National Archives UFO Files #10

UFO files #10 (June 2013) – my guide to the highlights of the last tranche of British UFO files

The tenth and final tranche contains 25 files and 4400 pages. The papers cover the work carried out during final two years of the MoD’s UFO desk, from late 2007 until January 2010. They cover policy, correspondence with Ministers and members of the public, FOI requests and sighting reports.

credit: Ministry of Defence

credit: Ministry of Defence

Closure of UFO desk:

A briefing in the UFO policy file DEFE 24/2458/1 dated 11 November 2009 prepared for Defence Minister Bob Ainsworth by Carl Mantell of the RAF’s Air Command recommends that:

 ‘…[MoD] should seek to reduce very significantly the UFO task which is consuming increasing resource, but produces no valuable defence output.’

Ainsworth was told that in more than 50 years

‘…no UFO sighting reported to [MoD] has ever revealed anything to suggest an extra-terrestrial presence or military threat to the UK [and] there is no defence benefit in [MoD] recording, collating, analysing or investigating UFO sightings.’

‘….investigations into UFO sightings, even from more reliable sources, serve no useful purpose and merely divert air defence specialists from their primary tasks. Accordingly, no further investigations should be carried out into UFO reports received from any source.’

From 2000 the UFO desk logged an average of 150-200 reports each year but following the decision to release the files to The National Archives, announced late in 2007, numbers began to increase. 208 reports were received in 2008 and this figure trebled in 2009 (643 reports were logged by 30 November). During the same year the UFO desk officer received 97 FOI requests. This ‘upsurge in sighting reports’ was the last straw for officials who argued that MoD should distance itself from a subject that had no ‘defence benefit’ and regularly attracted sensational headlines in the tabloids.

Graph comparing spikes in numbers of sightings reported to MoD and release of films about ET - the total for 2009 was the second highest on record following 1978 and the release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (credit: Guardian.co.uk]

Graph comparing spikes in numbers of sightings reported to MoD and release of films about ET – the total for 2009 was the second highest on record following 1978 and the release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (credit: Guardian.co.uk)

This document reveals the MoD were so worried about accusations of cover-up they avoided making any ‘formal approaches to other Governments’ in reaching their final decision. This was because these ‘would become public when the relevant UFO files are released and could be viewed by “ufologists” as evidence of international collaboration and conspiracy.’

In December 2009, after Ainsworth approved the policy recommendation, MoD closed the UFO hotline answerphone service and the dedicated email address that had been set up in 1997 on the 50th anniversary of the Roswell incident.

The hotline, MoD decided, ‘serves no defence purpose and merely encourages the generation of correspondence of no defence value.’ MoD predicted the closure ‘will attract negative comment from “ufologists” [who] may, individually or as a group, mount a vociferous, but short-lived campaign to reinstate the UFO Hotline suggesting that, by not investigating UFOs, MoD is failing its Defence commitment.’  But the briefing predicted the media coverage of their decision would probably treat the closure in a ‘frivolous’ way.

Ironically, the files contain a number of letters inquiring about the duties of the UFO desk officer. Some were penned by members of the public who wished to apply for the post ‘running Britain’s X-files’. One potential applicant was told the post required ‘general office skills…with a preference for strong drafting abilities’. The MoD sent a disappointing response to another inquirer pointing out

the term X-files tends to conjure up images of Top Secret files and in-depth investigations of UFOs but I’m afraid this is not really the case’.

A job description for the post was released in response to a FOI request in 2008. It says ‘the Band D grade is the most junior of the MoD managerial grades’ (DEFE 24/2449/1).

Disclosure Campaign.

Letters and emails from UFO buffs calling on the government to disclose ‘the truth’ about the alien presence on Earth can be found in two Parliamentary files, DEFE 24/2629/1 and DEFE 24/2457/1. One of the ‘independent thinkers’ behind this campaign, Richard Hall, attempted to draw MoD attention to a radio interview with the American astronaut Ed Mitchell in June 2008.

