Harry Price at Borley


















An Examination of the 'Borley Report' by Robert J. Hastings (Reproduced from the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 55, Pt. 201, March 1969)
Chapter 2     The Sutton Affair - 1     The Missing Links

Although thirty-seven years had elapsed since he first made the allegations, it was decided to re-interview Mr Sutton in the hope that he might still be able to answer some of the more crucial questions still outstanding.  The task of interviewing him was kindly undertaken by Dr Alan Gauld on the present writer's behalf.  Dr Gauld's account of the interview, together with relevant correspondence, is published as Appendix B to the present monograph.

The story which came out as a result of Dr Gauld's questioning will be seen to be very different from the tabloid story in Inky Way Annual on which the authors of HBR have based their case, and in which the discussion of qualifying factors would have had to be subordinated to the needs of popular journalism.

The most striking thing to emerge is that, apart from the half brick which tumbled down the stairs, and for which, as we saw in Chapter 1, an innocent explanation is possible, there is no evidence that any member of the party, including Mr Sutton, actually saw a stone at any time during the whole of the evening in question.  Still less did anyone see one thrown.

Mr Sutton did not (as emerged from his later correspondence with Dr Gauld) even see the stones he claimed to have found in Price's pocket.  Something had hit his hat.  He had thought it was a pebble. Sounds were heard in the rooms into which they looked on the ground floor.  He thought later that these were due to stone-throwing.  But there is an absence of conclusive evidence that this is what he had thought at the time.  And there is no evidence at all that this is what Price and Miss Kaye had thought either then or later.  There were no claims by Price - not even any comments that can now be remembered.  And no one seems to have tried to find the stones and pick them up!  Such a degree of indifference is scarcely credible. In paragraph 6 of his report Dr Gauld writes:

I asked him [Sutton] 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 the subsequent discovery of pebbles in Price's pocket.

The evidence that there were stones in Price's pocket is far from conclusive.  In the excitement of the moment there may have been mal-observation here.  It emerged from subsequent correspondence with Dr Gauld that Mr Sutton did not take the stones out and look at them, and he can hardly have had more than a very brief feel.  After the half-brick had crashed down the stairs, Mr Sutton was expecting stones, but Price's pockets may have contained other hard objects, e.g. articles from his 'ghost hunter's kit'.  But even if the objects had been stones, it is not impossible to suggest legitimate reasons for their presence in Price's pocket: they may have been stones left in his coat pocket from some previous investigation, such as July 5th at Borley when stones were thrown; or they may have been stones seemingly paranormally thrown which he had picked up in the course of the evening for subsequent examination.  Mr Sutton says that he would have accepted the last explanation if Price had proffered it (Gauld's report para 10).  It seems to have been Price's silence in the face of the accusation that Mr Sutton regarded as indicating guilt.

Some of the evidence here is slightly contradictory, which is hardly surprising considering the years that had elapsed since the events took place.  In the signed statement Mr Sutton made for the authors of HBR, he said (Appendix A) :

. . . . there was a series of echoing crashes caused by a large stone (I saw it later) rolling down the stairs.  I was convinced that the stone had been flung by Harry Price.  I decided that now was the time to accuse him.  I put the hurricane lamp on the floor, swung round, clutched Price's wrist and said 'Now I have got you'.  I invited him to empty his pockets.  He refused to do so so I plunged my hands into both his coat pockets and found that they contained a number of stones and pebbles of various sizes.

Describing the same incident to Dr Gauld, Mr Sutton said (Appendix B) :

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.

Whether or not Mr Sutton actually seized Price's wrists is perhaps a small point.  What is more important is that in both these accounts Mr Sutton was convinced that Price had been responsible before he plunged his hand into Price's pockets, and he does not seem to have considered the possibility of normal causes for any of the noises they had heard.  As mentioned in Chapter 1, the brick or stone which crashed down the stairs could have been one which had been left lying about by the removal men who had used it perhaps to prop open a door.  It will be noticed that Sutton was carrying the lamp.  The other two would therefore have been in and out of his and each other's shadows much of the time, and so could easily have stumbled over anything lying on the floor.  This is a much more likely explanation than that Price would have carried so large and heavy an object in his coat pocket.

