Noreen Hegarty, a researcher for the Sensing Murder episode about Peter Boland's case, explains the secrets of the show.

Love it or hate it, there's no doubt the TV programme Sensing Murder attracts a lot of attention.

When in early 2016 I left my district communications manager role with police and took on a contract with Screentime NZ Ltd to research stories for the 2017 series of Sensing Murder, it was on the understanding I keep an open mind about the powers or otherwise of the psychics.

After many discussions with families who'd approached the programme in the hope of having their loved one's story told, I firmed up my view that the programme's strength would be the opportunity it presented to get much-needed publicity for what was otherwise a stagnant cold case.

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Searchers grab a breather at Ōpōnae, near Ōpōtiki, while looking for Peter Boland in 1957. Photo / Brian Burgess
Searchers grab a breather at Ōpōnae, near Ōpōtiki, while looking for Peter Boland in 1957. Photo / Brian Burgess

There is truly value in publicity for such unresolved tragedies, no matter how many years have passed.

Having researched five of the eight stories that TVNZ broadcast in 2017 and 2018, I'm familiar with the programme's format and can vouch for the integrity of the programmes that Screentime produced.

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I know the psychics are not told anything in advance of their separate "reading" days.

They are not told where they're travelling to, where they'll be staying, who the person they'll be trying to "contact" is or when the incident relating to the victim occurred. They are literally in the dark about everything.

Psychic Deb Webber at the farm where Peter went missing, featured on the Sensing Murder show. Photo / TVNZ
Psychic Deb Webber at the farm where Peter went missing, featured on the Sensing Murder show. Photo / TVNZ

The two main psychics – Deb and Sue - who featured on the Sensing Murder episodes about Peter Boland, knew nothing of him, his circumstances or the people he was with when he disappeared.

Neither of them knew their travel itinerary as the producer had arranged for their respective tickets to be held in confidence by the airline until check in time. Even then they only knew the plane's destination, not their final one. The psychics were only told to pack a suitcase, a passport in Deb's case and to expect to be away from home for two nights.

Psychic Sue Nicholson also pictured on the farm for the show. Photo / TVNZ
Psychic Sue Nicholson also pictured on the farm for the show. Photo / TVNZ

They did not have, once discovering they were in Ōpōtiki to have their readings recorded on separate occasions, any opportunity to Google search Peter's name because they did not know it and, until now, there has been no publicity about his disappearance since 1957.

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Yet, when put to the test on different days in the Ōpōtiki motel and at the Oponae farm where Peter was last seen alive, they revealed his name, age, the month and year he disappeared and one of the Christian names of the men he was with at the time.

Peter's brother Gavin Boland wants answers. Photo / Doug Sherring
Peter's brother Gavin Boland wants answers. Photo / Doug Sherring

They are provided with a generic map of the wider area and each one, individually, instructed their Screentime driver on the day to travel to the remote farm location for the "scene reading". It was there that they described their impressions of Peter's demise.

Both spoke of Peter's mother who had long since died and referred to his brother (Gavin) but not by name. It was he who'd initiated the whole Sensing Murder process by approaching the programme many years earlier in the hope, one day, it might help him find his little brother.

The Waioeka Gorge heading towards the tiny outpost of Oponae where Peter went missing. Photo / Alan Gibson
The Waioeka Gorge heading towards the tiny outpost of Oponae where Peter went missing. Photo / Alan Gibson

The common perception among many critics of the programme is that it sets out to solve a homicide or seemingly sinister missing person incident. That's not strictly the case.

The programme format is essentially designed to test two psychics to see how much correct information they can "sense" that the viewer, through having already been told the back story, is aware of but which the psychic isn't.

Any new or previously confidential information that only the family or police know of, but which the psychics also divulge, is a bonus.

Peter was staying at the Oponae Lodge. Photo / Alan Gibson
Peter was staying at the Oponae Lodge. Photo / Alan Gibson

Obviously only unsolved homicides and missing person mysteries qualify to feature so the added value of the programme is the publicity such incidents get which may – or may not – assist ongoing police investigations through generating information.

Prior to having the opportunity to work on the programme I was possibly one of the keenest cynics of Sensing Murder.

During my time with police I had often fielded questions from reporters wanting to know whether police were following up on "information" from psychics who'd featured in the latest episode about an unsolved homicide. My standard response to such inquiries was that, if police believed psychics could resolve such matters, they'd be permanently on the payroll.

When it comes to Peter Boland, otherwise known in Sensing Murder as "Little Boy Lost", perhaps the random intersections between Gavin Boland, Sensing Murder, myself and police will, in time, return Peter to his family and supply more answers.

• Anyone with any information regarding Peter Boland's disappearance should call Bay of Plenty Police on 07 213 0328 or anonymously contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.