back to article Police arrest MD of dowsing-rod 'bomb detector' firm

A British businessman who has made millions selling dowsing-rod "explosives detectors" to the Iraqi security forces has been arrested on suspicion of fraud. The Times reports that Jim McCormick, 53, a former Merseyside police officer who is nowadays managing director of detector-maker ATSC (UK) Ltd, was arrested and questioned …


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  1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    OMG. UK company fleeces Iraq's

    Let's hope the Iraqs take steps to recover a bit more of *their* money.

  2. Code Monkey

    A good start

    Great stuff. Let's see this followed up with arresting all mediums, witch-doctors, crystal sellers, chakra botherers and all other purveyors of superstitious mumbo-jumbo (yes like priests, vicars and whatnot).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Witch Hunt?

      I'm sorry, what century do you think this is?

      Anonamous cause I'm Jedi!

  3. MinionZero

    @"who has made millions selling dowsing-rod "explosives detectors""

    Sounds like these utter morons, who have lost so much money, are also trying for a place in the Darwin Awards!

    It seems in life, that every time you think you've heard of the most stupid humans ever, another candidate tries to out do them! :)

    1. Mark Monaghan

      @Darwin Award?

      You don't imagine these morons will actually be using the sticks themselves?

      They'll almost certainly give them to some poor sod and order them to use them.

      I don't believe there's a 'Darwin Award by Proxy' yet.

      1. MinionZero

        @"They'll almost certainly give them to some poor sod"

        Yes that occured to me as well. But then if my boss told me to use it I would tell the moron where to go. (Plus I don't care if I was in the military, I would still tell the moron where to go). From that point on, anyone who did use it would be a Darwin Award winner in their own right (as well as prooving they were spinless for going along with the whole thing).

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Maybe a sister company?

    Thais have been blowing themselves up with the British-made GT-200 bomb (non)-detector.

    Meanwhile, in Iraq:


  5. Anonymous Coward


    So a plastic cup & a bit of cardboard can detect explosives!!! hahahaha

    Brilliant! The people who actually bought these products should be arrested too for fraud!! They can't be real human beings ......

  6. Anonymous Coward

    I dont know whether....

    .../ damn his infernal eyes as a charlatan or slap him on the back and declare 'Good work sir!'

    A stick with a bit of cardboard on the end to detect bombs.... and truffles...brilliant!

    Grenade...well it takes a specially trained opertive to find a grenade in plain sight in an office with a magic stick!

  7. Stef 4
    Thumb Up


    Arrested for fraud? Hmmm. Will those shops that sell healing crystals be targeted next? Or my local chemist with their homoeopathy section (Apparently their water-pills contain the memory of the medicine that used to be in there, but strangely the water doesn't have the memory of all the urine and fish that it has been through).

    1. stu 4


      tisk tisk Stef - you mistunderstand homoeopathy - unless the urine/fish water was bashed on a piece of wood. you fool.


      1. Stratman


        Do get it right. It's leather covered wood, otherwise the magic water forgets.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    I saw those

    in action in Iraq, and I kept thinking how does this stuff detect explosives? The police usually get your car to stop after a check point, and some clown walks alongside about 2-3 meters away from the car, and sees if the rod turns towards it. I innocently thought it must have been an _electronic_ detector, because it is supposedly triggered by laptops as well. Turns out it runs on pixie dust!

    There are vapour-based detectors, you usually see them at airports. There is the canine sort, and the electronic sort that they stick in your bag.

    1. SW

      Me tooo

      Yep, a certain hotel that I used to frequent in Kuwait was using these when we lived out there, I was always dubious as to their efficacy.

  9. Simon 39


    Good for him, seriously.

    A sham swimming in a sea of shams.

    I hope he doesn't get treated too harshly. After all, the original scam was "official", don't forget.

  10. Steve Swann


    Hahahahhahahahah! *stops to breathe*

    "We are working on a new model that has flashing lights...."

    HAHHAHAHAHAH! *wipes eyes*

    1. OrsonX

      flashing light


  11. Anonymous Coward


    looks a good bit of kit...

  12. Oliver Mayes

    You may laugh... how backwards this seems, but when you consider that UK police forces hire psychics to assist with murder cases it just leaves you with vague feeling of depression at the state of the world.

    1. david wilson


      >>"when you consider that UK police forces hire psychics to assist with murder cases."

      If they do, it's not at all common, and 'psychic' assistance in detection is nothing like as common or helpful as 'psychics' claim.

      Most 'I helped the police ' claims are either self-delusion from the people who think they really are psychic, or simple lies from the ones who know that they aren't.

      Even in the odd occasion where someone did get involved due to a gullible copper, one psychic making a few guesses isn't generally going to do more than waste a bit of police time.

      Fake explosive detectors can very easily end up with many people dying.

  13. Kev K
    Thumb Up


    Wow if your gonna buy this "tech" then I have a clear tap water like substance branded "Snayke Oy-l" that cures everything from teh bad Aids to dandruft for a bargain price of £100k a gallon*

    Where would you like me to send the invoice ?

    * Minimum order £10 Million

  14. Alan B

    Gullible idiots

    Surely the officials who bought the "detectors" should also be arrested.

    Mine's the one with a bit of cardboard in the pocket.

  15. Nebulo

    Kudos to that man!

    Eighty five million for selling a load of old sticks to government dipshits? Bloody brilliant! That man should be selling IT schemes to HMG, he could make even more. Total respect!

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Kudos...

      Read the article more carefully. This chap only made 12 million selling certain death to a bunch of fools. Other people out there made SIX times as much by facilitating the transaction. At parties, they probably describe themselves as "businessmen".

