thing to do but they were acting in the best interest, and that earth was a very different place then.

It’s thrilling and exciting because there is nothing like it and, although we’re delving into the unknown, when you have that first experience [with a spirit] you’re left pretty much speechless.”

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this is a snippet from the latest installment of Paranormal Activity or else a conversation with a ‘Bengali baba’ who claims to be able to banish evil spirits. But the people speaking these words are, in fact, a team of ‘ghostbusters’ in London, perhaps one of the world’s most modern cities, who are chasing phantoms from the past.

Mike Gocol, Louise Rouche, Gemma Pugh and Shilan Jaff are the North London Paranormal Investigators (NLPI) who seek out restless spirits and claim to help them ‘move on’.

We meet in a dimly-lit pub, The Gatehouse, which Mike tells me may possibly be one of the most haunted places in Britain. Chilling apparitions have been sighted here, he says. “I can feel activity all around me. It is as if there are ping pong balls everywhere.”

I fidget in my chair uncomfortably and he senses my unease. “Well, not all ghosts are bad, you know,” he assures me. “And not all families want to get rid of them. Our job is to simply help the two communicate with each other and find out exactly what’s going on.”

The NLPI has been working on all things paranormal, including witches, werewolves, demons and vampires, since 2010 and say they have never had a negative encounter with a spirit. But their biggest claim to fame these days is that they stole the limelight away from George Michael, one of the biggest pop stars from the 1980s, when they recently passed by his £8 million Highgate mansion in full ghostbusting gear and reportedly gathered a crowd that could put the superstar’s own fan following to shame.

Prior to meeting them, I thought ghosthunting was the domain of Asians, and in particular Pakistanis, where phony exorcists fool gullible clients by claiming to get rid of the spirits who are the source of all their woes. Clearly, I was wrong.

I’m intrigued by what they do and ask them how they do it. “Firstly, we set some ground rules — like they [the spirits] ought to limit their connection to the kitchen or garden and steer clear of areas of privacy such as bedrooms and bathrooms,” explains Mike, enthusiastically.

Gemma, the medium — someone who claims she can sense the presence of spirits — adds: “Activity usually happens when they want to be heard, and once they’ve said it they’re at peace. The spirits are just like everyone else. Once they’ve spoken to someone, gotten it off their chest, they calm down.”

Unconvinced by their explanation, I probe further as to why the spirits would necessarily listen to them? Instead, they dodge the question and tell me they can send the spirits “elsewhere” if they don’t listen to the team. And, of course, the spirits wouldn’t want that.

I want to know where they send ‘them’ and how. “At first we ask them [to leave] politely, and if they refuse then we use our spirit guise and the energy of all our loved ones who have passed away, and give them a firm push out the door.”

The thought of someone trying to push an ethereal ghost out of the door is a little hard to believe, so I press on. But the conversation seems to be moving in circles now as the group consistently contrives a way around my questions. I give up.

Mike is clearly the leader in this group of paranormal enthusiasts. He is charming and very passionate when he talks about his work. It works well around his female colleagues, most of whom are young volunteers. Every time I ask them a question, the impressionable twenty-something girls look towards Mike for an answer. That alone is enough for a sceptic like me to doubt their version of how they deal with recalcitrant ghosts.

But then they also assert that there is a scientific side to the whole nifty exercise too. They show me an electromagnetic field (EMF) metre, a digital recorder, a thermometre and a full spectrum camera. Theories in the paranormal field suggest that ghosts have the ability to manipulate EMF, which can then be used to document potential communication. “A spirit usually needs electrical energy to manifest itself. Otherwise, it is just there, invisible and ethereal. At times we ask them to make the light flash, and then the EMF starts to buzz constantly, which tells us that there is some strong energy nearby,” explains Mike.

He moves on to the next gadget: “The voice recorders help us record electronic voice phenomena (EVP) so we can ask questions and get intelligent responses. Sometimes, we ask their name and get responses like Adam, John, Peter. But other times, it is just taps or other audible disturbances.”

All those sounds and static on your radio set could give away the presence of a ghost nearby, according to Mike, who explains how they use their digital radio device to detect paranormal evidence. “We don’t really know how it works but it simply sweeps through radio frequencies very quickly (approximately 12 radio stations per second) and when we ask questions, we usually get a unique response,” he says. “Hearing a sentence [over the radio] would mean that somebody would have to be speaking over multiple radio stations, which is effectively impossible.” This rules out the possibility of a human voice, and establishes the likelihood of it belonging to some paranormal source.

