Uncanny: Danny Robins Examines The Evil In Room 611 Of Alanbrooke Hall, Belfast

October 20, 2021 10:44 PM ‐ PodcastsParanormalGhostsRadioLong Reads

This article is more than two years old and was last updated in April 2022.

Uncanny - Case 1: The Evil in Room 611
'Uncanny' is a new paranormal podcast series from Danny Robins. In the first of 15 episodes, Danny investigates a case involving sinister apparitions, poltergeist activity and "pure distilled evil," which terrified a group of students in Belfast in the 1980s.

Danny had asked listeners of his previous podcast series, 'The Battersea Poltergeist', to send him their own strange stories and ghostly experiences.

In each episode of 'Uncanny', Danny will try to solve one of those cases. This week it's Ken's story. Ken, now in his 60s, is a human geneticist who grew up in rural Northern Ireland, but moved to Belfast to study at Queen's University, where while living in his halls of residence witnessed a series of unexplainable events.

Ken's Story: The Evil In Room 611

The story begins in 1981 when Ken was studying microbiology and sharing a room with a friend called James in a now-demolished tower block called Alanbrooke Hall, which was part of Queen's Elms Village. One winter's night in their room, room, 611, on the sixth floor, while in bed Ken saw the silhouette of a man near his desk.

In the podcast, Ken told Danny, "the first thing that struck me, because I was analysing this data as much as possible, was that I'd never seen anything so black. It was just the blackest black I'd ever seen. At exactly the same moment two things happened. One was I could hear in my ears, what I could only describe as very, very loud white noise and also, there was a very, very strong sense of pure, distilled evil coming from this figure."

Ken described this evil feeling as a "force of nature" that was targeted specifically at him. He said, "there was a feeling of everything that is good, everything that is called hope had disappeared. So there's just complete and utter despair. And I felt that coming through me and waves and as I looked down the bed, I could see ripples and the blankets that was corresponding to this movement of force."

As the figure started to drift towards Ken, he did the only thing he could and lunged towards it. He said, "the whole figure and everything else associated with it disappeared. There was just total silence in the room. There was nothing."

What made the event even stranger is that after the incident he found that his roommate had experienced something strange, although different, at the exact same time. Ken remembers James' side of the story, "he had his eyes closed, was lying in bed, was trying to get to sleep. He saw a point of light. This point of light got larger and larger in his mind's eye, and he can see the back of the head of a man and this man turned, gave him a very dirty look, and then disappeared."

Ken said that James had described the vision as being that of a young man, possibly a student. Ken added, "he felt as if this person also was wanting to do harm against him. He said it was one of the most disturbing things to him in this life."

Danny then tells his listeners, "this is just the first night and if you think that that was bad, wait till you hear what happens next."

On this particular night, a Friday, most of the other students in the building had gone home and Ken was alone on floor six. Ken continues his story, "from the room, I could hear the lift. Then the lift stopped in the floor I was on, and I could hear the doors opening and I thought that's strange, maybe there's someone coming to see me. At that instant, I felt the same force of evil, this time coming from my left hand side which is where the lift was located."

Ken then heard loud footsteps coming along the corridor towards his room. He said, "it reached the door of the room, stopped, and then there was this profound silence. It probably lasted a millisecond, but it felt like one of the longest silences ever. And then the door started to bang." Ken described the extremely violent activity as being as if the door was being kicked and punched by multiple fists.

Once again, Ken was brave enough to confront the disturbance and jump out of bed to open the door. Ken recalls, "I just pulled the door open and there was nothing. The feeling of evil had gone completely, complete silence. I saw the lift was stopped at the floor, but there was nobody, there was no lights on in any of the rooms, I knew there was nobody in the floor anyway. There was nothing there."

Ken decided to ask around and found that the two students who had lived there the previous year had also had unsettling experiences in the room. Ken told Danny, "what they experienced was books flying around the room. The book would literally come off the bookshelf and hit the wall in the opposite side of the room with some force."

Not only this, but the next year Ken left room 611, but moved to another room on the same floor. When two new students moved into his old room, they too reported strange happenings. Ken explains, "they said that things started with both of them having nightmares, and neither of them usually had nightmares, but they were having regular nightmares that they said were very dark. They said they were really bad, waking both of them up during the night."

