The BBC Watchdog programme’s treatment of self-acclaimed “healer, energy worker, teacher and psychic”, Adrian Pengelly, which aired last week, seems to have upset a few people. Pengelly has many satisfied customers who did not appreciate the humiliating exposure of someone they know to be a very nice man who has helped them.
According to a sycophantic piece in today’s Daily Mail, more than 200 of his clients lobbied the BBC in protest before the programme was aired. I’d add that every mention of the programme since has drawn fresh testimonials of his amazing power (see the comments beneath the Mail article for examples) and protests about the evil Watchdog team who cruelly tricked this kind and gentle man.
Kind he may be, but there are some pretty preposterous claims on Adrian Pengelly’s website.
Here are a few of them:
- He has an electromagnetic field over his hands which, according to unnamed “physicists”, is “several thousand percent stronger than that normally registered on most individuals”.
- His healing power is so strong that people, animals and even inanimate objects in the vicinity of Pengelly’s healing sessions are affected. Thus, other horses in the stable and the horse’s owner will start to feel physical sensations as Pengelly works on the patient. Some people’s long-term ailments are cured just by watching a healing session and “it is very common for clocks or watches in the vicinity of a healing session to stop working”.
- Indeed, one doesn’t need to be in the vicinity to be healed. Pengelly can heal from a distance and he doesn’t even need to know the name or any other details of the person who needs healing. He will “typically spend around two hours a day directing his healing consciousness toward recipients and has so far achieved remarkable results, particularly with cancer patients.”
- He has had “an enormously beneficial impact on many hundreds of cancer sufferers.”
- He has become world famous.
Just how this power of his works to heal, he is unable to tell us but on this page he tentatively offers a couple of sciencey-sounding but ludicrous explanations. One of them is attributed to a Michael Holt, whom Pengelly describes as “a physicist and science writer.” No trace of any such person can be found on the web, unless Pengelly means the Michael Holt who, according to a wiki stub, is a former high school maths teacher and now writes puzzle books for children. As far as I can see, Holt is the only named individual. All the other doctors and scientists Pengelly marshalls in his support — and he claims to number such people, together with vets and engineers, amongst his customers thereby demonstrating that even intelligent professional people believe in him — are anonymous.
Pengelly knows better than vets
There are scores of testimonials — also anonymous — on his website from people claiming that Pengelly has healed all mannner of ailments in their animals and themselves. Yet the one test the Watchdog programme set up for him — to diagnose a horse’s incurable ailment — he failed miserably. To a layperson like me, the challenge seemed psychicly straightforward, so to speak. I mean they didn’t just say something vague like “the horse doesn’t seem itself, it seems a bit down in the mouth,” etc. No, in the scene we see being secretly filmed, they actually tell him the horse is lame in its front right leg. Uncannily sensing that the problem therefore lies in the horse’s front right leg, Pengelly makes a beeline for the thigh of that leg and starts groping his way down it. When he arrives at the knee he asserts that he has found the site of the problem. He feels a “lot of tension” and seems confident he can cure the problem. We don’t see him so much as glance at the hoof, which is the actual site of the damage according to an MRI scan and which the leading equine vet they wheel out says is very clear. There is nothing whatever wrong with the horse’s knee, or so we are told. But what do leading equine vets know about horses? Not as much as Pengelly, according to what he says just after he had failed to correctly diagnose the horse’s ailment:
Most vets don’t have the ability to look at the horse and understand how it works.
Classic! (The vet, for his part, dismissed Adrian’s diagnosis as “claptrap”.)
No doubt some will say that it is unfair to judge his alleged healing power on this one failure to correctly diagnose the cause of a horse’s lameness and I agree with them. I suppose there are limits to what a programme like Watchdog is prepared to do and the programme makers obviously weren’t going to bother giving him a few different diagnosis or healing challenges so he could either redeem himself or hang himself even higher.
Pengelly, ghostbuster extraordinaire
Instead, they took him to a “haunted” house so he could demonstrate his pyschic powers and get the ghost to leave. Apparently ghost-hunting is a hobby of his and he doesn’t charge a penny, which makes me wonder why Watchdog went to the trouble of setting the whole thing up, complete with special effects and an actress playing the home owner. Well, I suppose that, notwithstanding its stated mission of “tracking down Rogue Traders conning the unsuspecting public out of their hard-earned cash”, Watchdog has to be entertaining and, thanks to Pengelly, this bit of the programme is comedy gold.