      Truly the human race knows no lower limit.

      1. Nebulo

        Kudos undimmed (mostly)

        It was still an 85 megabuck scam, as no doubt the Court will be reminded. It would have been a bit much to ask that he trousered the entire 85 as well. ("only" 12 million, btw? errr, *one* would do me very nicely ... ) The guy still has all the brass neck of a banker - well, almost all, as he did actually deliver some (sort of) hardware.

        Quite agree with your other comments, though, especially the last. Hence the drink. Whom the Gods would destroy make very depressing entertainment for the sober.

  16. Andus McCoatover

    Godalmighty! (Buries head in hands, weeps)

    What the hell were the Iraqi government thinking?? When I worked for various companies, you had to PROVE the product, whatever, worked. For example, when building/designing Nokia Basestations, we had to leap through hoops of fire to get the product approved by the FCC, etc. Not just proof that it worked, but actually met international standards. Then, show all our documentation (independently certified) to the customer before they'd take it on over our competitors' products. Then, FFS, let them try a few for a few months.

    I tried to discover if this company had ISO9001 approval, but going to I got "Website under repair" message. Wayback Machine? No pages listed. Bells should've been ringing years ago.

    At least it wasn't made from badgers paws.

    This man seems nothing more than at least a conman, at worst a terrorist, and I hope he's tried under the terrorist laws. FFS, a basestation isn't protecting people's lives. This $8,000 'twig' was purported to. How many have died relying on this snake-oil? If it's proved to be a smoke-and-mirrors device, I hope at least manslaughter charges can be added.

    "A new model that has flashing lights" must be the best quote to hit El Reg this year. It's only January, for fuc*k's sake!

    Oh, and McCormick is released on bail, and the numpty plods didn't confiscate his passport??? Surprise, surprise when a worker says he's "Out of the country".

    At least it wasn't made from badgers' paws.

    1. frank ly

      Think before you comment

      "At least it wasn't made from badgers' paws."

      Badger's paws do work for that actually. I was assured of this by an old farmer who hangs around at my local pub, he does know a thing or two about badgers.

    2. SuperTim


      All that would tell you is that there is an auditable trail and documentation for their design process and manufacturing systems along with training and support (which they clearly have). it wont prove whether the thing works or not. It is probably made well enough as humans have been making sticks and cardboard for centuries!

      Infact I would think it likely that they would pass ISO9001 accreditation easily as there is clearly a product development cycle as well, what with their intention to add "flashing lights".

      I wouldnt be surprised if it had some kind of design award either!

      Besides, i have never seen one not work (assuming that any poor sod blown up was not following their training properly) ;)

    3. david wilson


      >>"What the hell were the Iraqi government thinking??"

      Presumably they were thinking "Which Swiss bank account should I have my commission put into?"

  17. Elmer Phud

    One down . . .

    Shame that the Xenu shaggers don't seem to be able to be held to account for thier two bits of bog-roll and box that goes 'ping'

  18. Winkypop Silver badge

    Batteries not included

    "One of the problems we have is that the machine does look a little primitive. We are working on a new model that has flashing lights"

    I have a suitcase full of 'holes' to throw all those bombs into if they're interested.

    Say $10k each?

    I also have some 2nd hand Skyhooks for sale....

    1. Andus McCoatover


      When, years ago I was in BT, working at a HF radio station (Bearley, near Stratford-on-Avon) we used to send apprentices to the store for a new 'skyhook' because, being 'educated' they got too smart to get me a "new bubble for my spirit level..."

      Don, the old storeman was always in on it, and gave them a butchers hook we used for the purpose. Or, a kid's balloon, if he had one handy. With the plethora of masts at Bearley, it was a moderately convincing question.

      Alternatively, at lunchtime, we'd send said PFY to Don for a 'long weight'. "Sit for a few moments, I'll get you one". Then Don would re-emerge an hour later (after he'd had his lunch), and tell him he'd just had his 'long wait', now go back to the lab. Don never used to tire of it.

      Hope this charlatan gets a very long wait.

      1. jake Silver badge


        ""new bubble for my spirit level...""

        You can get these ... Professional grade spirit levels are too expensive to throw away just because a bubble vial is broken. To say nothing of the fact that many carpenters/woodworkers make their own set of levels (and tool boxes, and box plains, etc.); it's kind of a right of passage. I am fortunate enough to have my great-grandfather's tools ...

        That said, we used "left handed screwdriver" and/or "metric die grinder". Or we'd have 'em take the company car out to get the air in the tires changed and the radiator springs checked. Or to have a new set of chrome reverse muffler bearings installed. Long wait was used occasionally when we didn't have the patience to walk a rookie thru long, involved procedures and knew we could get thew job done faster without him/her hovering around ... the secretary was in on the joke.

        I hope for a long wait for this bozo, too. I'm not holding my breath, though.

  19. Tom_

    Good news

    This is very good news. It's terrible that someone can make so much money at the very obvious expense of other peoples' lives.

    They should put this man in a minefield, equipped with one of his magic sticks and if he's lucky enough to get out unharmed then lock him up anyway.

  20. Pete 2 Silver badge

    and that's why we're so crap at exporting stuff

    .. we beat up our own companies. Even when they're selling stuff abroad.

    Surely it's not our place to tell the Iraqis that what they've bought is rubbish - they are quite capable fo finding that our for themselves - and complaining if necessary. It's not our police's job to spend OUR TAX MONEY protecting them from someone they haven't even decided they have a problem with.

