He was once part of a unique attempt to try to prove the existence of life after death and held regular séances at which he said Winston Churchill was a frequent visitor.

Now, tributes have been paid to Robin Foy - co-founder of the Scole Experiment group, a project named after the Norfolk village where he lived - following his death at the age of 78.

The group's research centred on the cellar of Mr Foy's farmhouse in the village, which its members said was a venue for extensive paranormal activity.

The SEG received a great deal of international attention in the 1990s and in recent years a screenplay based on its work has been produced, with attempts under way to have it turned into a film.

For Mr Foy, interest in the paranormal had started in childhood before being further fuelled by an incident which occurred during his first career, in the RAF.

Eastern Daily Press: The Scole Experiment team: Pictured with their published book is (top to bottom) Alan Bennett, Diana Bennett, Robin Foy and Sandra FoyThe Scole Experiment team: Pictured with their published book is (top to bottom) Alan Bennett, Diana Bennett, Robin Foy and Sandra Foy (Image: ARCHANT)

He was born in Blackpool in 1943. His family moved to Lincolnshire, and he was educated at Grimsby grammar school.

On leaving school, he thought about becoming a vicar but joined the air force instead and trained as a pilot. Pilot Officer Foy was commissioned in 1962 and was stationed at RAF Hornchurch.

When not airborne, Robin and his fellow pilots “had a jolly time” visiting the local pubs.

However, one Sunday afternoon, after lunch in the officers' mess, Mr Foy had a strange experience for which he insists he was "completely sober".

Resting on his bed, he recalled hearing a woman’s voice speaking to him from mid-air 3ft away which told him: “You can heal with your hands.”

Although surprised, Mr Foy raced out of his room and started putting his hands on any of his fellow airmen who would let him, in order to test the theory.

Despite plenty of ribbing, he persevered. But before too long, he had to stop, as it was impossible to gauge if his hands were having any effect, since those he laid them on were young, fit men.

After leaving the RAF, Mr Foy worked for a short while at a country club restaurant close to Grimsby.

He then settled on a career in commerce and spent his working life as a sales executive in the paper manufacturing trade.

He and his wife, Sandra, lived in Essex but often took weekend breaks at the Scole Inn, the renowned coaching inn on the Norfolk-Suffolk border.

From the hotel they could see the village's 17th century Street Farmhouse, and both agreed they would love to live somewhere like that. Eventually, they did.

When the farmhouse came on the market, the family snapped it up and moved in.

It was here that Mr Foy's interest in the paranormal further intensified.

He had been an avid reader of ghost stories as a boy and, from the age of 30, had investigated communications with the spirit world through mediums and séances.

He said he had been visited by his late father and proving the existence of life and death became a consuming passion.

He also started to use his hands to heal people - as the voice had told him, when he was a young airman - and became a well-known expert the field of psychical research.

Street Farmhouse was, he said, haunted, and with Sandra and another couple - Diana and Allen Bennett - he set up the Scole Experiment team in the 1990s to find out more.

Eastern Daily Press: The Scole Experiment team: Pictured (left to right) Alan Bennett, Diana Bennett, Sandra Foy and Robin Foy, who has died aged 78The Scole Experiment team: Pictured (left to right) Alan Bennett, Diana Bennett, Sandra Foy and Robin Foy, who has died aged 78 (Image: Denise Bradley)

The group help a five-year experiment in the building's cellar in an effort to prove life after death.

The four members said they experienced amazing phenomena in the room including unexplained lights, voices coming from mid-air, photographs appearing on film that had not been in a camera, videos of mysterious alien worlds, and objects teleporting.

Mr Foy reported that Winston Churchill – known to him as Winnie – was a regular visitor at the séances and would talk to him. Mr Foy described this as a source of “constant inspiration” and it encouraged him to carry on with his research when he felt like giving up.

He became frustrated with sceptics who would criticise his methods and call him a cheat.

He was “delighted” when a book about the group, The Scole Experiment, was published. It covered the five years of sessions held in the cellar.

Before his death, he was also encouraged to learn that efforts were under way to make a film of the research, called The Scole Experiment.

Mr Foy also published two of his own books about his psychical research and experiences: In Pursuit of Physical Mediumship and a detailed diary of the Scole Experiment entitled Witnessing the Impossible.

Following his death, his friends and family have paid tribute to him.

They said: “There is a carved motto over the old fireplace in the sitting room at Street Farmhouse that reads, Welcome Ever Smiles. Although the motto was probably carved hundreds of years ago, it was so true of Robin.

“His greeting was ever accompanied by a beaming smile which lit up his whole face. Robin was a kind, sincere, generous, and loving man. Robin gave his time freely to others. Many who knew him said that, if you ever needed help or advice, he was always there, just a phone call away. He will be greatly missed.”

Mr Foy died in his sleep on April 10 in Spain, where he had lived since 2006. He leaves behind his wife Sandra, a son and daughter, and two stepdaughters.