More than half of those taking part (52 per cent) said they believed in the supernatural, a marked increase on the two previous comparable studies, in 2009 and 2005, which both found a level of around 40 per cent.
The survey also found that one in five claimed to have had some sort of paranormal experience.
Interest in the supernatural has become big business in recent years, with the popularity of television shows like Most Haunted, which starred Yvette Fielding, and the spread of so-called “ghost walks” around supposedly haunted parts of city centres. English Heritage (EH) and the National Trust have both begun to attract people to their properties by identifying which ones are said to be occupied by ghosts, among them Blickling Hall, in Norfolk, Dunster Castle, in Somerset, and Dover Castle, in Kent. EH even conducted a “spectral stocktake” of “hauntings” and unexplained events recorded at its sites.
Dave Wood, chairman of the group, which is dedicated to the study of a wide range of unexplained experiences – from supposed hauntings to UFO sightings – said: “The rise in the numbers believing in ghosts is a surprise, and is significantly higher than what we consider to have been the historical average.
“It could be that in a society which has seen economic uncertainty and is dominated by information and technology, more people are seeking refuge in the paranormal, whereas in the past they might have sought that in religion.”
Among notable personalities said to have encountered ghosts is Winston Churchill, who is on a long list of people reported to have seen an apparition of former US president Abraham Lincoln, in the White House.
Ever wondered why some planes emit long, lingering clouds of white vapour, while others pass overhead without leaving a trace?
The trails which arouse the most suspicion are those that remain visible for a long time – like those in this photo from a 1957 air show. (Photo: MetaBunk)
The seemingly random appearance of “contrails”, as these lines of condensation are commonly called, is considered by a small but vocal online minority to be evidence of government conspiracy. The clouds are, according to some, in fact “chemtrails” – chemical or biological agents sprayed at high altitude for any number of top secret reasons.
So persistent is the chemtrail theory that US government agencies regularly receive calls from irate citizens demanding an explanation. Pernilla Hagberg, the leader of Sweden’s Green Party, even raised the issue in parliament. The trails which arouse the most suspicion are those that remain visible for a long time, dispersing into cirrus-like cloud formations, or those from multiple aircraft which form a persistent noughts-and-crosses-style grid over a large area.
So what possible reason would the world’s governments have for secretly jettisoning vast quantities of chemicals into the stratosphere?
The conspiracy theory took root in the Nineties, with the publication of a US Air Force research paper about weather modification. The ability to change the weather isn’t mere pie-in-the-sky. Cloud seeding – where particles such as silver oxide are sprayed onto clouds to increase precipitation – is commonly used by drought-prone countries, and was part of the Chinese government’s efforts to reduce pollution ahead of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Other proponents of the “chemtrails” theory say it is an attempt to control global warming, while some cite far more sinister goals, such as population control and military weapons testing.
Governments and scientific institutions have of course dismissed the theories, and claim those vapour trails which persist for longer than usual, or disperse to cover a wide area, are just normal contrails. The variety of contrails seen in the sky is due to atmospheric conditions and altitude, they say, while grid-like contrails are merely a result of the large number of planes that travel along the same well-worn flight lanes.
Charlie Veitch was once one of Britain’s leading conspiracy theorists, a friend of David Icke and Alex Jones and a 9/11 ‘truther’. But when he had a change of heart, the threats began. He talks to Will Storr.
‘The poster boy for a mad movement’: Charlie Veitch (Photo: Will Storr)
On a June afternoon in the middle of New York’s Times Square, Charlie Veitch took out his phone, turned on the camera and began recording a statement about the 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center.
“I was a real firm believer in the conspiracy that it was a controlled demolition,” he started. “That it was not in any way as the official story explained. But, this universe is truly one of smoke screens, illusions and wrong paths. If you are presented with new evidence, take it on, even if it contradicts what you or your group want to believe. You have to give the truth the greatest respect, and I do.”
To most people, it doesn’t sound like a particularly outrageous statement to make. In fact, the rest of the video was almost banal in its observations; that the destruction of the towers may actually have been caused by the two 767 passenger jets that flew into them. But to those who subscribed to Veitch’s YouTube channel, a channel he set up to promulgate conspiracy theories like the one he was now rejecting, it was tantamount to heresy.
“You sell out piece of s—. Rot in hell, Veitch,” ran one comment beneath the video.
