I am Associate Professor in the Department of Media Arts and Communication, School of Social Sciences, at Sheffield Hallam University, UK. The journalism and public relations subject group includes more than a dozen staff and around 250 students on the undergraduate and postgraduate journalism courses including those studying for PhD.
The journalism team also form part of the university’s CCRC (Communication and Computing Research Centre). My specialist research interests include investigative journalism, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), official secrets, censorship and media law. I teach on UG and PG modules in Investigation and Research Skills, newsroom skills and Media Law. I qualified for the NCTJ’s National Certificate in Journalism whilst training on regional weekly newspapers. I was the winner of the Yorkshire Press Awards Feature Writer of the Year (Weekly Newspapers) in 1994 for my work as Deputy News Editor on the Rotherham Advertiser.
Prior to teaching journalism skills I worked as a news reporter for The Sheffield Star and the Yorkshire Post covering a range of general news and crime stories. Included in my exclusives was a plan to fly nuclear waste over Yorkshire cities, a major corruption scandal in local government and a multi-million pound scam to re-sell contaminated meat to unsuspecting consumers.
After leaving the journalism beat I spent four years working as a Press Officer in local government as ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’. My freelance work has appeared in a variety of national and international newspapers, magazines and academic journals including Fortean Times, BBC History, Contemporary Legend and Folklore.
In addition I am the author and co-author of 12 books on aspects of supernatural belief, UFOlogy and contemporary legends. In my capacity as a journalist and ‘expert’ on UFOs and modern myth, I frequently work as a consultant and contributor to a range of radio, TV and satellite programmes covering these subjects.
My PhD is in British Folklore and was completed at the National Centre for English Cultural Tradition, University of Sheffield, in 1999. My thesis examined evidence for the survival of Celtic belief and tradition in the British Isles, in the context of pagan sculpture in archaeology and vernacular architecture. Prior to that I completed a BA (Hons) in Archaeology, Prehistory and Medieval History at the University of Sheffield.
My interest in folklore and the supernatural goes back to my childhood and I’ve been researching and writing about strange phenomena for as long as I can remember. In 2018 I co-founded the Centre for Contemporary Legend at Sheffield Hallam University, with colleagues Diane Rodgers and Andrew Robinson.
Since the late 1990s much of my research has been concentrated on British government policy towards UFOs/UAPs and other ‘unexplained phenomena’ working from documents available at The National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office) at Kew in southwest London. At that time most surviving government records on UFOs were covered by the ’30 year rule’ which meant they could not be opened to public scrutiny until at least 30 years after the last action on the file. In practice many files were retained for 50, 75 or more years and the delay resulted in many important historical files being lost or destroyed.
In 2000 I launched a campaign to persuade the Ministry of Defence to release the remaining UFO files retained in their archives (mostly post-1984). I quickly became their most “persistent correspondent”, using firstly the Code of Practice for Access to Government Information and, from 2005, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to apply for the release of UFO-related policy documents and other papers.
During 2001 my requests led to the release of the MoD’s file on the famous Rendlesham Forest UFO incident of 1980 (known as ‘Britain’s Roswell’) and the 1951 report by the oddly named ‘Flying Saucer Working Party’, set up by the MoD to investigate reports of strange objects in the sky. This report was used to brief PM Winston Churchill during the following year when a UFO flap in Washington made headlines across the world. MoD had long maintained the report had been destroyed, but my inquiries discovered the last surviving copy and this was released to me – and to the world – in 2001.
The later stages of my campaign for UFO document disclosure coincided with the introduction of the UK’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 2005. In the first year, the subject of UFOs became the third most popular subject for requests made to the MoD. And it was during 2005/6 that I used the FOIA to secure the release of a hefty four volume study of UFOs (or UAPs, as MoD preferred to call them), known as ‘the Condign report’. Originally classified as ‘Secret – UK Eyes Only’ the report was completed by the secretive Defence Intelligence Staff in 2000. Its release in 2006, made headlines across the world.
My work to secure full release of all surviving UFO data held by MoD continued and in 2007 the Ministry announced that it planned to transfer its remaining papers to The National Archives, in a phased programme that began in May 2008 and is still continuing.
Since that time I have been working with The National Archives (TNA) and Sheffield Hallam University (my employer) as external consultant for the UFO files release programme. The consultancy involved work to prepare each tranche of files for public release and the production of highlights guides, podcasts and public relations activity to coincide with the public opening of the papers on the TNA website. The most recent release (in March 2011) resulted in a record breaking 8.5 million visitors to TNA’s UFO website.
My book, The UFO Files, (second edition 2012) covers the entire run of British Government files relating to aerial phenomena. Since then I have also published How UFOs Conquered The World: a history of a modern myth (Aurum 2015), Britain’s X-traordinary Files (Bloomsbury 2014) and UFO Drawings from The National Archives (Four Corners books 2018).