    The irony is that without "our side" dropping bombs on them in the first place, they probably wouldn't need to buy bomb detectors anyway.

    Anyone got a pair of size 9 hob-nailed landmine detectors?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Caveat emptor

      Maybe this case is a little more difficult because the customer/victim is the government of a country under military occupation by the UK.

      Or maybe he just forgot to hire a lawyer who would have told him to put some magic words to the effect of "product does not actually work" in the small print.

      It's true that a lot of the stuff sold in Boots doesn't work but the descriptions on cosmetics packaging are very carefully worded to mislead the customer while avoiding trouble from Trading Standards.

      1. Jonathan Richards 1


        I think you're behind the times, Coward. That operation is over, and Iraq has an elected government of its own.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      because Iraqis aren't human beings who deserve not to be blown up because some fuckwit wants to make some dough.


      1. Pete 2 Silver badge

        I'm sure Haliburton don't have this much trouble


        I doubt the Iraqis are any worse off with these dowsing rods than they were before, without them. You never know, they might even work! Iraq is a "grown up" state - hell, we trained their police. Therefore I'm sure they would have no trouble complaining to our govt. if they had a mind to.

        Further, if they don't like it so much I wonder whether the British government will pay back the tax they took from this guy's profits?

        1. Anonymous Coward


          ...who is paying for security in Iraq at the moment?

          Just asking!

          1. OrsonX

            good grief, indeed!

            palm => face

  21. Eirik Hektoen
    Thumb Up

    Boots next?

    Great news. Next the police should arrest and charge the board of directors of Boots (and other chemists) for fraudulently selling homeopathic products falsely described as "remedies" and "complementary medicine", when they're neither, to vulnerable people.

  22. Giddy Kipper

    Their website

    is under repair..

    Oh really?

  23. Witty username


    "McCormick hit back, however, telling the paper that “we have been dealing with doubters for ten years. One of the problems we have is that the machine does look a little primitive. We are working on a new model that has flashing lights.”"

    well im sold. flashing lights = technology!

    1. Anonymous Coward


      He's well used to dealing with HMG then.

  24. david wilson


    It looks from the Times articles that a great deal of money was spent on training and 'middlemen'.

    I wonder how many of the middlemen ever believed or cared whether the devices worked, and how many were just looking to take their cut?

    When you have a senior Iraqi official insisting the devices are great even when they know the US/UK forces think they're entirely worthless, i think you can guess who some of the middlemen probably are.

    Apparently, there's a suggestion that Newsnight tonight might have some coverage on the issue.

  25. Riscyrich

    ROFLMAO - a fool and his money ($85m of it)

    This is just all kinds of awesome...

    I can't read that all again for fear of laugher induced heart attack.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    thing is

    Is it illegal to sell packets of dehydrated water to idiots?

  27. Stone Fox
    Thumb Up

    I think it's definately a case of "Well done sir!"

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but back when he was selling these to Saddam it was in our interest for them NOT to be able to detect explosive ordenance...

    Also, am I the only one that thinks not even the creator takes them seriously?

    "We are working on a new model that has flashing lights"


    If this new model detects something and has to go from red alert to blue alert, does this mean changing the bulb?

  28. Frank Bough

    Caveat Emptor

    Says I. If you're dumb enough to buy this stuff, I say you deserve everything you get.

  29. Mark Monaghan


    This reminds me of the 'Dragon Detector' described by Terry Pratchett?

    The only difference seems to be that the end of the stick is blown off when you find a mine, rather than being set alight by a dragon.

    On that basis it does actually work ... after a fashion.

  30. Harry

    You're about three months early

    A story about people buying a product like this is only totally believable if it is posted on 1st April.

  31. Tim Greenwood

    Alternative theories?

    Whilst this does sound distinctly dubious science one does have to be careful not to lump all so called alternatives together. It's also worth remembering that science moves on and what was once considered clear fact is eventually discovered to be incorrect, and the wacky theories that were dismissed are proven (flat earth anybody? circulating blood? bacteria?). Homeopathy seems to have a concerted campaign against it at the moment but if you do a little research you discover that "there is no evidence" isn't true and there are randomised, double blind medical trials demonstrating positive outcomes, and that vetinary use and use with very young children rather dimisses the placebo response. The supposed science behind homeopathy sounds wacky but at least one physicist who designed trials to disprove it ended up proving that there are some strange principles at work in so called memory of water. I think the water has to be deionised and then exposed to materials in a specific manner to maintain effect or something. It is interesting to read up on and I suspect that science might find some new principles behind it even though Homeopathy might be a net loser as a result.

    I also still await further discoveries concerning pyramid investigations which whilst there are outlandish claims there seems to be a glimmer of unusual principles somewhere at the back of it.

    1. Frank Bough



    2. Anonymous Coward

      Citation needed

      "It's also worth remembering that science moves on and what was once considered clear fact is eventually discovered to be incorrect, and the wacky theories that were dismissed are proven (flat earth anybody? circulating blood? bacteria?)."

      A flat Earth was proven? Careful now. ;-)

      "The supposed science behind homeopathy sounds wacky but at least one physicist who designed trials to disprove it ended up proving that there are some strange principles at work in so called memory of water."

      Where's the citation, then? "I've heard that it works" doesn't get normal drugs approved.

      You're right that there's a lot of "weird stuff" going on out there that science has increasingly been able to explain, but I doubt that there's much rigour in the rituals of homeopathy that would lead to the precise conditions that would either produce the intended effect of whatever remedy is being "formulated" or be reliably testable to any decent level of scrutiny.