In the interview the 6th man on the moon said he believed ‘the Roswell crash was real and a number of contacts [with ETs] have been real and on-going [but] it’s all been covered up by all of our governments for the last 60 years’.  Hall’s letter, dated 11 August 2008 addressed to the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, asks if the UK government was aware of Mitchell’s revelations and adds: ‘….do you [Prime Minister] believe that the British people have the right to know if our world has been contact[ed] by alien civilisations?’.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown had a full postbag on UFOs - but decided to pull the plug on the UFO desk (credit: Gaurdian.co,uk)

Prime Minister Gordon Brown had a full postbag on UFOs – but decided to pull the plug on the UFO desk (credit: Gaurdian.co,uk)

The letter was answered by MoD who said they remained open-minded but had no evidence of ET visitations. It pointed out that MoD had agreed to transfer its entire archive of UFO files to The National Archives and the first tranche had been released in May that year.

But as the content of those files was never likely to satisfy the preconceptions of Hall and other conspiracy theorists, the letters continued to pour in. More can be found elsewhere, addressed to Defence Ministers Des Browne, Bob Ainsworth and John Hutton and even one to The Queen c/o Buckingham Palace.

Release of UFO files is a ‘cover-story’?:

Several correspondent ask why MoD have not released any close encounter stories that would prove the existence of ETs. The implication is that the file release programme is a ‘whitewash’ and other more top secret files are being hidden elsewhere. One boldly claims:

‘the papers recently released…are a cover-story, covering up the UK government’s true intentions with UFOs; they have learnt more than they are telling you lot and us the taxpayers who are paying your wages’.

Another asks why information about his encounters with time-travelling extra-terrestrials have been with-held and suggests that ‘….maybe because proff [sic] david clark cannot believe in truth? He is surely no expert in UFOS that’s for sure!!’ He suggests MoD should ignore me and look for the truth about the extra-terrestrial presence on earth on YouTube instead (DEFE 24/2452/1).

The MoD’s UFO desk officer Paul Webb took a different view. In a perceptive email dated 2 June 2009 to his boss at the RAF Business Secretariat he wrote:

‘I believe it is fair to say that the release programme itself…has been a success for the MOD. It has accrued a great deal of national and international press publicity, the majority of which can be considered to be positive or at worst neutral.

‘Naturally, the mainstream press tend on concentrate on the more sensational stories (especially those with drawings of aliens!) but I believe that despite the predicted increased interest in the subject in the short term, the wider general public is starting to get a more accurate impression of our role in UFO matters, and we can at least point them to fairly recent documentation to back up what we are saying….

‘I sense that realisation is also starting to dawn amongst some UFOlogists that we do not have hordes of investigators scurrying about the countryside investigating UFO sightings and that our interest is really quite minimal. Naturally a section of UFOlogists will never be convinced of that, but frankly, whatever we say, they will choose to believe whatever they believe and we will never convince them otherwise’ (DEFE 24/2458/1).

Chinese Lantern craze.

Details of the 850 sighting reports logged by MoD in 2008-9 can be followed in the UFO sighting files, DEFE 24/2623-2627/1 (2008) and DEFE 24/2459-65/1 (2009). A large number of these were of ‘Chinese lanterns’ that became popular from 2003 after lanterns were released at the Glastonbury Festival. Many people who saw these floating lights in the sky for the first time believed they were UFOs. Others appeared to recognize them (one noting, for instance, that ‘they looked like Chinese lanterns’) but felt sufficiently puzzled to report them to the authorities.

orangealiens 001

A typical tabloid story about ‘orange aliens’ (Chinese lanterns) from 2008’s Silly Season

Formations of orange lights were filmed on mobile phones and camcorders, sometimes by police officers and other ‘credible witnesses’, some of whom said they were amazed, stunned and even frightened. Sightings tended to cluster during the summer months when people were outdoors walking dogs, smoking cigarettes, enjoying family barbeques or relaxing in hot-tubs (see for example DEFE 24/2623/1, p 145).

During the ‘silly season’ a stream of stories and stills from phone footage were published by local and national newspapers and several hundred individual sightings were logged by the MoD’s UFO desk.

A typical sighting, dated 8 December 2007, describes two clusters of amber, orange and white lights in triangular formation moving over the Vale of Neath in South Wales. The lights were silent and ‘…moved in an unusual manner like a feather or a cork bobbing on water.’

The family of five who spotted these lights were so amazed they pulled their car over to the side of the road to watch (see DEFE 24/2623/1). Others were convinced the lanterns were moving under intelligent control, often against the prevailing wind. A woman from Liverpool rang the UFO hotline in October 2009, to demand:

‘…can you tell us what these things are as my children are terrified that they are aliens; my son has seen these on two other occasions and is very worried.’ (DEFE 24/2465/1).

