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Another haunting Halloween

The Rev. Aelwyn Roberts is having the devil of a week. Not that there are any more ghosts than usual to be looked after at Halloween, just that mere mortals are so much more aware of them.

It all goes back to 1950, he says, when the British House of Commons repealed the Witchcraft Act. "Before that, the poor ghosts couldn't get anyone on this side to open the door for them," he says. "But since it stopped being illegal to be a medium, we've all been coming out."

Roberts, 79, is a retired Anglican vicar, but as a self-styled "holy ghostbuster" he still gets an average of two supernatural calls a week. Parishioners, and those further afield, need him to get rid of irritating ghosts, sanctify haunted houses and generally help the dead to stop raising the hair of the living.

"I'm a kind of social worker for ghosts," he explains. "Some people die and leave this world with unresolved problems, so they come back to sort them out."

He had his first meeting with the supernatural as a young man growing up in the 1930s in the village of Blaenau Ffestiniog. Late at night, he and a friend used to watch the primary school headmistress _ dead, you understand _ wandering sadly past the local store. Since then he claims to have met thousands of ghosts, invariably trapped, poor souls, 'twixt this world and the next. He gives them a godly shove to the next world.

That was the case with a young widow who insisted she was being haunted by her dead husband: He sat at the foot of her bed and hissed whenever she sought male company. Roberts and a friend from the local spiritualist church sat with the widow when the ghost confessed he had committed suicide after a blazing marital row _ and wanted to say he was sorry.

"He regretted it. He wanted to tell her he had let her down, and when he had, he never came back to her again," said Roberts.

On another occasion a young couple were alarmed to find their 3-year-old suddenly waking up and coming downstairs at the stroke of nine every night. When the father coaxed his toddler into telling him why, he described an old man who came to his bed and told him to go downstairs. "He wakes me up and says, "Go on, quick, quick now, shoo, shoo, off you go to mummy and daddy'," the boy said.

For the holy ghostbuster, this was a simple operation. He and his medium-assistant moved the boy's bed from one part of the room to another. "It was in the ghost's path," said Roberts, who claims the family was never troubled again.

After further research, they discovered from elderly neighbors that a Captain Lucas had lived in the house, always tramping around in a long nightshirt and cap.

"Eighty percent of the time they're members of your family. I tell people if you want us to kick them out, we might be kicking your grandmother out of her own house."

Tuning in to the right spirit can take time, but in general they comply with his insistence when asked to leave, he said.

For 36 years Roberts was vicar of Llandegai in north Wales and director of social work for the Diocese of Bangor, where he built a reputation for dealing with paranormal activities. His stories are incredible _ and, he admits, to most people unbelievable _ but he talks of "other world" entities with confidence.

His theology is decidedly unorthodox and church authorities have mixed attitudes to his "ghostology." His bishop, Dr. Barry Morgan, did agree to commend his new book, Yesterday's People, applauding his pastoral gifts at the same time as wondering whether he "has rightly interpreted the various tenets of the Christian faith."

Roberts calls ghosts "yesterday's people." His message this Halloween is: Don't be alarmed. If there's a ghost on the landing, "you just need to tell them, firmly, to go away." Theatricals are not necessary. "You don't want to go frightening your dead auntie by waving a crucifix at her."

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