The new students later experienced poltergeist activity in the form of cutlery flying through the room. Ken added that "pieces of cutlery or other sharp instruments would be placed beside the bed where they would put their feet. So it would be forks and things like this arranged in a certain way that they could hurt themselves whenever they got out of the bed."

Of course, Ken and James looked into the history of room 611 while they was staying there. A cleaner confessed to them that she felt "really uncomfortable" when cleaning their room, as if there was a presence. The students asked her if she was aware of anything unusual or untoward in room 611. Ken said, "what she told us is that several people had died with a link to that room."

The alleged deaths included someone dying in the room, another student falling to their death from the room's window, and a student who lived in room 611 getting murdered while out and about in the city.

Ken said that he has tried to rationalise it all, but can't. When Danny asked him "how would you feel as a scientist, if the answer to all of this is that the thing in your room was a dead person come back to life?" Ken said, "I would be astonished. And I would want to know how does that work?"

Danny pushes him, "did you think back to that vision James had on that first night, the face of the student who turned to look at him? Do you think there could be something in that story the cleaner told you?" Ken replied, "I think it's a remarkable coincidence. If there were three people that died in tragic circumstances, all young men. I think it's something that should be investigated."

What The Experts Think

Danny had brought some experts on to the podcast to help him with case one. He first spoke to Caroline Watt, a professor of parapsychology at Edinburgh University.

Speaking about the black figure that Ken saw in his room, Caroline admits that she can't rule out the possibility that it was a ghost of some sort, but thinks a more rational explanation might be a hypnagogic hallucination. She describe this as, "that kind of imagery that you experience on the borderlands between being asleep and waking. You can hear loud sounds and noises, you can see things, you can feel a presence, feel fear."

As Danny clarifies, this is a state where the body gets confused and doesn't know if it's in dreamland or reality. These sort of hallucinations are very common when our bodies suddenly snap out of sleep. It often involves sufferers waking in the night to find they are frozen in their beds. This experience often includes hallucinations - commonly a dark shadowy figure, and hearing loud noises. To make things worse, sufferers feel totally awake throughout the entire episode.

On Ken's first night, we know he was in bed. Hypnagogic hallucinations often occur as you are drifting off to sleep. He witnessed a dark figure, which again ticks a box, and he reported hearing a loud sound like white noise. The types of sounds often reported in this half dream-like state include humming, hissing, static, zapping and buzzing noises - another box ticked.

Caroline says, "there's a misconception that the word hallucination means that you're somehow crazy. Actually we do all the time. We're particularly good at seeing faces and figures, possibly because for evolutionary reasons it would be beneficial to be able to spot a possible predator or possibly mate."

Danny also spoke to Peter Laws, an ordained reverend and a writer on the paranormal. As someone who believes in the forces of good and evil, Peter has a different take on the dark figure. He tells Danny, "what's particularly sinister is the fact that this figure has chosen that room on that night and that adds a sense of menace, because you'll think hang on, there's hundreds of other rooms here. Why this one? Why me?"

The reverend added, "what I find really fascinating about how Ken describes this apparition, is that he doesn't just say it's evil, but he says it's the absence of good which is actually very interesting, because that's a way some theologians have described Hell itself."

Danny and the experts then discuss night two and the terrifying banging on Ken's door. Unlike the first night when Ken was in bed, this time he was awake and reading a book at the time of the incident. Of course it's possible Ken could have drifted off to sleep and experienced another hallucination, but Peter isn't so sure. He said, "while it's possible that Ken could have fallen asleep while reading, I think it's less likely than the scenario of the night before."

Peter adds, "this really is more like poltergeist activity, which I find to be personally some of the most convincing evidence in these cases, that maybe there is actually something supernatural going on."

Caroline isn't so convinced, "I think the simplest explanation is usually the best." This is of course the defining principle of Occam's Razor, a line of reasoning that says the simplest answer is often correct. When presented with competing hypothetical answers to a problem, you should select the one that makes the fewest assumptions. In this case, was it the ghost of three dead students pounding on his door, or a simpler explanation?

