Friday, February 10, 2012

The war on chapter 6

Yesterday, I received a copy of folklorist Kai Roberts' Grave concerns (2011) in the post. It was a belated Christmas present (thanks, Jo!) ordered via 

The book primarily deals with the alleged gravesite of Robin Hood in Kirklees Park, Yorkshire. However, it also features a chapter on the Highgate vampire case to give the 'story' greater context; after all, Sean Manchester and David Farrant both served as patrons of the Yorkshire Robin Hood Society, both emphasising the site's supernatural 'angle' associated with the place.

While the book was still in draft form, Kai emailed me, asking if I'd look over the chapter in question. He was familiar with my writings on the subject, via this blog. I was happy to oblige.

The book's generally received positive reviews, but there've been two notable sticklers: Della Farrant née Della Vallicrus—and her hubbie, David.

Before even finishing the book, Della honed in on the Highgate chapter, in a review for her blog, The Devil's concubine. Unusually, her criticism isn't directed at the author, but the unnamed 'editor' of the chapter: 'Some of Kai’s points are remarkably similar to those which I raised myself in my May 2010 Introduction to Volume 2 of David Farrant’s autobiography, ‘David Farrant : Out of the Shadows”, which I presume the editor of the chapter has read.'

It's unfortunate she's adopted the oblique, passive-aggressive referencing usually employed by her husband (see: 'A bizarre 'reply''), as Della—a flitting member of The Highgate Cemetery Vampire Appreciation Society—knew that the 'editor' was me. However, considering her associations, it'd certainly explain why she'd go for my neck instead of Kai's due to my overt critical stance on the case. 

As of this writing, no, I haven't read her introduction. But I did ask her if she'd post the introduction on The supernatural world forum while the Highgate section was still active: she told me to buy the book.

Della goes on to criticise the chapter's 'tone': 'But aside from this, I can’t help but feel that its tone is slightly different to the rest of the book, and has perhaps suffered from some rather heavy-handed, subjective editing, alien to the rest of the tract', perhaps not realising that the book's chapter is largely intact from Kai's draft.

What she means by 'subjective editing', is anyone's guess. It's also redundant: aren't all editors 'subjective' by default? By 'heavy-handed', perhaps she's referring to the chapter's copious—albeit, necessarily so—footnotes, of which there's ninety-nine, all taken from various sources. Considering the tangled web of contradictions, claims and counter-claims weaved throughout the case—which Kai readily acknowledges with no 'prompting' from me1—I can only suggest she grasp the importance of citations in academic works.

At long last, she gives us something to work with, by providing an actual example from the book: '. . . when referring to David Farrant’s arrest for ‘vampire hunting’ in 1970, Kai omits a crucial point. David was, as everybody will remember, acquitted of this charge. The charge itself was being [caught] in an enclosed area for an unlawful purpose. Kai was apparently misinformed when he summarises that David was acquitted on 2 technicalities, namely the definition of an enclosed area, and the fact that it is not actually illegal to hunt a vampire.'

Let's break this down. First, here's what Kai actually said about it:
It was one such [police] patrol that, on the night of the 17th August, discovered David Farrant trying to gain access to the cemetery from the adjacent churchyard of St. Michael's, carrying a crucifix and wooden stake. He was arrested for being in an enclosed space for an unlawful purpose, and bailed at Clerkenwell Magistrates Court the following morning. National newspaper, The Sun, reported Farrant telling the magistrates "My intention was to search out the supernatural being and destroy it by plunging the stake in its heart." The case was adjourned until 30th September, and Farrant bailed.2
That's it. So, what '2 technicalities', exactly? If Kai was, indeed 'apparently misinformed', the 'blame'(?) falls on an article in The Sun's 19 August 1970 issue and Bill Ellis' essay, 'The Highgate Cemetery vampire hunt: the Anglo-American connection in cult lore' (1993), i.e. the 'informants' featured in Kai's endnotes.3

