Helen was born in Callander, the fourth of eight children of a cabinetmaker. She was small and unhealthy. Aged sixteen and pregnant, she came to Dundee and worked in a jute mill, then as an auxiliary in Dundee Royal Infirmary. In 1916 she married Henry, disabled and heavily dependent, financially, on her: they had six children. (In later life she is said to have been 5’6” tall and weighed over 17 stone.) She worked in a bleach factory and as a medium, travelling around running spiritualism sessions; her first in London was in 1930. During World War 2 she lived in Portsmouth; she was ‘bringing back’ men who had been killed before the news of their death had been released, thus ‘infringing security’. Campaigners now state that, because Helen lived in Portsmouth, it was likely that she would have learned of the sinking of the battleship HMS Barham from survivors. In 1944 she was tried at the Old Bailey under the 1735 Witchcraft Act, the last person to be so tried. She was charged with pretending to be a medium, as witchcraft didn’t officially exist, and was sentenced to 9 months. The Act was repealed in 1952, and spiritualism recognised as a religion in 1954.

The Dundee Courier of 21.01.08 reported that efforts were still being made to clear Helen’s name: a petition was to be presented to the Scottish Parliament, asking the Scottish Government to request the Home Secretary to reconsider an earlier decision not to pardon her. The Times of 05.03.08 reports that this petition was unsuccessful as it was a reserved, not devolved matter. “Research papers submitted with the petition suggested that 4,000 people were accused of witchcraft throughout the country – and 85% of them were women.” However the Petitions Committee at Holyrood has pledged to investigate the possibility of a separate petition for posthumous pardon for these thousands of people.