Harry Price at Borley
Mr Sutton does not seem to have or to have had strongly prejudiced views against the possibility of psychical phenomena. He all along disbelieved in the phenomena occurring under Price's auspices; however this was not because of a general complete scepticism, but because experience had suggested to him that Price's habit was to allow fraudulent phenomena to drag on for a bit (gaining publicity out of them meanwhile) and then expose them (gaining more publicity). He had always felt that he and Price had a tacit understanding that both knew the phenomena to be fraudulent, but that both wanted a story out of them. Price was always (both before and after the Borley incident) most friendly to him; he did not appear to resent his attacks on the Rudi sittings (which brought in still more publicity). It was Dr William Brown, not Price, who kicked him out of the sittings.
He has not yet read HBR in full (I had presented him with a copy of it) - refraining from doing so for fear of its biassing his mind - but he has looked at the Introduction and the Smith chapter. He thinks the Introduction very prejudiced, and Mrs Smith wrong in alleging that she was never afraid. He remembers her as very much afraid.
I briefly discussed with him Lord Charles Hope's statements in HBR. He remembers having had lunch with Hope only a week or two after the original incident. He is firm that he did not make Price 'turn out his pockets'; nor did he actually see him throw the half brick. He thinks that KMG must somehow have got hold of the wrong end of the stick at the lunch party.
I then went through his own long testimony with him point by point. He appeared most anxious to distinguish between those incidents of his visit to Borley which he could clearly remember which now came to him as isolated pictures rather like the kind of detached scenes one can remember from childhood - from what he called the 'penumbra' of half-memories and vague ideas which also rose to his mind. The incidents which he says he still vividly remembers are:
2. The stone hitting him on the hat.
3. The sound as of stones being thrown immediately after Price locked the doors of the rooms they entered.
4. The muttering in the upstairs room.
5. Seizing Price after the half-brick was thrown and finding stones in his pockets.
I pointed out to him that the story about the nun and the garden party concerned the Misses Bull and not Smith; he seemed inclined to think he may have had it not from Smith but from Price on the journey to Borley.
I asked him how he was certain that it was a pebble which hit his hat as he was lighting the lamp. Did he pick it up and examine it? He replied that he did not find or pick up this or any of the subsequent pebbles which were thrown (except the half-brick on the stairs) and is not now completely certain whether he looked for any of them. He said they 'were not supposed to be' pebbles, but to be odd sounds. None the less the noises sounded like pebbles being thrown. He agreed, however, with my remark that he might have been influenced by knowing what was expected of poltergeists, and volunteered (spontaneously) that he might have been retrospectively influenced in the direction of pebbles by his subsequent discovery of pebbles in Price's pocket.
He said (subsequently) that he felt that what hit him on the hat could not have been simply e.g. a piece of plaster which had fallen from the ceiling (which I had suggested). He felt it was propelled from the side, and, he thinks, from the direction in which Price was.
I put it to him that his statement that they went into every room on the ground floor, and that a stone was thrown in each, might be an exaggeration. He said that they went into four or five rooms, and that a stone was thrown in each room they went into.
I asked for some further details about Price's ventriloquial act, or his supposed ventriloquial act. Mr Sutton said that the sounds were definitely not those of e.g. the wind, but were articulate; individual words were occasionally distinguishable. The sounds seemed to come not from Price, but from a corner of the room away from him. Mr Sutton thought Price, being a conjurer, was throwing his voice. I observed that ventriloquial techniques depend upon misdirection of attention which darkness would tend to preclude, and on this Mr Sutton did not comment.
With regard to his seizure of Price, Mr Sutton said that after seizing Price's wrist, he felt his coat pockets from the outside and then thrust his hands in, bringing out some stones. He is absolutely
clear about this. I observed that a half-brick would have been a largish object to get into one's pocket; he replied that he thought Price could have had it concealed somewhere about his person. Later I suggested that a legitimate reason for Price having the stones in his pocket would have been that he was collecting them for subsequent examination. Mr Sutton replied that he would have accepted this explanation at once had Price proffered it. (But of course a major difficulty is that none of the party, including Price, seems to have looked for stones or otherwise taken any notice of the phenomena when they occurred. See below.)
Mr Sutton several times emphasised that his chief feeling afterwards was of disappointment - at the collapse of his one hope of finding a genuine ghost. He was very angry with Price.
I then read out Miss Kaye's long 1949 letter, including all the parts hostile to Mr Sutton, showed him copies of the friendly correspondence between himself and Price in the post-Borley years, told him of Miss Kaye's 1939 letter, in which she refers to him quite casually, and told him also of Price recommending him to another psychical investigator as a useful journalist.
I remarked that a counsel for Price might say (a) that it was inconceivable that Miss Kaye could have forgotten such a startling incident, (b) that had she recollected such she could not possibly have referred to Sutton so casually in a letter to Price, and (c) that it seems extraordinary that, only a year or two after being caught by Sutton in flagrant trickery, Price should have taken the risk of actually recommending Sutton as a contact to another Psychical Investigator.
Mr Sutton agreed with some parts of Miss Kaye's letter, including that he was about to depart for America at the time of his visit to Borley. He once suggested that Miss Kaye's 1949 letter might have been written to protect Price's memory. I suggested that this seemed unlikely in view of the perfectly casual reference to him in her letter to Price of ten years earlier. He remarked that that was only one letter but let the point drop.
He said that he could see that, in view of the points just mentioned, it would be 'astonishingly difficult' for an outsider to accept his version of what happened. He agreed with me that a skilful defence counsel would, on these grounds and on grounds of the various lacunae in his memory, demolish his testimony without trouble; but added that a prosecuting counsel might do the same to Miss Kaye's. It was, he said several times, very difficult to put across the peculiar relationship which existed between Price and himself, a relationship which might have made it possible for Price to forget about the accusation as soon as he realised that it was not
going to find its way into print. Mr Sutton felt (as nearly as I can gather) that he and Price knew that each could be useful in providing the other with the stories and the publicity which they both wanted, Price because he liked publicity, Mr Sutton professionally. Both knew that the phenomena under investigation were for the most part fraudulent, and in the light of this tacit understanding Sutton's discovery of Price's own cheating was a minor event, easily forgotten.
I then asked Mr Sutton some questions relating to the three, or perhaps more accurately two and a half, hypotheses that had occurred to me as possible ways of reconciling the conflict between his testimony and the Price/Kaye material. These were:
1. That the original event was the relatively mild one described in Lord Charles Hope's notes of July 29th, 1929, viz. the half brick crashing down the stairs and an accusation of fraud, unaccompanied by any thrusting of hands into Price's coat pockets; and that, whilst this was subsequently forgotten by Price and Miss Kaye it became enlarged in Mr Sutton's recollection into the more dramatic events recorded in the later testimony.
2. That Price and Miss Kaye were not fully aware of what Sutton supposed to be going on; i.e. that the noises as of stones were apparent to him and not to them; that the exposure was a clear exposure to him, but not to Price and Miss Kaye; etc.
3. That Miss Kaye was not present at the time when Mr Sutton accused Price.
1. With regard to the first hypothesis, Mr Sutton seemed willing to admit that there may be minor errors or exaggerations in his testimony (see above), but he was clear about the major incidents (again see above), and particularly clear that he had actually put his hands into Price's pockets and found stones there. He could not see why Price should have had stones there except with a view to faking phenomena.
2. As for the second hypothesis, Mr Sutton said, in reply to questions, that none of the party, including himself, commented on the supposed stone-throwings at the time they took place, and that no stones were found, and possibly none were looked for. Miss Kaye indeed (as he remarked in his testimony) did not say a word the whole time. To this extent the theory that Sutton was at cross purposes with Price and Miss Kaye might seem to be tenable. I put it to Mr Sutton that Miss Kaye, and likewise Price (according to Mrs Smith) had said that he was scared by the house or the phenomena, and that he himself had testified that he thought the Rectory had an evil atmosphere. Was it possible that in a nervous condition he had exaggerated small happenings? He
agreed that he had felt that the Rectory had an unpleasant atmosphere, but said he was certainly not scared by it. He was an experienced newspaper man, trained to soak up facts like a piece of blotting paper, not to react to them. The supposed stone-throwings were not faint phenomena, but quite distinctive. And the stones in Price's pocket were not imaginery.
3. Mr Sutton's recollection is that Miss Kaye was standing beside Price when he seized him; and that she went with them into every room.
I put it to Mr Sutton that to have practised infantile trickery on an experienced journalist would have been an extraordinarily foolish and childish and altogether unlikely thing for Price to have done. Mr Sutton agreed, but said that Price was a rather childish man. Mr Sutton seemed to think that Price might have perpetrated the fraud almost out of kindness, so that he (Sutton) should not go copyless away.
Mr Sutton appeared to me to try at all times to avoid overstating the case against Price, and to consider criticisms of his own testimony in a detached and reasonable way.
(Signed) ALAN GAULD
6th June, 1966.
Dear Mr Sutton,
I enclose a copy of my notes on our discussion yesterday. I should be extremely grateful if you would be kind enough to read them through carefully, and to let me know if either (a) I have misrepresented your views on any point, or (b) there is anything not dealt with which you would like to add.