      And quite why having the "memory" of a substance (and zillions of other substances) is preferable to having the real substance present remains one of the mysteries of the cult of homeopathy that presumably only has an answer in the minds of its practitioners, and I doubt that it's anything more sophisticated than a "dogs like trees, rubbing birch on Fido must therefore make him feel better - keep still, Fido!" kindergarten-level substitute for any actual understanding of natural processes.

    3. Simon Still

      Gullible idiots on here too.

      TimGreenwood - "I think the water has to be deionised and then exposed to materials in a specific manner to maintain effect or something." - please wake up and smell the quackery. In the words of Dara O'Brien -"Ancient herbal medicines: we tested them! The ones that worked became just "medicine". The rest is just a nice bowl of soup and some potpourri.."

    4. david wilson

      @Tim Greenwood

      >>"The supposed science behind homeopathy sounds wacky but at least one physicist who designed trials to disprove it ended up proving that there are some strange principles at work in so called memory of water. "

      Only if you consider 'proving' to mean 'getting positive results in unblinded trials which you can't replicate in blinded trials'

      That is, only if you decide that 'science' means what you want it to mean, rather than what it actually does mean.

      The strange thing is, if you *had* 'read up on it', you'd probably know that already.

    5. Bassey

      Re: Alternative Theories

      > flat earth anybody?

      Nope. Nobody. No-one has EVER believed the earth to be flat. Never. You are getting History, Science and a tuneful song from your youth concerning Christopher Columbus all mixed up.

      And just because a single trial (or even a couple of trials) have shown slight statistical variations on occasion, that does not mean homoeopathy works. These things rely on large numbers of massive trials which are then statistically analysed. Whenever large numbers of trials are analysed - Nada.

      Same goes for such wonders as Neuro Linguistic Programming and it's ilk.

      1. Andus McCoatover

        Earth IS flat!

        It's been proven. Ask any surviving member of the "Crimson Permanent Asssurance Company".

        For citation, see Terry Gilliam's splendid documentary "Meaning of Life" (Python, M.)

    6. jake Silver badge

      @Tim Greenwood & @Frank B

      "double blind medical trials demonstrating positive outcomes, and that vetinary use and use with very young children rather dimisses the placebo response."

      Wrong. The placebo effect is clearly in the animal's owners and the children's parents. The adults see that their little unthinking bundles of joy and/or cute & furry are being given what the adults think are "meds", thus calming down the adults. The critter and/or kid feels the calm from the adult/handler, and so in turn calms down.

      Remember, a dog's leash isn't a restraining device, it's a communications link. Same for most of a horse's tack. If the trainer is calm, the critter is calm. Works for kids, too.

      Frank: Thanks. Very succinct :-)

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      this post

      is an excellent example of the woolly 'thinking' which can't rule out the twaddle that is homeopathy

    8. Andy Enderby 1

      @Tim Greenwood

      I believe that with regard to homeopathy we are talking about with respect to your post, is what JREF (James Randi Educational Foundation) call Woo Woo. Homeopathy - test results in proper trials are no better than placebo..... Meaning this.... Your post is simply and entirely incorrect. Bomb detectors do not exist, "metal detectors", gas chromatographs and mass spectrometers do.

      McCormick should be handed to the people of Iraq for justice.

  32. Norm DePlume

    Bold claims

    A force spokesperson stated that "everything in the Times is true".

    Looks like the police are also making unlikely and unverifiable claims.

  33. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

    Bill Murray

    ISTR his character in "Ghostbusters" used a similar implement - well, a wand with a squeezy rubber ball on the end, anyway.

  34. Anonymous Coward

    Laugh all you like...

    ...but you the taxpayer are paying the NHS to support very similar "alternative" methods of medicine, such as water with "memory" that somehow heals very many things through some kind of placebo-esque process. And don't get me started on faith schools.

  35. Devilhat

    @Tim Greenwood

    Please link us to details of these "randomised, double blind studies" that show the efficacy of homeopathy. Then perhaps you would like to win Randi's Million Dollar Challenge? and ...

    And if you don't want the money, I'm sure the people of Haiti would be glad of it.

  36. Craig 12

    "everything in the Times is true"

    Bit of a broad statement for the police to make! :)

  37. BlueGreen

    Well, my experiences with dowsing

    Putting aside the utter crap described in this article, when 'ah were a sprog I was given a dowsing kit comprising two metal rods and two placcy holders wherein they could swivel freely. It was only meant as a joke but trying it out, and without any expectation of them working, they did start to move near metal. This was not so surprising that me + bros experimented by them hiding a coin (say, under one of three cups) when I was elsewhere and me finding them quite reliably.

    I say quite reliably because I started getting false positives - but consistently in the same place. Wandering around and marking where I got these we found they formed a straight line. Pulling up the carpet, there was a faint but definite scar in the concrete below (the house was concrete, hence no nails. Just realised that). We assumed this was a pipe. Said scar crossed the room at a right angle, as a pipe would, and seemed to fit in with where the kitchen would be.

    So, I'm not going to dismiss dowsing outright. It needs scientific testing even if it looks ridiculous, and what we I found was a phenomenon that was testable, repeatable, reliable and with which I could gain new data (assuming the pipe I found meant anything). NB. the range was very short; you had to be almost over it.

    One day I'll try that experiment again.

    In the meantime, I mention this experience here without posting anon in the hope that it could be read with interest and due scepticism, but without some enfilade of twattery posts following.

    NNB I'm aware of the clever hans effect. I does not explain the (presumed) pipe we 'found'.

    I'm going to regret this... <hits submit>

    1. Rich 11


      You were given a dowsing kit? Implying that someone bought it for you? What a waste of money. I made my own from a wire coathangar and two biros when I was ten years old.

      I soon came to the conclusion that dowsing was total bollocks (although the rods did gain a new lease of life as an idiot detector when my little brother asked me what I was up to).

    2. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: Well, my experiences with dowsing

      Yes, your going to regret that.

      Take a compass, and place a large metal object next to it or move it near an electromagnetic field.

      What happens? Dos the needle move from north towards the metal by any chance? I'd wager that you have discovered magnetism rather than any unexplained phenomenon.

    3. BlueGreen


      first up, typo: s/was not so surprising/was so surprising/

      @Rich 11: I was probably 10 or 11, it was a trashy joke thing. About your little brother, you should have told him it works better when rubbed with cow poo & let him get busy. It's what little brothers are for.

      @Peter2: does a coin constitute a large metal object? Assuming they are magnetic it would take a bloody strong magnet to affect hand-held metal rods held three+ feet above. It more plausible for the pipe though, but still a stretch. Possible... Bear in mind that the rods were not pulled towards the object, but together, to cross in the stereotyped dowsing way over it IIRC.

      @Steve Gill: thanks, very interesting.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: Various

        A coin can affect a small pocket compass if it's close, honestly mate I've no idea how a 3+ foot long rod would react. If it's pivoted then i'd say it's the most plausible explanation.

    4. Trygve Henriksen

      Works for me, too.

      I don't have a nice 'kit', though, but must use metal wire and the remains of two biros.

      And for the doubters, this also works with NON-magnetic metals.

      I'm not very good, though, so I can only find buried power cables and underground streams.

      (coins are usually too small for me)

      My father, though, can not only find water, but if he's using an oldfasioned dowsing rod, he can also tell how deep it is.

    5. Geoffrey Summerhayes

      Scientific testing

      Has pretty consistently failed to find anything better than blind luck in repeated studies of dowsing and dowsing related tools. As for the pipe you think you may or may not have found? I'm convinced, there's no way you could have known as wee sprog that there should be a pipe running in a straight line from the kitchen to the (street/septic tank?). Pleeease.

      Sorry for sounding cynical, I can't really help it in this case. There's a reason science avoids anecdotal evidence except as a source for hypothesis that need to be rigorously tested.

      It's hard to ignore the several assumptions in your story, the first being that the unseen pipe actually exists, a scar in concrete can have more than just the one cause. Then there's moving the carpet and examining the floor, I doubt you measured from the walls to various positions where the rods crossed, then removed the carpet, measured again and discovered the scar at those points. More likely you looked in the general area and finding a scar that went in the general direction assumed that the scar was in the exactly where the rods said it would be.

      Even worse, this memory is a few decades(??) old, more than enough time for positive reinforcement to have set in. I personally was dismayed to discover, in a conversation with my mother, one of my favorite childhood memories from a trip I went on not only didn't happen the way I remembered it, it hadn't actually happened at all, I wasn't even on the trip. Memory is a lot more fickle and pliable than most of us believe, look at the problems pointed out by studies of eyewitness accounts. Give it another ten years and with luck you may remember marking it out though. Makes a better story that way.

      1. BlueGreen

        @Geoffrey Summerhayes

        Scientific testing is where it's at, and the bloody great ringing chasm between what science finds and what others find (q.v. Steve Gill, Trygve Henriksen and perhaps myself) is the most curious part of it, and your cynicism is understandable. I gave my experience only as that, not evidence for or against. If I try it again and it works reliably, I'll put it to better test.

        As a kid I had some idea about how pipes ran so that doesn't bother me. The rest of your criticisms do stand up rather well though. Fair post.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      are you volunteering

      to try it in a minefield then?

  38. This post has been deleted by its author

  39. Simon R. Bone

    best way to clear his name...

    simply ship him to Iraq and place him in the middle of a mine field with one of his "detectors" and place his big pile of money on the perimeter...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Spot on idea! I agree completely!

    2. Cliff

      Fuck yeah!

      Let's see if 'not enough training' still works as an excuse!

  40. Tom Wood

    Yeah but...

    in medicine a placebo might be chemically useless but it can have a definitie psychological effect. So if you believe strongly enough that homeopathic crap might make you *feel* better, you might end up feeling better. Which can't be all bad.

    On the other hand, bomb detectors. Which is more dangerous, a bomb detector that doesn't detect bombs that do exist, or a bomb detector that "detects" bombs where there are none and is then used to falsely arrest people, etc? Cynic in me says that although a crooked operator may know the detector is useless, he may still be able to use it to get what he wants...

  41. muttley


    And there was I thinking that "Audiophiles" had the market cornered in magic crystal/green pen/snake oil gullibility.

    I'd LOL long and hard if lives weren't at stake.

  42. Christoph

    A bit more than just fraud

    How many people have been killed because security relied on these devices and a bomb got through?

    How many have been killed because the device 'reacted' and security shot them?

    How many have been killed by security who knew perfectly well that the device is garbage but used it as an excuse?

  43. Anonymous Coward


    So yet again the military/industrial complex sold something that couldn't possibly work as described, and the taxpayers (and the soldiers at the sharp end) end up paying the price.

    What's the difference, other than a few zeros in the price, between having faith in this junk and having faith in the UK's 'independent' nuclear deterrent?

    What's the difference, other than a few zeros in the price, between having faith in this junk and having faith in StarWars/SDI?


    Odd how it's only ever the little guy(s) that get caught, wouldn't you say?

  44. Devilhat

    @Tom Wood

    You might indeed end up feeling better. Right until you die. Earlier than you would have done if you'd put your "faith" into conventional medicine.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'We are working on a new model that has flashing lights'

    'Hello? Is that Keyboards Direct? Hi, I seem to have sprayed coffee over my old keyboard and I need a new one - now. What? You'll be right round you say? That's fantastic! Thank-you Keyboards Direct.'

  46. Steve Gill

    BlueGreen - you're not alone

    At uni during geology field trips we got to play with dowsing. For pretty much all of us it worked, a bit, sort of.

    The problem was you couldn't search for anything specific or tell what it was you had found. It could be water, a mineral vein, a different type of rock to the surroundings, anything. The only thing you could be sure of was there was a change of some kind.

  47. Nev


    Did the same Iraqis also buy some magnets off eBay to improve the fuel efficiency of their cars?

    Maybe that's what made the dowsers twitch?

    All the posters who think dowsing might in anyway work:

    Try using them for mine detection.


  48. Anonymous Coward


    If I were the person who was in charge of the procurement department, I would have set up a few booby trapped boxes all but one of them containing enough explosives to blow the snake oil purvayor to bits, then ask him to detect the safe one where the purchase order is placed inside.

    If he declined, I would shoot him there and then.

  49. Jonathan
    Thumb Up

    sounds like they just the disclaimer..

    .. that astrologers have touse in the UK these days: "these dowsing rods are for entertainment purposes only"

  50. El Mendelson

    Classic looting of the public purse

    Most commenters seem to have missed the point, which is that neither buyer nor seller are under any illusions about the value of the product. The transaction is simply a way for both of them (the buyer via kickbacks) to make off with Iraqi public money.

  51. Richard Porter
    Thumb Down

    Wrong person arrested

    Why aren't they arresting the person who misled the British people, parliament and his own cabinet when embarking on a war that killed several hundred thousand Iraqis?

  52. Anonymous Coward


    I don't normally get annoyed at the news, but this mother fucker is simply evil and needs to be marched into the minefield!!!!!

  53. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    dowsing rods?

    Why wasn't the guy who suggested it laughed out of his job?

    clearly the person in charge of purchasing this junk was bribed handsomely and should be arrested himself.

  54. Anonymous Coward


    How can someone be so reckless as to sell this item? Truly a shocking story, the MD should hang his head in shame!

  55. hugo tyson

    Scare tactic

    I expect some police/security operatives who are good at body language know full well that if you wave a piece of magic that "detects bombs" (or drugs or knives or pedos or whatever) at a person and make it look like it is saying "beep beep" then IF the person is indeed carrying, they get all stressy and nervous and you can tell and use it a an excuse to search them.

    Like the classic "lie detector" ie. a photocopier containing a page that says "HE'S LYING"... and your assistant to press the copy button from time to time...

    The local plod in the 3rd world making their own "bomb detector" out of a coat-hanger and some old calculator parts is one thing though... selling them for 40 grand, the scumbag must surely go to jail after being rendered a pauper by fines.

    I agree, put him in a minefield.

  56. Tom Paine
    Thumb Up

    Bad Science

    (Apologies if this is a dupe, El Reg (or my Firefox nightly build) hung when I hit "Submit" the first time round... I trust the firm lash of /B/-discipline will be wielded if this is a re-post)

    A hat tip to Ben Goldacre (aka @bengoldacre, ) would have been nice.

    1. david wilson

      @Tom Paine

      >>"A hat tip to Ben Goldacre would have been nice."

      There have been various people involved in trying to draw attention to the scam devices, some of whom have been active for quite a while.

      NPR did an article in September

      and Ben Goldacre was referencing an NYT article from ~10 days before he wrote.

      FWIW, the ATSC website was offline sometime September last year (not sure if it ever came back).

  57. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    I think police hiring psychics is quite uncommon.

    On the other hand, self-styled psychics offering to help the police solve crimes and making sure that the press know about it, is quite common.

    Google for instance: McCann Madeleine psychic

  58. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: Bad Science

    We know who Ben Goldacre is, ta, and that story was from last November so I don't see the need for a hat tip here. But thanks.

  59. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    business opportunity

    Has he got a computer system ( he could let them have? Flashing lights would be good.

    Or did his occult powers screw it all up for the boys in blue?

  60. david wilson

    Newsnight tonight

    >>"The BBC has learned that following the December bombings, the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered an investigation into the bomb detectors, expected to report any day now."

    I guess the chance of honest results depends on exactly who was on the take.

  61. Steve 114


    Researched those things in the 1960s. If you clamp two handles swivelling in a mobile frame they do not work. If the handles are free they are sensitive (unstable) indicators of the operator twitching (as indeed are strongly stressed hazel twigs, or pendulums). The 'detection' comes only from an operator's intuition. Nothing to do with the gadget, but gives the guy an excuse to pick out obvious suspects without being blamed. Probably worries potential perps too. Might as well use a crystal ball, if everyone believed in it.

  62. ian 22

    How is this different?

    During the Iran-Iraq war, young Iranian lads were issued a plastic key called "the key to heaven", and told to run across minefields. If they found a mine, the key would gain them entrance to paradise.

    It seems that other than for cost and name change, this is but the Iranian mine detector at work once again.

  63. David Pollard

    @David Wilson - proof of homeopathy

    Though I'm not sure if anyone on Luc Montagnier's team is a physicist, he did nevertheless win a Nobel prize. His paper, 'Electromagnetic signals are produced by aqueous nanostructures derived from bacterial DNA sequences' is indeed noteworthy. Apparently all that's needed to detect pathogens is a coil, a plastic stoppered tube, and an amplifier plus a computer with soundcard and software.