My research, however, tells me that a radio scanner, more commonly known as a ‘ghostbox’ in the paranormal world, provides raw audio which are bits of static, human speech, music and noise created by tuning the radio electronically across its range. So what you hear on this is what you’d hear if you had an old radio with an analogue dial that you swiftly moved up and down across frequencies — and you may end up interpreting this jumble of sounds as words.

Still many like Louise, Mike’s pregnant girlfriend and fellow ghostbuster, remain convinced. “That is when you wonder, ‘How are they able to do that?’ You just can’t explain it!” she says excitedly.

After getting the technical stuff out of the way, I move on to the hazardous nature of their occupation. As an untrained amateur, it seems potentially perilous. Aren’t they scared?

“You’re scared of the unknown, aren’t you? What we’re doing is finding out the truth and once you accept this, there is nothing left to be scared of,” says Shilan. “We know we’re not going to get hurt because we’ve learnt that there is no way they can harm us. So now it’s become more of a thrill, a bit like a rollercoaster ride.”

I remind them that they had said that all spirits aren’t bad, which means some spirits are.

“No, even the bad and negative ones can’t harm us because we are fully protected through our minds. If you think you’re scared, then you are. If you show your weakness then it gets to you. It’s more about believing in yourself and being positive,” explains Shilan.

All this stuff about positivity sounds great, but really, for Mike to be running this not-for-profit organisation and employing volunteers full time for next to nothing, is a bit of a stretch. After all, the pursuit of the ethereal is impossible without tending to temporal money-making concerns, and they need human resources and equipment to run their operations. They must have some means of income.

A long pause later, Mike just about manages to say that they find a way. “We are a bit like the paramedics. If they see somebody having a heart attack, they’ll step in without any guarantee of being paid. We work in the same way. And until we can prove the work we’re doing is valid, we can’t apply for any funds and that’s why we can’t afford an office. We know what we’re doing is the truth and hopefully somebody out there will notice.”

The analogy of a ghostbuster to a paramedic is amusing, and as I get ready to respond, Mike cheekily adds: “The offer of a TV show will be greatly accepted.”

The paranormal investigative team runs ghosthunting events for £35 a pop and invites members of the public to haunted houses for a firsthand experience. But they do this in collaboration with other ghosthunting groups because that is the only way they are able to rent haunted mansions for several hundred pounds. “I assure you if there was any money in the kitty, we’d have our volunteers wearing NLPI printed hoodies, which cost £30 each,” he says.

When asked about competitors, Mike seems crabby. “There are a lot of people who are making a hell of a lot of money out of this,” he says, claiming that other groups charge £70-£100 to clients for a night in a haunted house — twice or more the amount than the NLPI — and only allow them to take pictures. On the other hand, the NLPI gives their clients some training, a walkie talkie, full spectrum cameras and lets them wander around the area on their own while maintaining audio visual contact with them at all times.

“This is a real shame because they’re making all the profits and preventing genuine groups like ours from even buying equipment or visiting clients,” he complains. Thus, though the NLPI needs a small fortune to employ ‘scientific means’ in their investigations, they end up charging less — the only way to undercut a market where bigger, more established groups already have an presence.

“We can either stick with our scientific research and hope that our following will gradually grow, or abandon it altogether and just do what others are doing,” says Mike, “but I’d rather do this my way.”

I wonder if the UK government could start funding the group. But, of course, in times when people would much rather have the government furnish their retirement dues, the idea is too absurd to be taken seriously. The team agrees. “Of course, there are always those ones [who discredit us], but they are the best ones too. Because when we show them things, they are left speechless!” says Mike.

If that were the case, of the three girls I met that day, why are two of them no longer associated with the NLPI (as I write this)? Mike just isn’t convincing me.

This man has spent six years in the metropolitan police, where he always wanted to be a crime scenes officer, and is trained in the art of investigative techniques. By running ghost hunting missions, Mike is probably pursuing this lost dream. If in that, he has to believe in the unbelievable and take it with a pinch of salt, it’s worth it. And if a few lost souls happen to find peace along the way, well, so much the better.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, September 9th, 2012.

COMMENTS (1)

candi GSSGROUP | 9 years ago | Reply

I'm sorry but this is such a poor article and you have taken everything they say the wrong way this article should be praising them for all the good work they do we like NLPI are paranormal investigators and we have nothing but respect for them as they give no egos all NLPI likecwas wanna do is found out the truth and get evidence about the paranormal world

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