During the summer of 2009 maritime authorities dealt with a spate of false alarms triggered by people releasing Chinese lanterns. In September coastguards in Cumbria and the NW received dozens of 999 calls from people who thought they had seen distress flares (DEFE 24/2464/1).

Shropshire UFO flap debunked.

Chinese Lanterns were traced as the source of a spectacular UFO sighting made by a group of soldiers of the Royal Irish Regiment in June 2008. The objects were spotted flying over Tern Hill barracks, near Market Drayton, Shropshire, on 6 June 2009 by Corporal Mark Proctor and other soldiers on fire picket duty (see DEFE 24/2625/1 and DEFE 24/2624/1).

Cpl Proctor filmed 13 flying objects on his mobile phone. The images were described by MoD as ‘very good…[they] show lots of multi-coloured dots and zoom in on a cube-shaped object which then flattens.’ The soldier emailed the footage to The Sun newspaper who subsequently published the story as a pg 1 exclusive on 25 June 2009 under the headline “ALIEN ARMY” (see below, right).

The Sun's pg 1 splash of 25 June 2008 reporting the Shropshire soldier's sighting

The Sun story reporting the Shropshire soldier’s sighting

But the actions of the soldiers incensed the Army Press Office who wanted ‘to stop publication of the video’. They said the soldiers had broken regulations on speaking to the media and there was ‘a risk that it will be revealed as a fake and the soldiers/battalion will look stupid’ (DEFE 24/2624/1).

The Army spokesperson said the damage was made worse by the fact the paper reported on the latest death in Afghanistan as a small sidebar alongside the UFO story:

‘…the comment from broadcasters was along the lines of ‘the services cannot fight two wars but it seems there are soldiers who have time to go UFO spotting.”…in my opinion [Army Press Officer] it completely undervalues and ridicules the ultimate sacrifice that someone has paid.’

The Press Office advised against any further comment and hoped the story would ‘die quickly’ A note from the 1st Irish Regiment dated 27 June says one soldier had been ‘warned that disciplinary action may follow’.

Meanwhile the BBC News on 25 June reported the landlord of a hotel near the soldier’s barracks claimed to have solved the mystery. Guests from a wedding party on the night of the ‘sighting’ had released a number of Chinese lanterns. The publican was quoted as saying he found the UFO story ‘highly hilarious’ (DEFE 24/2625/1).TernHill1 001

After the BBC published this story the UFO desk officer, Paul Webb, told the Army ‘I do not intend to investigate any further as I think we have our answer’. In a response to a FOI request about the incident dated 3 July 2008 a spokesman for the regiment added:

‘Corporal [Proctor] does not wish to have anything further to do with this issue and evidence has since come out that the UFOs may in fact have been Chinese lanterns set loose by a restaurant’.

Rendlesham Forest incident:

A FOI request in 2008 revealed that documents on the 1980 sightings by USAF personnel at RAF Bentwaters, Suffolk, were held on 109 separate files [DEFE 24/2450/1]. MoD had received numerous requests for information on the incident that had become known as ‘Britain’s Roswell.’ But, responding to an inquiry from the USA in 2008 the UFO desk officer said:

‘The incident was over a quarter of a century ago and despite the assertions of many people who chose to believe in the existence of UFOs or extra terrestrials, the MoD had little interest in the matter at the time and even less interest now. Put simply, we consider the incident closed’ [DEFE 24/2628/1].

UFO v Wind Turbine.

In January 2009 MoD was asked to comment on tabloid stories connecting damage to a wind turbine in the Lincolnshire Wolds, with UFOs (see pg 1 story from The Sun, below right). MoD said the incident had not been reported to them

‘….other than via the media and [we] are not aware of any substantive evidence to suggest the turbine was hit by a UFO…unless we receive clear physical evidence of an aircraft or other object flying into the turbine, we do not intend to investigate’ (DEFE 24/2451/1).

More Sun Fun - the infamous UFO & windfarm splash of January 2009

More Sun Fun – the infamous UFO & windfarm splash of January 2009

Police helicopters and UFOs.

