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  Inside Out - East Midlands: Monday September 22, 2003


Reconstruction of Hollinwell Incident
What led to the collapse of dozens of children?

The Hollinwell incident is one of the biggest ever unexplained mysteries in the Midlands. But was it a case of mass hysteria or something more sinister?

The Hollinwell Incident remains one of the strangest events ever to happen in Great Britain.

Even though it took place over twenty years ago, the incident continues to puzzle experts and the local community alike.

At the time it was put down to mass hysteria not seen since the days of the Beatles. But this was a marching band competition in Nottinghamshire.

There are those who still believe something more sinister was responsible for what became known as The Hollinwell Incident.

Inside Out investigates this strange event in which hundreds of children collapsed and needed hospital treatment following a brass band and marching competition.

Falling Like Nine Pins

An ordinary showground... an extraordinary event

It was a summer Sunday morning at a show ground near Kirkby in Ashfield.

Children had travelled from all over the East Midlands for a Junior Brass and Marching Band competition.

But the showground was soon to resemble a battle field.

Band members began to collapse. At first in ones and twos and then by the dozens.

One witness on the day,Terry Bingham remembers, "They fell down like nine pins. We didn't know what was happening."


Water companies were quick to check supplies weren't contaminated.

Were workers near the site several weeks earlier responsible? Was it a gas leak of some sort?

Man carrying fainting child
What was it that caused so many children to collapse?

There was also talk of radio waves and even UFO's being responsible for what was happening that day.

Officials drew a blank. Most victims made a quick recovery and only nine children were kept in hospital overnight.

But what happened made national and international news. Suddenly crop spraying became the favourite culprit.

But after a brief inquiry the official theory blamed mass hysteria as the most likely cause.

Then the report was filed away and forgotten… until now.

Eye Witness Reports

Inside Out has tracked down some of the people who were there on the day.

Hollinwell report
Was the official report's verdict sound?

We have discovered that the chemicals sprayed on the field which were thought to have been harmless at the time have since been banned by the Government.

So could a pesticide, which contained the now banned tridemorph, have contributed to the Hollinwell Incident ?

After all, many local people were deeply suspicious of the official inquiry conclusion.

Tridemorph is classified by the World Health Organisation as Class II - a 'moderately hazardous' pesticide. It is harmful if swallowed and irritating to eyes and skin.

Is it possible that the pesticide caused other side-effects such as fainting and malaise? It's hard to tell so long after the Hollinwell incident.

Mass Hysteria?


Well known cases attributed to mass hysteria include:

UFOs - some researchers believe that 1950s paranoia and belief in UFOs was all in the mind and should be seen as a form of cultural mass hysteria.

First World War - some experts believe shellshock and mass hysteria may be linked.

Beatlemania - obsessive fans at gigs fainted and collapsed as a result of mass hysteria in the '60s.

The Royal Free Hospital Epidemic of 1955 in London - an outbreak of encephalomyelitis was blamed on mass or epidemic hysteria. 200 cases reported. Symptoms included dizziness, vertigo and profound malaise.

Dalston, Cumbria, 1955 - 233 people affected by similar medical symptoms including malaise and dizziness.

Salem witches - could the paranoia have been caused by mass hysteria within a small and isolated community?

The Exorcist - mass hysteria and fainting in cinemas.

Some commentators still believe that the Hollinwell Incident could have been caused by mass hysteria.

Medical studies suggest that outbreaks of mass hysteria share some common characteristics.

The most significant is the susceptibility of women, especially young women grouped together in institutions such as schools or clubs.

The type of symptoms common during outbreaks of mass hysteria include:

* fainting
* nausea and general malaise
* abdominal pain and convulsions
* headaches
* tremors and hyperventilation

These are often manifestations of anxiety and hyperventilation.

Many outbreaks are sparked off by a specific incident which gives rise to anxiety.

Another feature of mass hysteria outbreaks is their short duration - the majority last just a few hours.

The Hollinwell Incident certainly displayed some of these characteristics.

A Frightening Puzzle

So was mass hysteria to blame for hundreds of children collapsing at Hollinwell?

Or was it a case of pesticide spraying or chemicals being breathed in by the children?

It's a puzzle that's hard to unravel twenty years after the event, and one which we'll never be able to solve for sure until new evidence comes to light.

See also ...

On the rest of the web
The Observer - Mass Hysteria
Freud Museum - Psychoanalysis
Pesticides News
Ministry of Agriculture Food and Fisheries

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

I was once a big cat sceptic until I and a work colleague had a 5 minute sighting. I have worked as a inspector for the Rural payments agency for 3 years and work daily in the countryside and I am use to coming across wildlife, but this was my first encounter with a 1 metre long dark cat, its tail was almost as long as its body about 0.6m long and its height was about 0.5m, the animal was about 200 metres from us and was calm at our presence, we were able to view the animal through our binoculars and estimate its height by a fence it was stood next to. I am glad my boss was with me at the time as it was an almost unbelieveable experience. There are hundreds of badgers out there and I have never yet seen one in the wild. I am totally convinced of what I saw. The sighting was near Stathern on 10.09.03 at 10-00am,in clear weather.

Diana Patterson
Having seen a big cat myself near the village of Hoby about 18 months ago, I was hoping that this programme would take a serious, scientific and balanced view on the subject. But no, unfortunately the commentator treated it in a very sceptical manner as though everyone who has actually seen these animals are naive, liars or delusional. I myself was very sceptical on this up to the moment of my sighting. I know several other friends in the village who have seen these animals too. Are we all supposed to be a bit eccentric? I don't think so.

Harold Ashby
It is my opinion this incident was caused by the crop spraying. It is also my opinion that blaming mass hysteria is a way of covering up the truth. Between two and three hundred children do not suffer with sore throats and runny eyes and dizziness.No one willever convince me that just one child fainting could cause over two hundred to come down with those symptoms.

Kerry Louise Randall (nee Elliott)
I attended the Hollinwell Gala as a member of a band, if as they say it was mass hysteria why did it affect babies and adults as well as the children, surely they would not have been as susceptible to this especially the babies. It would be interesting to find out if any one involved that day had suffered any problems in later life health wise.

David Haslam
I appeared on the TV programme broadcast on 22/9/03 (The Hollinwell Incident featured in my recent book "Nottinghamshire Murders and Mysteries") What is is significant about this incident is the reliability of expert witnesses. Experts test for what they know. If the facts don't fit then they can be explained away eg Mass Hysteria. If pesticides were the cause why didn't medical tests on victims show this? If medical science didn't find a cause tehn, what may be the long term damage to those involved now?

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