Prior to the brick incident, Mr Sutton had shewn a similar tendency to opt for an explanation of fraud against Price when an explanation not involving fraud could have been found if it had been looked for.  Whilst they were on the first floor a mysterious voice was heard which Price thought might be paranormal and had attempted to engage in conversation.  In his first statement (Appendix A) Sutton said 'To me it sounded like Harry Price making a very bad attempt at a ventriloquial act....The attempt was a failure because I could not distinguish a word.'  Dr Gauld asked Mr Sutton for further details of this supposed ventriloquial act, and reported as follows (Appendix B):

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.

Had further investigations been made it might have been found that voices from or near the cottage adjoining the Rectory could sometimes be heard in the Rectory itself, especially when the Rectory was empty.  This, however, does not seem to have been discovered until some time later.  It was first noticed by Mr J. Burden, one of the observers during the Price tenancy, who reported as follows, on 20/12/37 (MHH, p. 229):


Heard talking and footsteps coming from direction of main hall, while sitting in Base Room.  Stood in hall and listened but could not trace them and thought they must come from Arbon and his wife [the inhabitants of the cottage] (although could not see them from any windows ... ).

And later still, Major Henry Douglas-Home reported that words spoken outside the pantry by the Arbons' cottage, which at its nearest point was only some 18 feet off, could be strongly heard in the Base and other rooms (HBR, p, 134).  And of course the Rev. G. E. Smith had reported having heard a voice uttering tile words `Don't, Carlos, don't!' from the first floor landing (MHH,p. 7).  There were, therefore, no grounds for suspecting Price of fraud in regard to the voice - quite apart from the fact that ventriloquism in the circumstances described by Mr Sutton would have been difficult if not impossible.

With regard to the noises heard in the ground floor rooms which Mr Sutton had supposed retrospectively were due to stone­throwing, it is worth mentioning that although this was Mr Sutton's first visit to the Rectory, it was not the first visit Price and Miss Kaye had paid to the Rectory after the Smiths had moved out.  Price and Miss Kaye would, therefore, have had previous experience of the sounds that were normal in the empty house, and this Mr Sutton would not have had.  There is no evidence to shew that either Price or Miss Kaye had thought that the sounds they heard on the ground floor on the night in question were not normal.  Nor does there seem to have been any reason for Price and Miss Kaye to have suspected that Mr Sutton might have thought otherwise.

Throughout the whole of that unfortunate evening it could be that Mr Sutton on the one hand, and Price and Miss Kaye on the other hand, were totally at cross purposes.

*       *       *

We have now examined critically all the evidence we have been able to find, but there are still some missing links.  Let us therefore arrange the more salient of the facts we established into a logical order with a view to seeing where the gaps are, and what would be needed to fill them. The salient facts are as follows:

(1) Innocent explanations are possible for all the auditory and tactile experiences reported by Mr Sutton, i.e. the sounds of supposed stones on the ground floor, the voice, and the large stone or half brick which crashed down the stairs.

(2) It is not absolutely certain that the objects found in Price's pockets were stones.


(3) If the objects were stones, it is possible to suggest legitimate reasons for their presence in Price's pockets.

(4) Mr Sutton rejected the possibility of there being legitimate reasons for the presence of stones in Price's pockets, because Price did not proffer such reasons when he was accused.

Two questions must now be answered:

(1) If Price had been guilty, is it reasonable to expect that he would have remained silent when accused?  Surely he would not.  Whether innocent or guilty, he was clearly not the man to swallow an insult (Cp. Glanville's remarks quoted p. 81 supra).  If Price had been guilty, it is much more likely that he would have had a convincing explanation prepared beforehand for use if anything went wrong.

(2) If Price had been innocent, are there any conceivable circumstances in which he might have failed to make a reply when accused?  Again, having regard to Price's known disposition, it is possible to think only of one: that he had suddenly been taken ill, and was either unable to reply, or did not realise that he had been accused.

Let us explore these possibilities. The evidence that Price was taken ill at about this time is reasonably good.  The date of Mr Sutton's visit to Borley was July 25th.  Price had arranged to go to Borley again on July 28th (the day the 'nun' was supposed always to appear) and had invited a number of friends to accompany him.  In the event, he was unable to go, and Miss Kaye went alone.  There is a letter to Price from the Rev. G.E. Smith dated 7th August (HPL), mentioning that he was sorry to hear that he had been unwell.