    Wow, you could knock up a bioweapons detector over the weekend that would convince even thoughtful people like Jack Straw!

    (The second link to the PDF, under 'Fichiers', gets a free copy. The earlier one seems to cost $34.)

    1. david wilson

      @David Pollard

      I thought we were talking about Benveniste, not Montagnier.


      There's nothing that guarantees that *all* the work of a Nobel prize winner is scientific gold, maybe especially the work comes after they get recognition.

      Personally I'd have more faith in a paper by an undergraduate that was frequently cited and little-criticised than an apparently effectively self-published paper from an aging Nobel winner which seems to be claiming things which don't make any kind of sense.

      DNA from 'good' bacteria is radically different to DNA from 'bad' bacteria in terms of RF emissions?

      Yeah, right. Do forgive me if I wait for the wider scientific acclaim to be heard before I consider that to be remotely plausible.

  64. Jolyon Ralph

    They had it right in the Falklands

    They were offered a shitload of international money after the war to help de-mine their terrain, the Falklanders refused it on the basis that there were other places in the world where the money, equiment and expertise would be better deserved, and because they had their own home-grown de-mining technology. Sheep.

  65. Apocalypse Later

    Once again...

    ...government efficiency at spending our money is demonstrated to be senseless. Not our government this time, but some of the money probably came from the UK taxpayer, or at least the US counterpart.

    As for nonsensical remedies on the NHS, that seems to be by public demand. I agree that the taxpayer shouldn't have to fund it, but many loons agitate for it, and most of them have a vote.

  66. Culandun.


    There's also Global Technical - see

    You have to remember that these systems were originally devised to detect lost golf balls. Even today, if you were to take one of these instruments into the rough of the average golf course, given time, you would inevitably detect a lost golf ball, not only that, but the device detects golf balls even through water as any examination of a water trap will prove. Detection in sand is also possible with a special attachment that only costs $8,543.98 and clips onto the bottom of the hand-held unit to permit vertical probe examination (also handy for mine detection). Now children, gather round, because I'm going to let you into a secret.......these devices are powered by DIA/PARA MAGNETISM. So let's not be too sceptical eh?


  67. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Down

    There have been quite a lot of bombs going off in Iraq recently

    And with this piece of s%^t in use no wonder.

    BTW The idea of leaving the guy in the minefield with one of his "detectors" was big in the Middle Ages. Back then they called it "Trial by ordeal." The cucking stool being a popular choice at the time. However for this fellow it seems quite appropriate.

    I don't mind the money too much (Look at the guy who took the CIA for $3m with his hidden messagee detector in TV broadcasts) It's the number of people have *died* because some poor fool had to use this thing and I suspect has allowed several suicide bombers through.

    Thumbs down for some really p^&s poor behaviour toward a country that has had plenty of s%^t dumped on it already.

  68. John F***ing Stepp

    From the psychic point of view.

    who needs a stick; there is no stick; there is only do.

    (which sounds pretentious as hell)

    A few years back this same bullshit was being offered to the gullible as a gold finder at about 2k* per box (2k got you some real fancy extra blinky lights.)

    The fruitloop crap does not work all the time and the people who sell this kind of thing have no idea what they are doing.

    A stick (cost about nothing) will work as well; or not. Any real psychic will just see the damn weapon/bomb. . . but any real psychic will be some damn place else.

    This, by the way, is why I became a programmer; there is just too damn much bullshit in the psychic career fields.

    *Where 2k is $2000, 2000 euros, 2000 pounds; these people* take what they can get.

    *2k will tell you where your TV remote is; email me for further information.

  69. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Oh when oh when....

    Are the fucking scammers in this Iraqi bullshit trip (theft of oil) going to be taken out, beaten and hung?

    Starting with Blair, Bush and Howard.... followed closely by the rest of the stooges like Wolfowitz, Cheney etc., etc., etc... etc.

  70. Stratman
    Thumb Down


    Nasty moneygrabber, selling them dangerous mine detectors.

    Unlike the respected, righteous, pillars of the community who sold them the mines in the first place.

  71. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "In fact, all testing of these inventions has shown these devices to perform no better than random chance."

    I'm selling random chances at a low low price!

  72. Julian Bond
    Black Helicopters

    Port Police?

    I have this sneaking suspicion that they've sold a bunch of these to the customs police at the Channel Tunnel. I was part of a bit of security theatre there that makes it all feel familiar. Me and a mate (40 something and 50 something) on clean late model motorcycles covered in luggage get called over on our way out of the country. The police wave a magic wand over the bikes and then send us on our way. I've been wondering for a couple of years now, exactly what that wand was supposed to do. Now I know. The Police were in fact part of a crack squad of psychic detectives looking for hidden truffles with $8000 worth of "Advanced Detection Equipment".


    Good For Him

    He sells these bogus devices in return for MILLIONS, and the stupid idiots who pay the money out don't test the devices to see if they work, or how?

    They deserve to have their money taken off them if they really are that congnitively challenged along with any power or responsibilities they hold for the safety or well-being of others.

    1. david wilson

      >>"He sells these bogus devices in return for MILLIONS, and the stupid idiots who pay the money out don't test the devices to see if they work, or how?"

      The people who sign the cheques are:

      a) highly unlikely to have to use the bogus devices

      b) probably getting a massive backhander

      Even if they might have a few doubts, a large amount of money can be a great incentive for someone to part-fool themselves that something really does work.

      This is government procurement, not people spending their own money.