Charlie Veitch, before his change of heart, protesting in New York’s Times Square
“This man is a pawn,” said another. “Your [sic] a f—ing pathetic slave,” shrilled a third. “What got ya? Money?” So runs what passes for debate on the internet. Veitch had expected a few spiteful comments from the so-called “Truth Movement”. What he had not expected was the size or the sheer force of the attack.
In the days after he uploaded his video, entitled No Emotional Attachment to 9/11 Theories, Veitch was disowned by his friends, issued with death threats and falsely accused of child abuse in an email sent to 15,000 of his followers. “I went from being Jesus to the devil,” he says now. “Or maybe Judas. I thought the term ‘Truth Movement’ meant that there’d be some search for truth. I was wrong. I was the new Stalin. The poster boy for a mad movement.”
[ . . . ]
His friend showed him the online documentaryTerrorstorm: A History of Government Sponsored Terror, made by the American radio host Alex Jones. It parsed a new version of history, in which governments secretly organised terror attacks to spread fear and extend their matrices of control. From the Reichstag fire to the Gulf of Tonkin up to the present day, it writhed with apparently unassailable facts and sources.
US radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones
Jones is a brilliantly effective propagandist who recently made headlines for his hostile showdown on US television with Piers Morgan, over gun control. His YouTube channel has had over 250 million views while his masterpiece, Terrorstorm, has been watched more than 7 million times.
Shortly after watching it, Veitch was made redundant and, instead of looking for a new job, he used some of his £4,000 payout to buy a camcorder and a megaphone and began uploading short videos to YouTube. As the founder of what he called the Love Police, he was filmed performing quasi situationist stunts, such as standing outside McDonald’s with his megaphone berating customers (“Excuse me, sir. Next time I’d advise you to buy some real food for your son”). In more meditative moments, he’d explore his own spiritual, philosophical and conspiratorial notions. Veitch soon gathered subscribers by the tens of thousands.And the bigger Love Police grew, the more radical Veitch became. He occupied Fortnum & Mason during the anti-capitalism rally and Millbank Tower during the student fees demonstrations. He was a witness to the death of Ian Tomlinson during the 2009 G20 summit, called for “chaos” in London, was arrested in Toronto, Edinburgh and London and invited to festivals around the world. “People were throwing money at me. I did a donation appeal and overnight I had £3,500 in my account,” he says.
Then, there were the women. “I could have anyone. And there’s a lot of cute activist girls in Holland and Denmark.” Thrillingly, he was courted by his heroes, Jones and David Icke, the former television sports presenter who believes humanity is being controlled by alien lizards.
“It was like being a struggling actor and Tom Cruise phones you,” he says. Jones invited him on to his internet show Prison Planet and praised his “great work”. Veitch interviewed Icke outside parliament just after the 2010 general election, and in return was sent a birthday present of a T-shirt and a book, signed, “To Charles, a great man doing great things. Love David”. Veitch was now a well-known figure in the conspiracy community. But, while some believers could be dismissed as harmless crackpots, there was a malevolent undercurrent to many of the theories.
A zombie invasion is a problem that may seem to belong in a horror film rather than to real life, but, none the less, the British government believes it has worked out the best way to cope with one.
In the event of an apocalypse brought about by an army of the undead, civil servants would co-ordinate the military’s efforts to “return England to its pre-attack glory”, according to a Freedom of Information request that has revealed the country’s contingency plans.
The MoD (Ministry of Defence) would not lead efforts to plan for such a zombie attack or deal with the aftermath because that role rests with the Cabinet Office, which co-ordinates emergency planning for the Government.
Details about the authorities’ surprising level of readiness for a zombie onslaught emerged in a response to an inquiry from a member of the public.
The MoD (Ministry of Defence) replied: “In the event of an apocalyptic incident (eg zombies), any plans to rebuild and return England to its pre-attack glory would be led by the Cabinet Office, and thus any pre-planning activity would also taken place there.
“The Ministry of Defence’s role in any such event would be to provide military support to the civil authorities, not take the lead. Consequently, the Ministry of Defence holds no information on this matter.”
The Army is frequently called on to save the day in zombie films. Soldiers arrive in the nick of time, for example, to rescue the hero at the climax of Simon Pegg’s 2004 comedy Shaun of the Dead.
Last year, Leicester city council was forced to admit that it had no specific preparations for dealing with a zombie invasion, although the local authority stressed that certain aspects of its emergency plan would apply to any disaster. Bristol city council went rather further when asked what it would do in the event of an undead rampage through the West Country.
A senior official replied with a copy of a “top secret” internal strategy document setting out how the council would respond to a “zombie pandemic”.