The sinister images caught on camera that could prove poltergeists DO exist...

Marc and Marianne got undressed and quickly slipped under the duvet. Although the heating had been on for many hours, it was unusually cold in their normally snug bedroom.

In spite of the cold, they tried to drift off to sleep after a hard day looking after their boisterous three-year-old son, Robert.

Seconds later, Marianne was hit on the head by their son's toy dog. She sat bolt upright in bed.

Enlarge   Poltergeist

Could the new footage of the South Shields Poltergeist be the proof we have all been waiting for?

The cuddly toy was clearly aimed at her, but who  -  or what  -  could have thrown it?

<p>Moments later another stuffed dog hit her on the head. Soon the air was thick with flying toys.

All seemed to appear in mid-flight, apparently from nowhere, and were hurled with great force at the petrified couple.

Marc and Marianne hugged the duvet closer to try to protect themselves from the flying toys.

An invisible hand grabbed the far corner of the duvet and pulled in the opposite direction.

Soon they were involved in a tug-of-war with some supernatural force.

Just as quickly as it had started, the tugging stopped. But it was replaced by something even more sinister.

'Marianne, my body feels like it's burning,' said Marc, panic-stricken. 'What's happening to me?'

All across his back, scratches had started to appear. In the space of a few minutes, 13 separate scratches appeared across Marc's back.

Burning intensely, they felt as though a powerful beast was slowly drawing its claws across his body. But just as quickly as the scratches appeared, they vanished.

Enlarge   poltergeist

The 1982 film Poltergeist dramatised the goings on of eerie behaviour when a group of seemingly benign ghosts begin communicating with a five-year-old

Over the following few months, Marc and Marianne's family suffered numerous assaults by a violent ghost that came to be known as the 'South Shields Poltergeist'. Cuddly toys came alive and toilets flushed with blood.

In the mark of what was a very 21st-century haunting, ghostly text messages inexplicably appeared on mobile phones.

It seems the 'ghost' was completely <cite>au fait </cite>with modern technology.

'I was too scared to go to sleep and too frightened to stay awake,' says Marianne. 'I felt that we just couldn't escape from it. No matter what we did, we couldn't get away.'

The full story of the South Shields Poltergeist is told in a new book by two paranormal researchers who spent the summer of 2006 studying the haunting.

So disturbing are the events that the couple want to move away from the area, and don't want their full identities revealed.

Such encounters may sound truly absurd. But, according to the Society For Psychical Research, there are 260 cases of poltergeists reported every year in the UK alone.

It's almost impossible accurately to gauge how many hauntings there are, as far more go unreported.

Hauntings by extremely violent poltergeists  -  such as that suffered by Marc and Marianne  -  are, thankfully, extremely rare and probably happen once a decade at most.

Hard-bitten sceptics, of course, scoff at any claims of haunting and say that poltergeist stories are simply the result of hoaxing and trickery.

But the South Shields Poltergeist seems by no means to be unique.

Earlier this year, it was revealed that Easington District Council in County Durham had paid an exorcist to drive away a poltergeist from a family home which was owned by the local housing association.

Sabrina and Martin Fallon and their two young daughters were apparently haunted for several months late last year.

Objects flew through the air and furniture moved of its own accord.

On one occasion, the ghostly figure of a young girl walked across their landing.

'It felt like ice, even with the heating on,' said Sabrina. 'It was always dull, no matter how bright the lights were, and there was a horrid smell. It was like living in a mortuary.'

The council initially played down the goings-on until one of its employees 'felt' the poltergeist's presence.

Another council employee confided with the couple that there had been a grisly murder in the house 50 years previously.

'He said a man had killed his wife on the landing using a fire poker,' said Sabrina. 'It seems he then hanged himself.'

The council eventually drafted in a local exorcist, Suzanne Hadwin, to cleanse the house.

And so far at least, it appears to have worked.

Many will be quick to scoff at the idea of poltergeists  -  and some will be annoyed that taxpayers' money is being used to exorcise them  -  but a growing number of researchers believe ghosts really do exist.

Professor David Fontana, Fellow of the British Psychological Society, has investigated similar hauntings.

He says: 'From my experience, and from the scientific literature, there's no doubt these are real phenomena.

There are various possible causes. The traditional explanation would be that they are a form of haunting  -  that they are earthbound spirits out to cause trouble.