Della goes on to say,
This was not in fact the case. The main indictment in that case was the element of unlawful purpose. That was the only reason David was arrested by police who attempted to persuade the court that his purpose was to break open coffins in search of the reputed vampire. The police evidence (again given under oath) was that David had later told the arresting officer that he intended to drive a wooden stake through the vampire’s heart and then ‘run away’. The latter phrase has always struck me as somewhat bizarre, because, fait accompli, surely there would be nothing to run away from. However…David denied making this statement, in court, and the stipendary magistrate obviously did not believe the police evidence and so the unlawful purpose element was thrown out of court. The conclusion is clear: that David was not acquitted because it is not illegal to hunt vampires, but because the court did not believe that he was trying to do so in the first place. To inadvertently misguide the reader over this important point is regrettable, as it contrasts sharply with many of Kai’s other points which he has investigated thoroughly.
It's a 'conclusion', however, which Kai didn't make, thus, negating Della's 'argument'. It's a fair sticking point, though, but it's no so simple, either. Farrant was caught in the midst of a 'Black Magic probe' launched by police4, on account of increased occult-themed vandalism the cemetery was subjected to, in the wake of press coverage relating to Farrant and Manchester's respective claims. Indeed, the Hampstead & Highgate Express had earlier quoted Farrant saying,
"Much remains unexplained, but what I have recently leart all points to the vampire theory as being the most likely answer.
"Should this be so, I for one am prepared to pursue it, taking whatever means might be necessary so that we can all rest."5
And he was captured in the cemetery—according to police and press reports—with a cross and stake. You do the math.

The legality of hunting vampires, however, was indeed a big part of the case. At least, as far as contemporary coverage goes. Farrant, himself, has previously acknowledged this 'angle':
But notwithstanding, the case was dismissed, the Magistrate (this time a Mr DJ Purcell) accepting a Defence submission that the Society investigation had already featured on television and in the Press and that, in any event, it was just as akin to "hunt for vampires" as it was for some people to spend vast sums of money trying to locate the Loch Ness Monster.6
The real basis of the 'unlawful purpose' was, of course, the implicit actions involved in hunting vampires, i.e. grave desecration. This is also acknowledged by Farrant: 'The Magistrate added that he was satisfied that there had been no intention to "damage coffins"' and that the Cemetery was not an enclosed area in the strict legal sense.'7

In his comment on Della's review, Farrant adds,
Very concise review Della; especially concerning the blatant inaccuracies in Chapter 6 of Kai’s book over my acquittal for ‘vampire hunting’. I am not blaming Kai for this important ommission or how he failed to mention that my ‘confession’ for ‘hunting a vampire’ and intention to ‘smash open coffins’ (the fabricated police statement which was largely reported by the Press BEFORE my acquittal), when he was only acting on information given to him in ‘good faith’ by an extremely prejudiced and misinformed party. THAT was shoddy research, but it was hardly Kai’s fault.
One can only wonder whether he'd actually read the chapter, himself. Therefore, the identity of this 'extremely prejudiced and misinformed party' is a bit of a mystery. All I know is, it can't be me, as I made no edits to Kai's paragraph.

Farrant wasn't content with restricting bile to his comments on his wife's blog: his war on Chapter 6 spilled over to Kai's Facebook page. In a posted dated January 26 at 8:41am, he wrote:
Congratulations on your new book "Grave Concerns" Kai, and I agree with my wife that it is a 'well researched academic (and yet accessible) work'. The only part I didn't agree with was your description about the result of my case for 'vampire hunting' back in September 1970. However, I have already made it clear that the only person who can really be blamed for this, is the same person who seems highly confused about the legal outcome of that case in which I was acquitted, and who has a habit of making his erroneous conclusions public. It was not dismissed over any 'technical issue', but because of deliberately fabricated evidence (namely a false statement of 'confession' that one particular police had attempted to attribute to myself) which was not accepted by the Court. That aside, I found your research into the case of Robin Hood to be very accurate: especially your apparent conclusion how sometimes historical legends can be turned in modern day 'facts' by virtue of 'legend tripping'. Professor and historian Bill Ellis came to more-or-less the same conclusion in hs own book "Raising the Devil".
That, of course, erupted into a mini flame war between myself and him after I noted, '. . . if your worst criticism of my edits to the chapter (I've yet to receive the book, so I'm not sure how many of them stayed, intact), is allusions to your court case, then that means the rest of my writings on the chapter must've held up pretty well. Cheers. :D'