A sighting of a small object that flew close to the South Wales Police helicopter was reported to Cardiff airport in June 2008 (DEFE 24/2624/1). Nothing was seen on radar and MoD said they received no formal report from the police.

A second near-miss with an ‘unidentified aircraft displaying non-standard lights’, reported by the crew of a police helicopter on patrol over Birmingham city centre on 2 May 2008 was the subject of a formal UK Airprox investigation by the Civil Aviation Authority (see DEFE 24/2450/1).

Again nothing was seen on radar. The inquiry looked at several possible explanations including a radio controlled model purposefully flown towards the helicopter by someone ‘messing around’ and ‘the possibility of a clandestine flight’ but was unable to explain the incident.

Radar UFOs.

The account of a retired RAF Flt Lt who witnessed the tracking of a UFO on airfield radar at RAF Lyneham in 1993 (DEFE 24/2454/1) notes the phenomena was also sighted visually by two members of a security patrol.

DEFE 24/2455/1 contains the story of a former national serviceman who recalled watching an unidentified ‘blip’ on radar at Beachy Head, near Eastbourne, in 1953. The blip was over the English Channel and moved at a speed four times that of normal jet aircraft that that time.

At DEFE 26/2623/1 there is a sketch of a ‘UAP’ spotted from the ground as it appeared to cross the path of an airliner near Portsdown Hill, Portsmouth, in December 2007. This sighting was referred to MoD by a NATO official for investigation. The RAF studied radar tapes and identified the ‘UAP’ as possibly one of a number of light aircraft flying at lower altitude to the airliner in the same area.

UAPs

Some of the more intriguing experiences relate to unusual natural phenomena or UAPs (unidentified aerial phenomena). One case was reported by personnel at the Royal Navy base in Portsmouth can be found in DEFE 24/2461/1.

In the early hours of 17 March 2009 security guards spotted a pear drop shaped ‘translucent green light’ in the sky over the harbour. Unfortunately no further investigation was carried out into this report, as in vast majority of incidents emailed to the UFO desk.

Another report from a serving RAF officer can be found in DEFE 24/2464/1. He what ‘looked like [two] balls of fire heading north to south towards RAF Northolt’ on 27 September 2009. As they approached the base the fireball went out ‘however, the craft was still visible and was in the shape of a jellyfish type dome.’

A possible case of ball lightning was reported by a woman in Poole, Dorset, on 4 August 2009. In her case ‘a bright white fireball’ entered her house through her kitchen window. The fireball fell into a carrier bag and was followed by ‘blinding white sheet lightning’, but no trace of any burns were found in the kitchen. (DEFE 24/2462/1).

A Coventry woman saw ‘two orange balls’ hovering in her back garden in July 2008 after her springer spaniel ‘unusually ran back in’. Frightened by what she saw, she locked the door and reported her sighting to the UFO hotline, saying she was ‘worried her and the dog might be contaminated’ as a result of the experience (DEFE 24/2625/1).

UFOs Galore

The sighting report files contain some particularly unimpressive images showing ‘UFOs’ captured by digital cameras and sent to the MoD UFO desk for evaluation.

There are reports of UFOs spotted hovering opposite the Houses of Parliament in February 2008 (DEFE 24/2623/1) and photographed near Stonehenge in January 2009. In the latter case nothing unusual was seen at the time and the ‘UFO’ (a bird?) was noticed only when the images were examined on a computer screen (DEFE 24/2451/1). Pictures of UFOs hovering above Blackpool pier were sent to the MoD in October 2008 (DEFE 24/2456/1) The RAF were asked to examine these pictures. Their opinion was that one showed ‘stunt kites’ and another ‘a seagull head-on.

One caller to the MoD’s UFO hotline reported that he has been ‘living with an alien’ in Carlisle for some time (DEFE 24/2625/1), whilst a Cardiff man claimed a UFO abducted his dog, car and tent whilst he was camping with friends in 2007 (DEFE 24/2623/1).

And finally, a letter from a schoolchild in Altrincham to MoD UFO desk shows a flying saucer with an alien pilot waving goodbye. The letter writer says:

‘….me and my father have seen little aircraft in the sky – 2 little lights dancing around each other…please send a letter telling me the answer…I have the right to know’. The UFO desk sent her a bag of ‘RAF goodies’. (DEFE 2457/1).

Copyright David Clarke 2013

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