'Or it could be the repressed emotions of people in the room causing psychokinetic effects [people in the room using the power of their mind to move objects].'

Whatever scientists regard as the most likely cause of a haunting, Marc and Marianne were left in no doubt that an evil spirit had taken possession of their home.

One of the first signs of the poltergeist infestation was a series of disturbing messages left on their son's doodle board.

'Die bitch', 'RIP' and 'Go bitch now to your mam' had been scrawled on the message board. They were followed by the appearance of Satanic-looking symbols.

The family is adamant that the messages were not hoaxes left by them. Their origin remains a mystery.

Messages from the poltergeist soon became even more sinister. Chilling text messages began appearing on Marianne's phone.

One warned her: 'Going to die today, going to get you.' Another read: 'I can get you when you awake and I'll come for you when you asleep, bitch.'

<p>All appeared to be from the poltergeist, and arrived seemingly from nowhere. None could be traced to a mobile phone, computer or landline. Once again, there appeared to be no rational explanation.

'When I was outside the house, it would continuously call my mobile from our home phone even though I knew for certain that no one was in the house,' says Marianne.

'It sent me death threats by text. No matter what I did, I couldn't get away from it.'

The family was forced to turn to professional help. Mike Hallowell and Darren Ritson are seasoned paranormal researchers who have investigated a range of seemingly inexplicable phenomena such as poltergeists and psychic mediums.

'We were initially very sceptical,' admits Darren. But they were soon convinced the haunting was genuine.

The house was quickly kitted out with motion-activated video cameras and sophisticated sensors.

If the poltergeist should appear, the investigators were determined to capture it on film. They did not have long to wait.

One evening, Mike was working at the house and saw a dark shape appear on the landing outside the couple's son's room. Marianne saw it, too, and screamed.

'The entity walked slowly from the bathroom, across the landing into the bedroom,' says Mike.

'As it passed the door to Robert's room, it paused and stared icily at me. Its face, devoid of all features such as eyes, nose or mouth, was cold and menacing. It felt like it was burrowing into my soul.

'It was large  -  maybe two metres in height  -  and midnight black. It was a three-dimensional silhouette that just radiated sheer evil.'

Mike was so stunned by what he saw that he didn't manage to switch the camera on in time.

'It was gutting,' says Mike. 'We all saw it, but we didn't get the proof we needed.'

A few days later they were given a second chance when the poltergeist once again attacked Marc.

Just as before, Marc felt the entity approach him and start drawing its talons down his back.

'You could actually watch the scratches forming,' says Mike. 'First an elongated red patch, then sharply defined scratches within it.

Cuts started to appear on the right-hand side of his back. They immediately bled. Then Marc's skin started to change colour. It went dark, almost as if it was sunburnt. I've seen film and stills of poltergeist scratches appearing before, but nothing like this.'

The investigators frantically checked their video cameras and, this time, they'd caught the attack on tape.

Although the quality was poor, they could see the scratches appearing on Marc's back.

Many people will argue that the poltergeist was a hoax or a collective delusion.

Some, on the other hand, will insist that the video footage shot by Mike proves beyond reasonable doubt that there was a poltergeist in the house.

True, the poltergeist was witnessed by dozens of people  -  and its chilling antics were captured on film.

On one occasion a group of six paranormal investigators witnessed an attack on Marc.

They also saw levitating crockery, ornaments moving of their own accord from room to room, and ghostly sounds emanating from a baby monitor.

Several of these incidents were captured on camera.

Some experts, however, remain unconvinced. Professor Chris French, a parapsychologist at Goldsmiths College, University of London, says: 'Since recorded history began, these kinds of things have been reported.

'On the basis of the quality of the evidence that's available, I would bet against them being the result of ghosts and poltergeists. But I could be wrong.'

Perhaps the last word should go to Marianne. Eager to sell her home and move on with life, she is still shocked by the intensity of the haunting.

'We were absolutely terrified,' she says. 'I don't think I'll ever be the same again. If I hear a noise that I cannot explain, or something goes missing, then it always makes us wonder whether it has come back again.

'But right now, we are just glad that it seems to have left us alone.'

  • The South Shields Poltergeist by Michael J. Hallowell and Darren W. Ritson, is published by The History Press at £16.99. To order a copy for £15.30 (p&p free), call 0845 606 4206.

The sinister images caught on camera that could prove poltergeists DO exist...