Caroline says, "we had the lift and then we had footsteps so a person arrived in the lift and walked along the corridor. I know that some students were supposed to be away but there might still be others like him who was still there."

The other thing about the case is that Ken and James both had strange experiences on the same night, but they were both very different. Ken saw a dark figure with his eyes open and heard a strange noise, while James saw an identifiable man's face in his mind's eye. Ken confirmed this, "he said his eyes were closed, but it was as if he was seeing the person in real life."

Even in Ken's story, he said "I was expecting him to say the same thing I've just witnessed, but he said he'd seen something completely different." Two differing experiences actually make it more likely that it was nothing more than coincidence rather than a related event.

Later when talking about the poltergeist activity experienced by the students who inhabited the room', Peter said, "you often see this in cases of poltergeists where it can be connected to the stress and trauma of people living in a house. What's intriguing about times of going to college and university is that actually that can be a melting pot of stress. And so it's possible that whatever spiritual element, if it is that, could be feeding off this type of tragic energy."

Of course, as Danny points out, it's also very possible that the stress of being away from home for the first time could have unsettled them, this could make them more prone to fear and anxiety, and explain why they started having nightmares. An unsettled night's sleep could also back up the suggestion that Ken's experiences on his first two nights were nothing more than hallucinations.

A big question that was left unasked in the episode that might help us establish this for sure, was what else did Ken and James experience in room 611? The room would have been their home for their entire first year at university, but we only heard about incidents taking place on the first two nights. Did things calm down as they settled into their new home and the stress and anxiety faded away?

Caroline has another theory, one which could suggest that room 611 is haunted by environmental factors. She told Danny, "I think there's one possibility, that there's something in the environment that is affecting the people in the room such as electromagnetic activity or infrasound. We know that low frequency sounds in the environment can create emotions in people, a sense of presence and sometimes a sense of fear as well."

She speculates that the lift's movement could be a source of infrasound, a very low frequency sound below the human range of hearing. It's not paranormal in nature, but these low frequency vibrations can cause people to have experiences similar to those associated with the paranormal.

Infrasound has been put forward as a possible cause for feelings of discomfort, disorientation, or panic, as well as having an increased heart rate and blood pressure. In extreme cases infrasound has been linked to feelings of depression, a general feeling of unease, as well as visions like apparitions.

Although infrasound might explain some alleged ghostly activity, the unlikely combination of the factors that produce it means that it can't be used to explain away a large number of hauntings. However, in some fluke situations infrasound can unexpectedly be produced, perhaps the lift in Alanbrooke Hall is one such example.

As Carline suggests, electromagnetism has also been linked to paranormal experiences and while the belief remains, this theory was put to bed in 2009 by psychologist Chris French and his colleagues from Goldsmiths College in London. The researchers invited 79 volunteers into a haunted house they created by hiding electromagnets behind the walls. The magnetic fields had absolutely no effect on whether or not people reported a strange experience. The reality is that we are exposed to greater electromagnetic fields when we use a hairdryer, so if the theory were true we should all see a lot more ghosts.

Caroline said, "if I was the investigator, I think I'd want to find out, you know, in the blueprints of the building, where's the power source for the lift?" Unfortunately the building has been demolished, so there is now no way to test the lift to find out if it did indeed produce infrasound or if its motors generated enough of an electromagnetic field to have any significant impact on someone staying in room 611.

The episode ends with Danny telling listeners that he's throwing the case over to them, asking listeners to send him their theories on what Ken reported. He also said he'd especially like to hear from anyone else who stayed in room 611 of Alanbrooke Hall. Danny said, "the game, as they say, is afoot," and added, "we'll be coming back to Ken's story later in the series."

More episodes of Radio 4's 'Uncanny' are available on BBC Sounds now and will also be broadcast on Saturday nights at 11:30pm on Radio 4 from October 23.

How Well Do You Know The Case?

  • Alanbrooke Hall, Belfast Hauntings Quiz

    November 29, 2021

    Test your knowledge of Alanbrooke Hall with 20 questions based on the information, evidence and experiences presented by Danny Robins and his guests in 'Uncanny'.

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