Paranormal Encounters on Britain's Roads: Phantom Figures, UFOs and Missing Time, by Peter A. McCue
Reviewed by Chris Jensen Romer
As the title suggests, in this book the author addresses paranormal phenomena that purportedly occurred on British roads, breaking them down by category. As such it covers ghosts, mystery animals, UFOs and Fortean phenomena where the witness was in a vehicle. As noted in the Foreword by Ron Halliday, at this stage in our knowledge it is probably best to take a broad view, lest we miss hidden commonalities underlying the experiences. While there is a tendency to think of UFOs in terms of physical entities, research has shown that telepathy and psi phenomena feature in many Close Encounters (Ouellet, 2015).
There are many books of “real life paranormal experiences” which serve to entertain, and provide us with interesting material to speculate on, and while this book is somewhat in that tradition, it is really a serious attempt at a contribution to the literature. The book should be of value to the absolute newcomer to the field, with no knowledge of ghosts, but also of interest to members of the SPR. It is perhaps with the former in mind that the book opens with a well written and intelligent chapter on theories of ghosts, and to a lesser extent UFOs, introducing some of the ideas that have been proposed to explain them in the past. This excellent chapter quickly brings the reader up to date in how psychical researchers have attempted to understand the subject and would be a good introduction for anyone interested in ghosts and UFOs with a more general value far beyond the limited scope of the subject of this book.
There are some excellent cases in the book, of a wide variety of phenomena. Unfortunately, in other cases it seems likely that the problem was one of memory or mistakes in observation, rather than actually paranormal. The SPR collectors for the Census of Hallucinations were not keen to admit outside cases, because of the possibility of mistaken identity, and timeslips and cars which seemingly vanished may on occasion be simple mistakes. This reviewer recently looked at a purported case of a timeslip involving a couple in a car who witnessed a church they were subsequently unable to locate and concluded that on the day in question they had seen a real building across a field, but subsequent seasonal growth of trees and hedges had obscured it when they returned. It is all too easy to become disorientated while driving on unfamiliar roads. McCue tackles these issues and mentions the limitations of eyewitness testimony often.
The book is however, slightly unsatisfying. McCue provides good but limited analysis of cases, but probably covers too much. Some of the accounts are so fascinating they deserve an entire chapter, and the reader is left wishing to know more. Often this is the case with reasonably well-known cases, and luckily McCue provides references allowing the reader to follow up some of the cases themselves, and provides new information on others. For example, one well known case from Peter Underwood (1974) involves the A75 between Dumfries and Annan, and the bizarre series of visions said to have assailed two young men, Derek and Norman Ferguson as they drove along that road in April 1962, and the “high strangeness” experience they reported seems doubtful to McCue. He informs us that Underwood himself told him in private correspondence that he was “never completely happy with that story”. I searched newspaper archives for any contemporary report of the brothers experience without success and am convinced McCue is correct to be cautious. (Curiously he does not address another famous Scottish road ghost – the Nechtansmere timeslip (McHarg, 1978; Dash, 2009) – but I’d be interested to hear his thoughts on this case). Another famous case, The Stocksbridge Bypass haunting only receives two paragraphs – however following up the footnote took me to D’Raven and Mera (2011), a fascinating article covering the case in great detail, and free to download from their website.
Perhaps it is better McCue presents new cases, rather than rehashing the old ones in detail – but he is so sharp an analytical mind that it seems a pity he does not give himself space to explore cases in much greater detail, perhaps the way Andrew Mackenzie did in his book Hauntings and Apparitions (1982), dedicating a whole chapter to the most interesting and informative cases and carefully looking at the evidence. Often McCue gives a whole new perspective on a case he covers only briefly, and while I understand his desire to present new material, his insight in to cases that are familiar to experienced psychical researchers are very valuable.
McCue deals with a tragic case from 2003, where motorists reported a car going off a road, and subsequent investigation by the police revealed a crashed vehicle containing human remains – but that had crashed months earlier than the sightings. This case received extensive coverage in the press, with the implication that the motorists reports of a ghostly replay of the crash led to the discovery. However, McCue notes “only limited information is available about what members of the public initially reported to the police”. Here is the crux of the case; did what was reported really represent a replay of the earlier crash? A Get Surrey article (2013) states “a member of the public reported seeing a car lose control and leave the A3 around 100 metres before the emergency slip road” and “Police were called to the scene to search for the wreckage, but were unable to find any trace of a crash – that was until an officer stumbled upon a maroon Vauxhall Astra nose down in a ditch, covered in undergrowth.” Heeding McCue’s cautious note, various scenarios could be imagined, from coincidence, to a driver who witnessed the earlier crash deciding to report it later, to the accidental discovery of the car by a police office discretely urinating in the bushes. A detailed examination of this fascinating case is certainly called for – are there any official records of the member of the public’s initial report? It should have been logged. Did a driver spot the crashed car in the undergrowth, and the call handler just assume the accident had just occurred? Is the spot dangerous so accidents there are common? Dr. McCue is eminently suited to look at a case like this in detail, and two paragraphs does not do the case justice.
Overall this is an excellent book, and one that I recommend to the interested public as well as specialists in anomalous phenomena. Breadth of vision and analysis are excellent, and I look forward to seeing more from McCue in the future.
MacKenzie, A (1982). Hauntings and Apparitions. London: Society for Psychical Research/Heinemann.
McHarg, James (1978). ‘A vision of the aftermath of the Battle of Nechtanesmere, AD 685’. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 49, 938-948.
Ouellet, E, (2015). Illuminations: The UO Experience as a ParapsycFhological Event. San Antonio, TX: Anomalist Books.
Underwood, P. (1974). Gazetteer of Scottish Ghosts. Glasgow: Fontana.
D’Raven, K, Mera, S (2011). The Stocksbridge Bypass; a critical analysis. Phenomena Magazine, 21, 13-18.