      A quite different set of rules often apply.

  74. Mos Eisley Spaceport


    From their website:

    "Substances Recognition:

    Black Powder, Used Weapons, Fireworks, all types of Ammunition,

    Ammonium Nitrate (ANFO-ANNIE), Chinese Czech and Russian Semtex, Plastic (C4, C1, ...), Dynamite, RDX, TNT, Nitroglycerine, Tetryl, Grenades, Mines, Amphetamine, Cocaine, Crack, Heroine, Marijuana, Cannabis, Morphine, Ivory, Human research, Bank notes, …

    Additional substance Available (possibility of encoding new substances)"


  75. Andus McCoatover

    Inverse value rule?

    If I try to sell you something that *works* for $50, you'll check it thoroughly.

    But if the price of a non-functioning device is $8,000, and a fancy website with a nice shiny page - driven by a nice impressively named company e.g., you'd assume it must be good, as no-one would..etc. You get the drift.

  76. marmarama

    Cops don't get convicted

    What's the odds this doesn't get past the CPS?

    The guy was a serving police officer for long enough to make contacts in the 'security' industry.

    He's spent X amount of years collecting evidence, sending it to the CPS, phrasing his reports to them so as to suggest the evidence is good or otherwise, and then watching the cases get to court and succeed or fail - he knows what he's doing.

    If a cop gets caught breaking the law at work, other cops will mismanage the evidence and otherwise influence the IPCC (worse than the CPS - staffed almost entirely by ... cops) so that the case won't see a judge.

    If it's nothing to do with the perp being a cop (as in this case - the guy is now just a shady businessman), his own experience in the job will prepare him for any fallout.

    My own guess?

    He's already happily given an interview establishing his honest belief in the system, which would remove a necessary limb (being his knowledge of the deception) from the offence of fraud. And the transcript of that will go to the CPS, and of course there exists no evidence to prove that some other thing was in his mind. They'll look through all his marketing bumph and find no claims with any concrete intent to deceive. There's a chance it'll get to court, where he'll get not guilty.

    And what's more, he saw the eventual allegation of fraud coming from the day he went to the 'Grab what you can in Iraq' trade fair, and planned for it since then.

    Is my guess.

    1. david wilson


      A prosecution doesn't have to prove absolutely that someone thought they were selling a genuine product, that's a value judgement which comes down to a jury.

      Someone can always *claim* the thing they're selling works, but it comes down to whether people believe them.

      Belief would probably be less likely if the person concerned:

      a) Has made a lot of money out of their supposed belief.

      b) Persists in their belief even when people who would fairly obviously have some skill in tne area of explosives detection (US/UK military) say it'd nonsense.

      c) Makes all kinds of claims about how a device operates *scientifically* when the device is basically inert.

      d) Sells 'add on' cards for dufferent substances which aren't distinguishable from each other.

      As for c)

      If I say "wave this wand around that I've prayed over and, it will detect TNT by magic", people would have some idea where I was coming from.

      However, if I were to say something like, oh, I don't know:

      "please go to your web browser and merely type in the following in your search engine......"NQR" or, "Nuclear Quadrupole Resonance" is what we call EMA or Electro-Magnetic Attraction...............the principal by which OUR equipment works."

      then it'd be rather harder to argue that I was simply deceiving myself - how could I easily fool myself that an inert piece of equipment operated by some precise scientific mechanism when even the tiniest understanding of what I was claiming would make that seem vanishingly unlikely?

      Of course, McCormick would never make scientific claims he couldn't back up, would he?


      There's also the issue of what might have been paid to 'middlemen'. the larger the amount, the more many people might doubt his honesty.

  77. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    there was a BBC Newsnight report on it last night

    They got various specialsits in bombs, explosives and IT to look at this.

    The box is empty

    The "Detector cards" carry printed circuit aerials *exactly* like the types used to stop goods being stolen from shops.

    As for the posters who think this is a case of caveat emptor and a fool and his money are easily parted etc.

    It was *not* the *officials* money that got taken. It was the *citizens*. I'll guess 90% of the guys who signed the PO's on this *knew* it was obscenely high priced BS. The other 10% were either too stupid or too cowered by their bosses to argue.

    Hardly surprising when the Bush administration handed out the contract to audit the books of the invasioin was handed to a company whose stated business was "Installing fitted kitchens."

    The "device" is merely a pretext to allow government officials to transfer *lots* of monye abroad and get a chunk of it back. It's like a 419 scam, only the money is *real*.

  78. Shaun Roe

    Only fraud?

    People have died as a result of this fakery; surely he will be charged with multiple accounts of manslaughter?

  79. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Doubly blessed

    A business exporter worth millions AND an ex-copper. Should it actually get as far as a court, expect the usual disclaimers of "exemplary service" etc from the defence shortly before he's found not guilty.

  80. Coltek


    ....they could be used to detect Global Warming.

    1. david wilson


      Dunno about that, but I bet they'd be 100% successful at detecting conspiracies.

  81. Andy Enderby 1

    oh really ?

    "When we asked to speak to Mr McCormick himself, we were informed that "he's out of the country". We left a request for comment, but hadn't received a response as of publication."

    I'd have thought the plods would be interested in him being out of the country bearing in mind he has been reported by the beeb as on bail.

    As for comment what could they possibly say. They are selling a device fraudulently.

    1. david wilson

      Andy Enderby 1

      Not sure I'd trust anythimng that the company employees might say.

      Somehow I'd wonder if *any* of them honestly believe what they're selling is actually a legitimate product.

  82. ShaggyDoggy


    There's more to this than we are being told.

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