Tom Robertson in 1963, filming an exorcism for the Tonight show
Tom Robertson in 1963, filming an exorcism for the Tonight show

An encounter with Scotland’s original ghost hunter

Scottish ghosthunter Tom Robertson discusses the ghouls and spooks that still haunt him.

What is a ghost?

A ghost is the earthbound spirit of someone whose death was so traumatic that something became jammed and they are unable to pass into the next life. Instead, they are stuck in purgatory until someone frees them. In many cases that someone has been me. Ghosts often make themselves visible when I am around.

When was your first paranormal experience?

I was seven when I saw the Black Lady of Larkhall, the ghost of a Sri Lankan woman brought over by a Captain McNeil, in 1872. Apparently, she could not adapt to life in Scotland, and became an embarrassment to McNeil, who murdered her. She saw in me an untouched brain, a way out, and she opened something in my mind that day. I’m not the seventh son of a seventh son or anything like that, but since then I’ve been different – things happen around me. Put it this way, my pals never allowed me to go camping with them.

How did you become a ghosthunter?

My mentor, the brilliant John McGregor, who himself studied under Harry Houdini, recognised my gift and took me under his wing, and we set out to investigate supernatural claims and expose fraudsters and scammers. I would say only about 5% of the calls we had were genuine ghosts. When people start charging money for contacting the dead, forget it. If you got all those psychics, mediums, crystal-swingers, witches and warlocks together in one room, you might just be able to get enough power out of them to blow out a candle. They prey on the vulnerable, and that’s not fair.

Tom Robertson in 1963, filming an exorcism for the Tonight show

Have you been involved in any high-profile cases?

Perhaps my most famous event was the first attempted exorcism on TV – of the Black Lady of Larkhall, on the BBC’s Tonight programme, in 1963. The exorcism failed, and it certainly provoked the ire of the Black Lady. She wasn’t happy at all.

How do you exorcise a ghost?

I never tell anyone about my technique – there are too many amateurs out there, and for them to attempt to copy me would be too dangerous, even for priests and ministers. Most of them are man-taught, from lectures or books, and it’s often a recipe for disaster because they are not physically or mentally prepared for many of the situations they fi nd themselves in. Can you record a ghost? Yes, on fi lm and tape. I have photographed the Black Lady of Larkhall, as well as a vampire in Lochmaben. Having said that, digital recordings and images can’t be trusted – they can be manipulated too easily. The fact is, there is nothing more reliable than the human body for detecting ghosts.

Have you come across malevolent spirits?

Oh, yes. Not only did the Black Lady of Larkhall levitate a half-ton door lintel – in front of witnesses – and send it smashing into my spine, but she may also have been responsible for the death of the Tonight show’s location director. He was killed in a road smash, a fence-post impaled in his heart. Another person involved in making the programme suffered a brain haemorrhage, and Joann Gilmartin ended up in intensive care in the States after recording a film about her. I have also been involved with a number of gypsy curses, including one at Floors Castle, in Kelso. One of the Dukes of Roxburgh had hanged a gypsy boy, and the boy’s grandmother cursed the family: that every Duke’s fi rst-born would be male and would die before reaching the age of 21. This indeed happened until Princess Margaret herself asked for me to do something about it. After my intervention, the next child born was a girl.

Do you believe in life after death?

Definitely. After you die you are reborn – the tunnel with the white light at the end that people who have near-death experiences see is the birth canal, I think. I’ve experienced what’s beyond, so I’m in no hurry to be buried – I’m quite happy as things go down here.

Do you watch horror films?

No. I get enough chills and close encounters in real life – a film couldn’t possibly be as frightening as the real thing. Having said that, I am partial to a bit of Hammer Horror – though it depends who’s in it.

Tom Robertson has spent his life investigating the paranormal

What’s the scariest experience you’ve ever had?

Being left for dead after an attack by the Big Grey Man of MacDhui was frightening, but coming face to face with a vampire in Lochmaben was the most terrifying experience I’ve had. I didn’t believe in them until I’d been asked to investigate a wood near Lochmaben Castle, where the drained corpses of animals had been found. Legend has it that a vampire was living in the area. I saw him, and it was the most hideous sight I have ever seen – a walking, decomposing corpse. I managed to get a photograph before the creature sprang through the trees and glided through the branches with dazzling speed.

Why did you decide to write a book about your experiences?

As you get older, your memory begins to go, and I realised that if some of my stories weren’t written down, they would be lost forever. I have witnessed and experienced so much.

Ghosthunter: Adventures in the Afterlife, by Tom Robertson with Murray Scougall (£9.99, Black & White), is out now

(This feature was originally published in 2011)