AN EVIL spirit had the run of a Swindon couple’s home this week in 1980 – and the council was calling in an exorcist.
Perry Boyce, 17, and his 16-year-old girlfriend Donna said an invisible force tried to kill their three-week-old baby, Emma.
The thing, they said, also threw objects, broke a door and switched lights on and off at the council house in Melksham Close, Penhill.
A Thamesdown Council spokesman told us: “We heard about the case yesterday and we are going to get someone to perform an exorcism.
“The couple are not telling lies about this house, and we are going to rehouse them straight away.”
If this seems an unusually forthright comment, it’s worth remembering that 1980 was firmly in the era of high-profile stories about hauntings.
The film of The Amityville Horror, about demonic visitations on Long Island, had been released only the year before. Closer to home, it was just three years since the Enfield Poltergeist case, when children living in a suburban house claimed a ghost moved furniture and threw them from their beds.
Perry, by then staying with his girlfriend and daughter at a relative’s home, said the trouble began as soon as they moved in.
“We were absolutely terrified,” he said. “I woke up at the start to hear the dog howling for dear life downstairs.
“I could also hear the door banging as though someone was trying to get in.
“The next morning the attic door was open, the pantry door had been ripped open and the bolts on the back door were broken.”
A friend, Diane Farrow, 26, who stayed with the couple shortly before they fled, said: “Donna and I were making coffee in the kitchen when the door started to rattle as though someone were trying to get in.
“We didn’t stop to see, we just ran out of the kitchen as fast as we could.”
Everybody then settled to sleep in the living room, Diane said, only for the lights to flash on and off and a cassette recorder to levitate and hurtle 10 feet toward the baby’s cot.
A few days later, previous tenant Peter Everett came forward to say he and his family had noticed nothing untoward at the house – but that his children were now being taunted by schoolmates.
Still in the realm of the supernatural, that week included a Friday the 13th, and we marked the occasion with a special experiment.
In a move that would have 2014’s lawsuit-conscious company solicitors foaming at the mouth, we placed a ladder outside our office in Victoria Road, angling it so the only way to avoid walking underneath was to step nearly off the pavement as cars, buses and lorries rumbled by.
A few people picked their way around it and half-jokingly told us they didn’t want to take any chances, but most strode nonchalantly on.
One of the latter, an air conditioning engineer called Clive Evans said: “If something is going to happen to you it will happen without it being Friday the 13th or walking under ladders.”
Olive Jones, 85, said: “I’m not at all superstitious about anything. Ladders don’t bother me and neither does Friday the 13th.
“My life is in the hands of the gods.”
Post Office worker Anthony Webb said: “Friday the 13th is a working day to me. What you’re up to seems a bit pointless.”
On the same day the then Home Secretary, William Whitelaw, visited Swindon to inspect the Wiltshire Probatiom Office in Milton Road and meet staff.
Mr Whitelaw was best known for introducing the ‘short, sharp shock’ concept of highly-disciplined custodial sentences for violent young offenders, and also for being nicknamed ‘Old Oyster Eyes’ in Private Eye.
Photographed with a young Swindon PC, Tom Skillen, he told us: “It’s very important today that in all possible cases we keep offenders out of prison and within the community.
”Obviously, we have to lock up violent offenders, but the role of the probation service is vital.”
Swindon had dealings with another member of the Cabinet that week, but Industry Secretary Sir Keith Joseph was far less amiable for the experience.
Sir Keith had been off on one of those gruelling ‘fact-finding missions’ politicians are often forced to endure. This one was to California, where he visited some emerging Silicon Valley businesses.
It prompted Thamesdown’s industrial adviser, Douglas Smith, to take a front page advert in the Financial Times.
It said: “Welcome home, Sir Keith. Hope you enjoyed your trip to Silicon Valley, where you spoke of your ambitions for the UK’s chip-filled future.
“Did you know your dream has already been fulfilled in Swindon, England? Why not send for the Swindon Fact File and get the details of our chip-based companies. More than a dozen so far, and more to come.”
The ad drew interest from potential investors, but Sir Keith’s minions said in a statement: “Sir Keith does not wish to comment on this matter as it is only a commercial advertisement.”
IN OTHER NEWS...
MONDAY, JUNE 9, 1980: “BREAK-IN vandals have dealt a cruel blow to a special school in Swindon. They stole two bicycles and ruined a third when they broke into a shed at the Central School in Broad Street. The bikes had been presented to the school to enable pupils to sit their cycling proficiency tests next month. Headmaster Ken Hudd said today: ‘We were hoping to get our 100th pupil through the test. But the break-in has knocked our course sideways. Not only did the mindless vandals steal two of the cycles – they stole the handlebars of another.”
TUESDAY, JUNE 10, 1980: “OLD folk in Swindon are failing to claim £1m in benefits. A report reveals today that between 1,980 and 4,200 are not claiming their full entitlements. Some of the pensioners are frightened of means tests which could lead to demands to sell treasured possessions, says the report. Others are put off by the complexity of form-filling and ignorance of what can legally be claimed. But some of Swindon’s elderly won’t claim because of their pride against asking for or accepting what they call charity.”
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 11, 1980: “SWINDON taxi owners won approval for a 30 per cent fare increase, but were told they must be more efficient. At a meeting with Thamesdown’s public works and services committee, councillors voted to approve an application by Radiotaxis which will mean a minimum fare in Swindon of 70p. Committee chairman Coun Percy Jefferies said: ‘Their increases in previous years have fallen. It is only fair that they should catch up.’”
THURSDAY, JUNE 12, 1980: “EIGHTEEN-year-old Cherie Davies was chosen last night as Thamesdown Hambro Festival Queen in the contest organised by the Advertiser. A panel of judges headed by TV personality Alan Taylor picked Cherie, a chemist’s assistant from Gassons Road, Lechlade, at the final in the Goddard Arms Hotel, Swindon. She wins a cash prize of £50 plus a professional portrait sitting by Studio 70, hairdressing and beauty treatment by Miss Rebecca, a meal for two at the Goddard Arms, 12 pairs of tights from Hildawear and sports equipment worth £30 from Arena Plus.”
FRIDAY, JUNE 13, 1980: “THICK brown oil has wrecked the opening of the fishing season for 100 anglers in Swindon. Torrential rain has washed the smelly oil into a lake stocked with prime fish – only days away from the opening on Monday. Now anglers who use the old British Rail Lagoon in Rodbourne, Swindon, will have to wait to use their favourite water. The oil is about an inch thick and covers roughly 400 square yards of a lagoon which feeds into the angling lake.”