At first, Pengelly is predictable: “The energy is not quite right,” he says flatly, soon after entering the house. But after hearing a bit of gravel dropping noisily down the chimney (courtesy of the Watchdog team who are hiding in the loft with a remote control device) and then seeing a cupboard door open of its own accord and the taps start spontaneously gushing water, he becomes more animated. “This is your chance to talk to me, he says earnestly while looking into space. “You’ve got to understand that you’re dead.”
Apparently, Pengelly is permanently escorted by a posse of spirits who work with him and, after a “quick chat” with these, he is asked by the home-owner how he can sort the problem out.
“We can do it the nice way or the nasty way and we don’t want to do it the nasty way do we?” he says, raising his voice meaningfully in a manner that suggests he believes the ghost is standing at the far end of the room and trying to eavesdrop.
Alas, just as it’s getting really funny and we’re wondering what on earth these nice and nasty ways could be, the scene is cut and we see Pengelly leaving having, according to the narrator, claimed to have rid the house of the ghost.
Pengelly, cancer healer
On to the final leg of the Watchdog sting when Pengelly is secretly filmed pummelling the shoulders of a Watchdog stooge (and real-life cancer survivor) and making the following claims:
- His success rate for treating cancer is around 60-65%.
- With some cancers, nine out of ten people get better and with Pengelly’s treatment they don’t need anything else.
- His success rate is higher with people who don’t have chemo and radiotherapy and is lower with people who do…it makes him “less sensitive”.
- If chemo was offered to a member of his family, he would tell them not to bother with it but to let him treat them because with chemo there is a possibility that his treatment won’t work.
Interestingly, the claims he made in a one-to-one session with a cancer patient aren’t quite the same as those made on the FAQ page of his website:
- “Adrian does not claim to heal cancer. However, he has had an enormously beneficial impact on many hundreds of cancer sufferers.”
- “Adrian is happy to work with people having conventional medical treatment….ultimately, medical treatment makes no difference to Adrian’s work.”
Spot the difference? Skimming the FAQ page I get the general impression that, apart from sounding batshit loopy, Pengelly seems fairly responsible. Until I get to the bottom, where he says:
If you need healing then come along and see for yourself. People really do throw their sticks away and walk.
There may well be people reading this who see nothing irrational or unethical about any of Pengelly’s claims. Those people will, no doubt, agree with Pengelly’s objections to the programme: that it wasn’t “balanced”, that it ignored the huge wealth of anecdotal evidence for his healing ability, that he is empowering people and that people should be free to choose their treatment.
For such people I would only repeat what the Watchdog investigator, Matt Allwright, was filmed saying to some twenty or so of Pengelly’s supporters who turned up to the filming of the interview with Pengelly: People with cancer are desperate and it’s crucial they are given accurate information and proof.
By the way, the one person present who was prepared to say that Pengelly had cured her of cancer turned out to have been treated with both chemotherapy and Herceptin. During this treatment a scan had already revealed that the tumour on her liver had shrunk. A further scan after Pengelly got his magical hands on her showed it to have disappeared altogether. Go figure.
This was by far the most important part of the operation against Pengelly and the one that, in my opinion, they should have focussed on exclusively, instead of faffing about with lame horses and haunted houses. Let people be free to pursue whatever floats their boat in treating their minor ailments and ridding their houses of imaginary occupants but what Pengelly did on that programme was promote an unproven cancer treatment and, given that the 1939 Cancer Act proscribes the advertising and promotion of any treatment for cancer, that would seem to make this very kind and gentle man something of a criminal. (And for the benefit of Pengelly’s reportedly very aggressive lawyers, I stress that this is just my personal interpretation of his behaviour, OK? I’m not suggesting that he has actually been charged or convicted of any crime.) I wish Watchdog had taken apart Pengelly’s various claims about cancer and explained why they are unlikely to be true. Because they didn’t actually do that and, for all we know, Pengelly may well have magical hands that can “channel energy through the body” and heal tumours.
I’d wager that, for everyone angered by Pengelly’s claims, there were will be many others sufficiently impressed by the publicity generated by the programme and the loyalty of his customers to think that, at £30 a session, it’s worth giving him a try. Indeed, this is exactly what Pengelly is now claiming on the front page of his website.
Nice one, Watchdog.
A couple of great posts at Quackometer: