Why We Decided to Watch an Episode of Most Haunted in a Dark, Empty National Justice Museum...

Words: Ashley Carter and Emily Thursfield
Illustrations: Ali Taylor-Perry
Friday 23 October 2020
reading time: min, words

We should do something Halloween-y for our October issue. Yeah, okay. How about with the National Justice Museum? Good shout. But what? I dunno. They made an episode of Most Haunted there, you know. Really? Yeah it’s on Amazon Prime. Imagine if we went over there and watched it in the dark where they spotted the ghosts. Do you think they’ll let us? We can ask...  


There’s an old saying: ‘what seems like a good idea in the LeftLion office, feels less great once you’re questioning your entire life in a pitch black haunted courtroom two weeks later.’ It might not be an actual saying, but it should be. I don’t deal with ghostly stuff very well at all. I’m a coward – it’s something I’ve grown to accept about myself in later life – so I tend to avoid horror films, haunted houses and anything even vaguely paranormal whenever I can. As this was Emily’s idea, I assumed she’d embrace watching the episode of Most Haunted filmed at the National Justice Museum (then the Galleries of Justice) at the venue itself, by ourselves, in the dark. I was quite incorrect. 

Look, I didn’t think the NJM would actually agree to my ridiculous suggestion. I enjoy the concept of ghosts – growing up a fan of Harry Potter, I’d have loved nothing more than to learn our world was as paranormal as Voldemort’s, and I’m fascinated by people’s tales of ghost-hunting too. While the scientific side of my brain acknowledges they’re unlikely to be true, I just think there are too many people out there to have claimed to be witness to paranormal activity for this all to be an elaborate hoax. I just wanted to experience it for myself. But, having now put my adult-self out there in a few frightening situations – including attending the NJM’s Terror Tour night, where I thought I was going to break my housemate’s hand from squeezing it too hard – I’ve come to realise I’m somewhat of a scaredy-cat, and the reality of what we were about to do dawned on me way too late.

Like every half-baked idea we pitch, the good folks at the NJM were only too happy to oblige, and we were met on those iconic steps by the lovely Jessica, their Social Media and Marketing Officer, who also used to lead the ghost tours there.

Once the great big wooden door slammed closed behind us, Jessica asked if we’d like the lights in the building turned on or off. As Ash had left me to go and empty his bladder – probably a smart decision – it was up to me to decide our fate. “Umm… urrr… maybe… um… off?” And with that, we were plunged into darkness. Jessica led us through to our first location, and where the Most Haunted episode began – the Court Room. Dating back to the fourteenth century, the majestic chamber had been rebuilt multiple times, and has seen countless criminals tried, sentenced and even executed. Once we’d felt our way to the front benches, Jessica made us aware of the ghostly apparitions which both staff and visitors regularly experience in there. There’s been multiple reports of figures roaming around on the balcony or perched in the judge’s chair, and if you dare to linger in the dock, you might feel an overwhelming sense of dread wash over you. It’s even got so spooky that the NJM cleaner refuses to step foot in there alone. 

With shaky hands, I set my MacBook up on an old, gnarled table that Jessica informed us had been used to dissect executed criminals in the past. Enchanting. In all the haunted hullaballoo, I’d somehow forgotten why we were there: to watch Most Haunted visit the site seventeen years before us. For the uninitiated, Most Haunted was an inexplicably popular ghost hunting TV show that aired on Living TV between 2002 and 2010. Like many houses in Britain, it was as much a staple of our viewing schedules as Come Dine With Me and The Generation Game. Watching host Yvette Fielding – with her perfectly quaffed Pavel Nedved circa Euro ’96 barnet – talk with such relentless sincerity about ghosts was like popping an old pair of slippers on. She’s joined by her stern sidekick, Nottingham’s own Phil Wyman, looking like the fifth Inbetweener, and the real star of the show: the late, great Derek Acorah. Oozing class and pizazz in equal measure with his Mum’s-mate-who-lives-next-door hair complimented by a single diamond stud earring, the paranormal psychic (along with his spirit-guide Sam) became something of a cult figure after the show’s initial success. Such was the hype in my household that we actually paid to see him live at the Theatre Royal. Sure, he got heckled to the point that he had to personally guarantee refunds from the stage, and didn’t successfully identify a single ghost, but I still get to say I saw the great man live. 