Farrant added,
The point is, that if you could get the important facts of my 1970 Court case blatantly wrong, then people are entiled [sic] to ask how many of the other points in your 'editing' were also erroneous. There is no need to list them all, except to say you substituted your personal opinions in favour of events as these actually occurred.
It was getting pretty clear that Farrant thought I was more involved with the chapter than I actually was, but I pointed out: 'They're entitled to ask, but if *you* can't even say what they are, then what you're trying to imply is that the rest of my research is fallacious...without backing that up. Sounds like a 'campaign' to me! lol'

And on it went, along with contradictory amusements like this: 'I am not prepared to discuss your 'editing' here Anthony. Kai has written a well researched book - except regarding the erroneous editing in Chapter 6 regarding Highgate in the early 1970's that was supplied by yourself.'

However, since that time, Farrant's tune's changed. Perhaps he actually sat done and read through the chapter, properly, without resorting to the ad hominem hysterics. In a recent blog entry, he wrote:
I think I have already mentioned this, but Kai Roberts’ book “Grave Concerns” on Robin Hood’s grave has just been released. I did like his assessment of events surrounding the alleged grave of the legendary outlaw, and also appreciated his narrative in chapter 6 which detailed old research about my own involvement as ‘President’ (sorry I meant – or rather he meant – Patron) of the Yorkshire Robin Hood Society.  It seems Kai spent quite a few months if not years methodically researching the book; but in reality, I was only Patron of the YRHS and not its President! (I am the President of the British Psychic and Occult Society and the Highgate Vampire Society, and that is quite enough work for one day!)

But I do wish him every success with the book, and no doubt, that appreciation should be due to other people who aided him in his research as well.
That last bit almost sounds like a compliment. Perish the thought! If there's any criticism I'd personally give Kai's chapter, it's that it overplays the sincerity behind Farrant's vampire-hunting antics. Indeed, in correcting the date of an Evening News article, I added: 'To be fair on David, the 16 October [1970] article does mention (quoted by Copper), that David said he did not believe in the ‘the commercial sense of the word’. That article would be worth seeking out. Of course, that’s in late 1970, after months of brandishing crosses and stakes and all those other claims to the press and so on and so forth.'

It didn't make the cut.

However, keeping in tune with David and Della's respectively absolving Kai of responsibility for the content of his own chapter, we can't 'blame' him for the associations, either. After all, Farrant actively courted the vampire tag—and still does. The current President of the Highgate Vampire Society lists it as one of his greatest regrets. And then takes it back:
The worst I did was to go along with another person's innane [sic] wild assertions about a 'blood-sucking vampire', but again, this was only because this was the 'angle' the Press and television wanted at the time - 'vampires' apparently selling more newspapers or attracting more interested audiences for TV. Even today, aome [sic] of those film clips of myself 'hunting a vampire' are still being shown or repeated. Do I regret this? NO. Because this is the way it happened. I can't change the past, but ironically there are people who would like to try and do so.
Says the revisionist. In the meantime, I look forward to reading the rest of Kai's book. I've enjoyed my correspondence with him—he's got a good head on his shoulders and shares academic sensibilities. I'm also proud to call him a friend. I wish him the best with his work.

1. K Roberts, Grave concerns: the follies and folklore of Robin Hood's final resting place, CFZ Press, Bideford, U.K, 2011, p. 91: 'It is almost impossible to present an accurate record of the Highgate Vampire drama because - in the opinion of this author, at least - the two principal players have consistently proved to be unreliable witnesses, repeatedly altering or embellishing their recollection of events, often in an attempt to undermine each other's credibility.'

2. ibid., p. 95  

3. ibid., p. 196.  

4. ''Black Magic' probe starts', Daily Express, 1 August 1970, p. 1. 

5. 'Why do the foxes die?', Hampstead & Highgate Express, 6 March 1970, p.1. 

6. D Farrant, Beyond the Highgate vampire: a true case of supernatural occurrences and "vampirism" that centred around London's Highgate Cemetery, 2nd rev. edn, British Psychic and Occult Society, London, 1992, p. 18.  

7. ibid.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails