From time to time in the world of skepticism, something happens which you really don’t see coming – something totally unexpected. Often, these are positive things – like the media interest in our 10:23 Campaign, or the random discovery that comedy-legend Ed Byrne knows who you are. From time to time, they’re somewhat negative things – like discovering childhood-hero Johnny Ball thinks farting spiders are responsible for the high CO2 levels in the world. And then there are the things that are just utterly unpredictable, out of the left-field, and hard to wrap your head around.
On Friday of last week, I got a phone call. From Ormskirk police. The polite and friendly officer assured me there was nothing to worry about, but that he was looking into alleged threats of violence coming from people on Facebook. Specifically, within the group page of the Merseyside Skeptics Society. And aimed at non-psychic non-detective Joe ‘I’ll just pop to your toilet‘ Power.
This was news to me. It was also utterly untrue.
As I explained to the officer, we at the Merseyside Skeptics Society have never made threats to anyone, ever, and nor would we; further, we’d NEVER condone physical or personal threats made by anyone else. Aside from a complete and utter aversion to violence – which for one thing has been shown by many people in history to be a truly terrible way to get a point across – making personal threats would go completely against the whole point of what the MSS is about: examining the evidence, and pointing out where the claim (and subsequently the claimant) is lacking. In fact, when I met Joe over a year ago, I went to great lengths to remain calm and even-tempered while he continually insulted me in increasingly bizarre and surreal ways. Paedophile? OK Joe, go for it. Homosexual? Sure, if you like. Atheist? Absolutely (well one out of three isn’t bad, for the Man Who Talks To Dead People. Or at least 1/3rd of dead people, presumably).
Fortunately, having spoken to me for a good five minutes, the officer was able to assure me that he was quite confident no wrong-doing nor anything malicious had taken place. After I’d explained Joe’s full history with the MSS, our polite insistence that Joe at some point, some time, in some way – any way at all – shows some evidence that he can indeed contact the dead, and the fact that when I met Joe a year ago I ended the conversation by wishing him well – after I’d explained all of this, the officer concluded that I’ve almost certainly not gone beyond practising freedom of speech, which is true.
He also asked whether I’d mind clarifying my lack of violent or threatening intent to Joe – which I’m more than happy to do: I’ve never, in anyway, suggested or advocated anything threatening in the direction of Joe or his family.
You can probably imagine my surprise – and, indeed, deep disappointment – to now hear from Joe via the police, with tales of his wife being ‘unable to sleep’ due to worrying about threats made against him. It’s a shame, but not really that much of a surprise, that Joe decided to go direct to the police with these unfounded allegations of threats, rather than email me – I am, after all, easily reachable and more than amiable. I’m sure it’s nothing more than a simple misunderstanding, which I’m happy to clear up. Because, were it that Joe was creating spurious reports of threats in order to use the police to silence entirely reasonable criticism of the magical claims he makes, that would represent a serious waste of police time, which is in itself not a laughing matter. Still, Joe’s not one for wasting police time, really, so I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding.
Wasting Police Time
In 2009, in an article in the Liverpool Echo, Joe Power claimed to be using his psychic powers to track the abductor of Madeleine McCann, who famously went missing from a family trip in Portugal in 2007. Joe said in 2009 that he had ‘seen the face of the person who abducted Madeleine and it is not dissimilar to the sketch which the detectives released‘. To this day, Madeleine has not been found, and Joe’s tips (happily shared with the newspaper) have proven fruitless. Joe’s book came out soon after the article made the papers, and his book signing was advertised at the foot of the article in which he talked about a child who had been abducted. Those are the facts. Here are some more.
In February 2008, 9-year old Shannon Matthews was kidnapped. Interested in lending his talents to the search, Joe took the Sunday People newspaper along to the house of Shannon’s mother, where he spent time giving her a reading in order to locate her missing child. Joe comfortingly predicted that her child was taken by a man driving a car with a baby seat and a brown cushion in the back, and a religious card hanging from the rear-view mirror. All of these predictions did not prove to be true. In March 2008, Shannon was found. In April 2008, Karen Matthews – Shannon’s mother, and the person Joe spent an afternoon having photos taken with – was charged with child neglect and perverting the course of justice. In December 2008, she was sentenced – along with her boyfriend – to eight years after being found guilty of kidnapping, false imprisonment and peverting the course of justice. If Joe Power was able to psychically tell at the time – as he now claims – that he knew of Karen’s involvement, he was strangely happy to pose for photographs with a child abductor and was bizarrely content to leave Shannon in her kidnappers clutches for a further six days. Fortunately, the police located Shannon safely, after a neighbour reported of hearing child’s footsteps in her abductor’s home. Joe Power’s website prominently features Shannon’s kidnapping, including a photo of Joe taken with her kidnapper.
In 2006, Joe spoke to the Daily Mirror about the murder of Sally Anne Bowman, explaining how he:
“told police the killer could have the surname White and first name Stephan or Stephen. He might live in a block of flats by railway lines and have been in a park before the murder. And Mr Power believes the killer, who he thinks is a delivery driver aged between 24 and 26, met part-time hairdresser Sally Anne through the friend of a friend.”
In March 2008, the police caught and arrested Sally’s killer – Mark Dixie, 34, a chef. DNA confirmed the match. To this day, Joe’s involvement in the Sally Anne Bowman case is put forward as proof of his talents. Mark Dixie was not called Stephan. Or Stephen.
In 1999, Joe claims to have provided ‘stunningly correct’ information to the police, in helping to locate the body of missing 22-year old Lynsey Quy. As Joe states on his website:
I took this information to police and still have the receipt for my statement. I was frustrated police did not follow up on my meticulous information, so I wrote a letter to the chief inspector Bob Marsden and took it to the police station in person. I never heard from him. Five months later, Marsden was replaced with a new chief inspector named Jeff Sloane who never saw my information. Police eventually pressured Lynsey’s husband Mitchell into a confession and indeed they located her body parts at the fairground and near the railway tracks.
When contacted about Joe’s involvement, Det. Supt. Geoff Sloan, senior investigating officer, said:
I wish to state, categorically, that as the Senior Investigating Officer on the Lyndsey Quy murder, I made a policy decision not to use psychics on the investigation. Joe Power has allegedly made claims that he assisted the enquiry but this is not the case.
Joe’s website does not correctly spell the name of the senior investigating officer in a case Joe claims to have helped solve.
In 2005, Joe claimed to know the whereabouts of the remains of Helen McCourt – whose body had gone unfound for 17 years. He told multiple papers, including the Wigan Today, that “her body lies in Carr Lane, between her village and Prescot, possibly in or near an old fishing lodge.” Helen’s body has never been found.
In all of Joe’s involvements with the police, he has never produced anything which has demonstrably proven to be true. He has, however, featured his involvement in murder, kidnapping and missing persons cases in much of his publicity materials.
So, just to summarise: nobody involved with the Merseyside Skeptics Society – or anyone that I even know of – has ever made threats to Joe or his family, and we absolutely never will. However, we will continue to examine Joe’s work, to document where he might be using tragedy and bereavement for publicity gain, and will be delighted if he’s ever, at all, able to demonstrate even one of the fantastic claims he makes. Furthermore, given that these intellectual tussles with Joe have increased the popularity and presence of the Merseyside Skeptics Society no end – not to mention that Joe’s been responsible for providing more than 10,000 hits to this very website in the last 12 months, I’d actually like to take this opportunity to formally thank Joe for his outstanding contribution to skepticism in the Merseyside area. I look forward to his future endeavours, and the many Google hits they’ll gain us. Thank you Joe, and all the best!