The early-noughties green-tinged graphics and eerie music of the credits was almost laughable, but the chills soon began to get the better of both of us

Once Jessica left the room, Ash and I shared a moment of ‘What the hell are we doing here?’ before finally pressing play on the episode. The early-noughties green-tinged graphics and eerie music of the credits was almost laughable, but the chills soon began to get the better of both of us. 

I expected the episode to be the catalyst for frights during this experience, but at fifteen minutes in I realised the opposite was true. The building is genuinely terrifying, and when stripped of light and the presence of the public and staff, hosts a really creepy atmosphere. It feels like it holds the weight of all of the horrible things that have happened there. The broken lives, the pleas for mercy, the desperate last moments. Even Acorah can’t come close to that. The MH team relocate to the laundry and bathhouse one level down, and we decide to do the same. Derek Acorah is trying his best, but he’s bombing, and I think he knows it. He looks a bit sweatier and more desperate than I remember, and every time he gets asked a specific question, he tactfully avoids it with another well-timed interruption from Sam. Time and again he names a ghost whose presence he can feel, only for the on-screen graphic to let us know that there isn’t anyone linked to the building’s history with that name. 

With just fifteen minutes of the episode left to go, and no ghostly figures spotted, we moved along to our final location: the dark cells. Jessica had shared some of her own paranormal encounters with us during our tour, but it was the tale of the ghostly figure that had come to sit next to her on the concrete bed in one of these cells which had chilled me to the bone. As we were led into the cave, I heard a distinct clattering sound, similar to chains, from the room to the right. ‘You heard that too… right?” I said to Jessica. “Yeah,” she said, peering her head around the corner into a dark, narrow hallway, “and that’s exactly where you’re going.” 

Beyond petrified at this point, I refused to turn the torch off on my phone in case the friendly ghoul wished to pay us a visit too. We began to bicker, and after Ash accused me of “ruining” the experience, I put on my best spoilt-brat voice and accidentally shouted ‘SAM!’...  it’s possible for a moment I’d embodied the spirit of Acorah’s trusty sidekick, but much more likely I’d referred to Ash by my partner’s name, for whom I frequently use that same exasperated tone. Slightly embarrassed and breathing heavily, we spent the final fifteen minutes – which followed three of the crew members communicating with evil spirits and a dust-like orb floating across the screen – in silence, both on the edges of our seat. 

Taking a big breath of fake confidence, I ask Emily to turn off the torch one more time, just for a minute. I want to experience the feeling of being in that tiny room, in the dark, just like so many condemned men would have been before me. But it’s no good, all I can think about is Acorah, and whether spirit-guide Sam is still wandering around looking for a new master. Maybe they’re together now. That would be nice. It’s sad that his time on the show ended so badly, after he was given the boot for making stuff up. Apparently someone fed him the names ‘Rik Eedles’ and ‘Kreed Kafer’, which he claimed to be ghosts, not realising they were just anagrams of ‘Derek Lies’ and ‘Derek Faker’. I don’t want to speak ill of the dead but, well, he made a living out of it. 

As we exited the cell, physically unscathed but mentally exhausted, we found ourselves in the courtyard outside, with bricks inscribed with names of ex-prisoners, plus the gravestones of the five criminals who had been executed and buried on the grounds of the museum. It was a stark reminder that, while we laughed at the possibility of Yvette and the gang being visited by the spirits of unhappy ghosties, the National Justice Museum was once home to some really rotten people, who spent the worst of their days locked inside those four walls. Was the experience enough to make me believe in ghosts? I’m undecided. Will I be looking to do it again anytime soon? Dream on. 


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