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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Witch & 007

I found this article in sundays observer newspaper, strange little tale about James Bonds creator and travesty of justice to Helen Duncan.

More than 60 years on, the case of Helen Duncan, the last woman in Britain to be jailed for witchcraft, refuses to die. As her supporters seek a posthumous pardon, evidence has emerged that she may have been the victim of a plot involving British intelligence agents, including Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond.
In the 1940s Duncan, a Dundee housewife and mother of six, travelled the country performing seances for a war-weary public often seeking reassurance about their loved ones. As a 'materialisation medium', which involved her going into a trance and producing 'ectoplasm' through which spirits would take on earthly features to communicate with the living, Duncan built a reputation as one of spiritualism's greatest heroines
However, during a sitting in Portsmouth on 19 January, 1944, Duncan, 47, fell foul of the security services when a sailor from HMS Barham is alleged to have formed in ectoplasm and greeted his surprised mother sitting in the audience. His death had been kept a secret by the Admiralty, which had been trying to conceal news of the ship's sinking three months earlier.
Fears that Duncan had access to secret information alerted the security services, and an investigation led to her trial at the Old Bailey, accused of contravening the Witchcraft Act of 1735 by pretending to 'bring about the appearances of the spirits of deceased persons'. She was jailed for nine months.

At a time when the military authorities were anxious to keep plans of the Allied invasion of occupied France secret, Duncan and other psychics were seen as a potential threat to security. Drawing on new research and trial documents released to the National Archive, an academic and award-winning film-maker, Robert Hartley, has claimed that the evidence points to a state conspiracy to crack down on security leaks ahead of D-Day by making an example of Duncan.

'In the run-up to D-Day, the authorities were paranoid about potential security leaks and Duncan was in danger of disclosing military secrets during her seances,' said Hartley. 'Helen Duncan was giving out very accurate information. There were other mediums round the country giving out news on soldiers that had died and someone in authority took it seriously, whatever the source of the information. D-Day was coming up and it was absolutely essential to keep the Allied deception plans intact.'

After examining all the documents, Hartley believes there is evidence to suggest that Duncan's conviction by an Old Bailey jury in March 1944 was unsafe. In a new book, Helen Duncan: The Mystery Show Trial, he suggests that among those responsible for the conspiracy to convict Duncan was Fleming, a key figure in the naval intelligence services, and John Maude, the prosecuting counsel at the trial. 'I am convinced naval intelligence were working with MI5, and when I began looking at that connection Ian Fleming's name kept cropping up as being involved with people either involved in the case or on the sidelines,' said Hartley.

More than half a century later, Duncan's case remains a cause celebre, with more than 30,000 websites, translated into several languages, detailing her story. The 'official Helen Duncan website' claims to have received at least 42 million visitors in the last few years, leading to a worldwide campaign for justice and a petition to the government calling for the dowdy woman, who died in 1956 and is now regarded as a spiritualist martyr, to be pardoned.

Despite popular belief, Helen Duncan was not the last person to be prosecuted in Britain for witchcraft. In September 1944, after the D-Day invasion, Jane York, 72, from Forest Gate, east London, was charged with seven counts of pretending to conjure up spirits of the dead. She was bound over for the sum of £5 to be of good behaviour for three years. Duncan's comparatively heavy sentence just months earlier has been cited as further evidence that she was being made an example of. 'It seems clear to me that the security services conspired to imprison Helen Duncan as part of the tight security operation undertaken in the run-up to D-Day,' said Hartley. 'It was the Admiralty's view that she posed a security risk that needed to be dealt with.

'I appreciate that the conspiracy was undertaken with the intention to protect the lives of allied servicemen and women but now, over 60 years later, it is time to put right this wrong, otherwise it continues to undermine the very rights our nation was fighting for.'


My Reflecting Pool said...

Hypocrasy is at the core of every government and the rights they fight for.

I am agape, letting flies in my mouth, at the thought that someone was jailed in the 20th century for witchcraft. To imagine we put our lives in the hands of government is crazy. Who is looking out for our best interest?????

General Catz said...

Amazing and scary at the same time.

Glamourpuss said...

Fascinating tale. Poor woman.


Judith said...

I believe that is why you guys have the second amendment - the right to bare arms if your government is going loco (which it is Im afraid) so you can over throw them. Why isnt their anarchy in the streets?
I dont think that would cut the mustard these days
I imagine she might have been revered in the slammer albeit out of fear

My Reflecting Pool said...

We do have the right to bear arms. the problem is the interpretation. Infact, I think I will use it as a blog topic. Thanks!

Judith said...

See I would never tackle something like that because Im not a native to your laws and seen that in an arguement on some blogs over the virginia tech massacre (about the second amendment) but I cant wait to read your topic!

Stucco said...

The UK still has the 1939 Emergency Powers Act in effect, no? My understanding of that is that it's similar to our PATRIOT Act in as much as it can be applied to damn near anyone for damn near anything, and is near to impossible to defend against.

In more pleasant news, I need some private time with that nipply witch...

shoes said...

you never cease to amaze me with interesting stories. might i say that the picture of the sexy witch is what i imagine you look like (if it isnt lets just keep that to ourselves, ok?)

Judith said...

In some respects Im glad that the irish government is so backward it has nothing as threatening as either act. They only thing here scary to most is the CAB act which seize the assets of every would be drug baron. If you want nipply try this (it caters to your derierre needs too)
youre not far off imagine more meat on the bones

Judith said...

Bugger forgot to paste this

Crankster said...

What an amazing story! I wonder what happened to her when she got out.

Judith said...

On her release, Duncan promised to stop conducting seances; however, she was arrested after another one in 1956. She died a short time later.