Another reference to Price's illness may be found in Lord Charles Hope's 1949 testimony (see p. 86 supra).  Lord Charles here says that Miss Kaye told him that the reason for Price's absence from Borley on July 28th had been a heart attack brought on by Mr Sutton's accusation.  Although this item appears in the later version of Lord Charles's notes, Miss Kaye's reference to a heart attack does at least make sense.  Price suffered from angina pectoris.  He had his first attack in 1928.  By 1930 he was finding it difficult to carry on the work of his laboratory which was at the top of a building without a lift.  In later years, he found it painful to walk, which curtailed his activities still further; and in 1948 the illness proved fatal.

It would be hard to invent a set of circumstances more likely to have induced a heart attack in someone who was prone to such attacks than the circumstances which prevailed at Borley during Mr Sutton's visit in 1929.  There was the darkness; there was the


'atmosphere of evil' which even Mr Sutton comments upon in his testimony; there were the miscellaneous small sounds and echoes of the empty house; there was the mysterious voice; there was the loud crash as the half-brick cascaded down the stairs; and there were the violent physical reactions from Mr Sutton - his sudden seizing of Price and shouting, 'Now I've got you!'  Here, surely, is a sequence of events that might well have strained the nerves of anyone, including Price, concerning whom, incidentally, there is evidence from two sources, Miss Kaye and Major Henry Douglas-Home, to the effect that he was liable to be just as nervous as anyone else on such occasions.

As far as they go, Price's symptoms, as described by Mr Sutton, would appear to be entirely consistent with an attack of angina.  An attack of angina lasts from a few seconds to a minute or two, and during this time the sufferer is in great pain and thinks he is going to die.  If he survives the attack, he will feel exhausted and shaken for some time afterwards.  There are other symptoms of course, but they are not of a kind likely to be noticed by a layman who had only the light of a hurricane lamp to see with, and who might have been preoccupied with considerations of quite a different kind.  That Price was subsequently shaken and exhausted is, however, confirmed by an item in Mr Sutton's statement (Appendix A) in which he records that Price 'sat rather numbed' in the Hotel lounge whilst he went off to telephone his newspaper.

It seems therefore conceivable that Price had been in the throes of a heart attack at, or just after, the time Mr Sutton seized him, and that because of this he did not fully understand of what he had been accused.  If we make these assumptions and couple them with the fact that throughout the evening Mr Sutton on the one hand, and Price and Miss Kaye on the other hand, could have been at cross purposes, we shall find that most of the outstanding pieces of our jig-saw puzzle will fall into place, and it will not be necessary to attribute bad faith to anyone.

As we have seen, there is no evidence to suggest that any of the sounds had seemed to Price or to Miss Kaye to resemble the sound of stone-throwing, but unless Price and Miss Kaye had both been thinking of stone throwing as a possible explanation of at least some of the sounds, Mr Sutton's action in seizing and accusing Price would have been incomprehensible to them.  Price, because of his heart attack, would not have understood the accusation, and Miss Kaye would have been baffled because the 'stones' were not taken out of Price's pocket - they were only felt to be there - and Miss Kaye does not seem to have known anything about this at the time.  In these circumstances, Mr Sutton's sudden decision to leave the


Rectory at once would have been very puzzling, both to Price and to Miss Kaye.  In her letter to the S.P.R., Miss Kaye says that she and Price concluded that Mr Sutton was scared.  This is not mentioned in HBR, and of course it may not be true, and it is fair to say that Mr Sutton denies it.  What is important for present purposes is that it was the opinion that Price and Miss Kaye formed at the time, and upon which they had based their subsequent actions.  Fortunately, they mentioned their conclusion at the time to Mrs Smith, who remembered, and was able to mention it in the signed testimony she gave to the S.P.R. in 1949, thus providing a most useful piece of corroboration for a crucial part of Miss Kaye's statement.  It is thus at least possible that there was a general misunderstanding which persisted right up to the last.  Price and Miss Kaye were able to remain on good terms with Mr Sutton because neither of them fully realized the nature and extent of his accusations.


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Contents  .  Chronology  .  Introduction  .  Chapter 1  .  Chapter 2  .  Chapter 3  .  Chapter 4  .  Chapter 5  .  Chapter 6  .  Chapter 7  .  Chapter 8  .  Chapter 9  .  Chapter 10  .  Appendix A  .  Appendix B  .  Appendix C

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