UFO sightings surge after Britain closes hotline

British military authorities give up hunt for UFOs


The last of the British government’s UFO files have been released.

The “truth” may still be “out there”, as fans of The X-Files will argue, but the British military authorities are no longer looking for it.

The national archives in Kew yesterday published the final 25 files of the Ministry of Defence’s UFO desk, which closed in November 2009 after 60 years in operation.

In a final rush of interest in UFOs, spurred on by news that the unit was to close, over 600 alleged sightings were reported in its final year, treble the number of the year before.

However, even that surge was behind the flood of reports that emerged after Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind became a Hollywood sensation in 1978. The decision to close was made after defence secretary Bob Ainsworth was told that in 50 years “no UFO sighting reported has ever revealed anything to suggest an extra-terrestrial presence or military threat to the UK”.

The British began to take an interest in the subject after an American pilot, Kenneth Arnold, reported in 1947 that he had spotted nine objects flying at great speeds “like a saucer skipping on water”. Thus, the phrase “flying saucers” was born.

Three years later, the British established the “Flying Saucer Working Party”, though it declared a year later that all UK sightings were piffle – explained by meteorology or astronomy, or because the witness was delusional.

However, spurred on by a succession of films, such as Flying Disc Man from Mars, The Flying Saucer and The Day the Earth Stood Still, the public continued to record sightings.

In 1951, even Winston Churchill became involved, writing to one of his ministers: “What does all this stuff about flying saucers amount to? What can it mean? What is the truth? Let me have a report at your convenience.”

The number of alleged sightings, including one of an alien craft hovering opposite the Houses of Parliament increased with the arrival of summer, taking place while people were “outside walking dogs, smoking cigarettes, at family barbecues – and even while relaxing in hot tubs”.

To mark the publication of the final documents held by the archives, an iPhone/iPad app, UFO Files UK, is being released today. It lets the public search through 25 years of paperwork and 5,000 sightings, “analysed, categorised and mapped”.

The app’s designers noticed interesting patterns: the best place and time to see a UFO is in Glasgow between 10pm and 11pm (shortly before closing time); sightings drop dramatically between 1pm and 2pm; in London, Bromley is a hotspot, while Wembley has never had a sighting.

If some of the witness reports can be put down to enthusiastic social drinking at a summer barbecue, there is no doubt that some display distress over what those concerned believed they saw.

In one from Bolton in Lancashire in March 2009, a family, who had been in their sitting room at 1.30am, reported seeing “what at first appeared to be a large airliner in flames crashing to the ground”.

“My parents were terrified. Just as we were expecting the object to crash into the ground it stopped and hovered over Bromley Cross. The object then appeared to come towards us, stop suddenly and at high speech shoot off in a southeasterly direction towards Bury,” said the witness.

In 2007, a man in Glamorgan in Wales reported that a UFO, which had been moving quite slowly across the sky in formation with others, turned and abducted his “dog, car and tent when he and some friends were out camping”.

While some correspondents were attention-seekers, others were desperate to ensure their names were never published for fear of ridicule, but “still wanted to do our duty”.

In one report from south Yorkshire in 2007, a couple, who said “we really do value our privacy”, reported “a very bright, luminous piercing light in the sky”, “shooting sprays of light out from it”. However, the husband failed to get a photograph of “the greenish orange colour with a number of small lights on its outer rim” as his dog set off the security lights.

In Bingley in west Yorkshire, in 2008, a man claimed to have seen 30 UFOs flying in formation, while another report that year from Leeds spoke of “a jumbo jet sized object, that was flat and round with a blue rippled underside”.

To all, the staff in the unit, housed on the fifth floor of the Ministry of Defence’s Whitehall headquarters, responded courteously, even if a note of weariness crept into correspondence with their most persistent clients.

However, there was gentleness, too. In January 2009, a little girl wrote to the UFO desk from Cheshire, asking “if living things live outside our planet” because she and her father had “seen 2 little lights dancing around each other in the sky”.

An officer replied that they remained “totally open-minded about it, but we don’t know of any evidence to prove that life exists in outer space”.

He also enclosed “some RAF goodies that I thought you might like”.

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