Orange lights in the sky, giant crosses and a red glow over a McDonalds – unidentified flying objects dangle the tantalising prospect that we may not be alone in the universe.
While agents Mulder and Scully never gave up hope that the ‘truth is out there’ with their X Files, the Ministry of Defence was clearly getting a bit jaded after many years of reports by the time it shut its UFO desk in 2009.
Today, the last batch of its files have been released for the public and those who, like Mulder, ‘want to believe’, to pore over and search for evidence that aliens may have visited.
The files include everything from how a police helicopter was forced to take evasive action when a flying object came within 100 metres of it while over Sandwell Valley, to anonymous reports of a flying jellyfish which was spotted somewhere over the Great Barr area.
Others have asked the MoD and Royal Air Force for details of close encounters in the hope that it may explain what is going on in their own lives.
The MoD’s release of 25 files is not for the fainthearted, as in total they make up 4,400 pages.
The files cover the work carried out during the final two years of the MoD’s UFO desk, from late 2007 until November 2009.
They include policy, correspondence with ministers and members of the public, responses to freedom of information requests and sighting reports.
One of the files contains a briefing for the then defence minister Bob Ainsworth in 2009 prepared by Carl Mantell of the RAF’s Air Command.
This recommended that the MoD ‘should seek to reduce very significantly the UFO task which is consuming increasing resource, but produces no valuable defence output’.
Mr Ainsworth was advised that in more than 50 years ‘no UFO sighting reported to the MoD has ever revealed anything to suggest an extra-terrestrial presence or military threat to the UK’ and ‘there is no defence benefit in the MoD recording, collating, analysing or investigating UFO sightings’.
The MoD had decided that ‘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.’
Officials predicted a backlash from ‘ufologists’ to the decision to close the UFO desk.
They also noted that they had ‘deliberately avoided formal approaches to other governments on the issue’, amid fears of ‘international collaboration and conspiracy’.
The 'Dudley Dorito' is seen above Merry Hill
The files also revealed campaigns by ufologists for the government to investigate sightings more thoroughly, with letters sent to senior ministers, former prime minister Gordon Brown, and even the Queen, calling for more action. After the closure, air traffic control centres and local police forces were advised to no longer refer UFO sightings to the MoD.
Dr David Clarke, author of the book The UFO Files, said: “The last pieces of the puzzle have finally been revealed with this insight into the last days of the UFO desk. These files spell out clearly why the MoD decided – after 60 years – it no longer needed to keep tabs on sightings, even those made by ‘credible’ people such as police officers and pilots.
“The last files from the UFO desk are now all in the public domain. People at home can read them and draw their own conclusions about whether ‘the truth’ is in these files or still out there.”
Sightings recorded in the 25 MoD files released today, which cover the years 2007 to 2009, include:
- A close encounter for a teenager from Great Barr who felt compelled to send an email to the MoD about a flying ‘jellyfish’ spotted overhead. The teenager’s mother was still said to be ‘gobsmacked’ by what she had seen while the teenager feared ‘exploding’ if the story was not told. The message was sent in October 2009, shortly before the MoD closed its UFO desk.
- A letter from a school child to the MoD asking for the truth about UFOs after she had seen some strange lights, and including a drawing of an alien in a UFO waving.
- A report received via the UFO hotline by someone who had been ‘living with an alien’ in Carlisle for some time and one from a man from Cardiff who claimed a UFO abducted his dog, car and tent while he was camping with friends in 2007.
- Stonehenge certainly has an air of mystery within those ancient rocks and for all anyone really knows they could have been put there by aliens in the first place.
Maybe not, but someone did contact the MoD in January 2009 after seeing an unexplained speck in the sky on some photographs taken of the landmark. The sender said nothing was seen until the pictures were uploaded to his computer.
In a polite letter that unfortunately gave no answers, someone from the RAF in High Wycombe replied: “I am afraid that I am not aware of any official organisation that would be in a position to help you.
“You might consider contacting the Civil Aviation Authority via their website but I suspect they will give you a similar response. Alternatively, there are a great many non-governmental organisations to be found on the internet, or in magazines, that are interested in UFO matters. They may be able to offer an explanation of what you saw.” The officer concludes with a disclaimer warning the sender to be cautious before entering into any financial arrangements with such organisations.
Photographs taken from Blackpool Pier in 2008 appeared to show some aircraft which someone could not identify, so the MoD was asked to help.
A wing commander replied to the individual: “I have done a trawl of the likely suspects and I can confirm that there were no manoeuvres or exercises taking place in the Blackpool vicinity during October 2008.
“Everyone who has seen them thinks that two of the photos look like stunt kites that have broken loose from the control strongs or perhaps we cannot quite see the attached strings in the photos.
“That would explain the lack of noise reported by the photographer.
“The third looks like a seagull head.
“However, clearly without being there we can’t be definitive.”
The pictures referred to were sent to the MoD but the versions reproduced for the National Archives are poor black and white copies that show nothing to let people judge for themselves.
The number of UFO sightings reported to the Ministry of Defence, MoD, trebled in the year its hotline was closed, newly released files show.
According to a briefing in the files, during the years 2000-07 the MoD received an average of 150 reports per year.
But by November 2009, it had already received 520 reports that year, as well as 97 freedom of information requests on UFOs.
Possible reasons for the increase included the craze for releasing Chinese lanterns.
One example included a sighting by soldiers in Shropshire which hit the headlines in June 2008.
A memo on the incident, referring to the sighting over Tern Hill Barracks in Shropshire on June 7, 2008, described how a group of soldiers had seen lights in the sky and made a video.
But it later emerged a wedding celebration nearby had involved guests lighting Chinese lanterns and sending them up into the sky.
People can now see the files at www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ufos free for one month.
The truth is no longer just out there, now it’s online as well.