One or two small additional questions have occurred to me on re-reading these notes, and I should be exceedingly grateful if you could be kind enough to answer them for me. Please think hard and carefully (I am sure that you will) before replying'.
1. Your thrusting your hands into Price's pockets. A critic might say that it might be rather difficult to get your hands into the coat pockets of an unwilling, and presumably resisting, person, and to get them out again with some of the contents of the pockets. Did you actually put a hand into each of Price's pockets without his doing his best to stop you - you had, you said, given him warning, so to speak, by feeling his pockets from the outside first; or did you hold his wrist with one hand (you say you seized his wrist) whilst you put the other hand into just one pocket?
2. You said that you actually brought stones out of Price's
pockets. Are you quite, quite certain that they were stones? Did you actually see the stones (you said that you put the lamp down when you seized Price), or did you just infer from the feel and shape of what you found in the pockets that they were stones? The point is important, because Price had a 'ghost-hunter's kit' which contained a good deal of miscellaneous hardware, and we must be quite certain that you weren't mistaking parts of the 'kit' for stones.
3. Do you remember if Price himself claimed to be able to hear the 'ventriloquial' noises? Or was his reference to a murder in the room just an explanation of what you said you could hear? Another possibility might of course be that you were hearing some odd acoustical effect from the nearby cottage (there were said to be such effects I believe).
I enjoyed our lunch in Greek Street. I shall certainly look you up if I am in Cornwall.
MR SUTTON'S COMMENTS ON DR GAULD'S NOTES OF INTERVIEW OF JUNE6TH, AND ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS IN HIS LETTER OF 7TH JUNE
First of all, my trip to America in July, 1929.
I have discovered that the Berengaria sailed from Southampton for New York twice in that month - July 6 and July 27. I must have been on the second voyage, two days before Lord Charles Hope's second visit to Borley.
Comments on your notes
Para.1. I wish to soften this statement by emphasising what I said to you at lunch last week: I always felt that Price would have welcomed genuine phenomena as, indeed, I should have done for genuine phenomena would have provided far more sensational publicity.
Although I was sceptical at the Rudi Schneider séances which were held in that year (1929) I went to Borley with an open mind, and my main complaint against Price was that any possible genuine phenomena was not given a chance.
Para. 2. I cannot justifiably describe the introduction to the Borley report as 'very prejudiced' because my only experience of the Rectory was one night in 1929. I know nothing of the subsequent elaborate investigations made by the compilers.
I hope I didn't mislead you on this point. The report is biassed in the sense that it makes an apparently complete case against
Price, but whether these are exclusions, additions, wrong interpretations or misleading allusions I have no right to say.
As for the Smiths, I remember they were very voluble about the occurrences at Borley, and Mr Smith did say that his wife was so exhausted that they had to leave the Rectory. But I did remark to you last week that her state of exhaustion might have been caused by the invasion of inquisitive people in motor cars and the lack of amenities in the building although I got the impression that they had been driven out by moving furniture and other poltergeist manifestations.
Para. 3. Where does KMG come into this? I thought it was Lord Charles Hope who said that I had seen Price throw the half-brick, and that I made him turn out his pockets.
Para. 10 and Question 3 in your accompanying letter. Price actually carried on a conversation with the 'voice' in the upstairs room. The only actual word I can recall is 'earthbound' used by Price, not the 'Voice'.
Para. 11 and Note (1) in your accompanying letter: When I decided that Price might be responsible for throwing the brick, I put the hurricane lamp on the floor and quickly grabbed his coat pockets (not his wrist or wrists). When I felt stones, I exclaimed: 'now I have got you,' and thrust my hands into his pockets and felt the stones. I was too quick for Price to resist. He was taken by surprise.
I did not seize his wrists. If I had done, so, he could have resisted.
Para. 13. In the interest of accuracy, you did not show me copies of friendly correspondence. I saw one letter, but you read extracts from others.
Para. 16. My comment on the last sentence: My interest as a journalist was to report what I saw and to expose fraud as soon as I encountered it. I was not the kind of journalist who sought sensationalism for its own sake.
Question 3 on page 3. Throughout the evening Miss Kaye was in front of me and Price behind me. We were all in these positions when I seized Price. I had suggested we reverse this order when we came out of the bedroom on to the landing, but Price made some excuse for not doing so, thus increasing my suspicion.
Question 2 in your letter: I do not remember seeing any stones: I felt them inside his pockets.
Question 3 in your letter is answered in my comment on para. 10.
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