Beginning in May of 2008, in an effort to stem large amounts of requests, the UK government decided to proactively release their UFO files in several batches. Finally, five years later, they have released the final batch of files.
No more UK UFO files will be released in the foreseeable future, as the UK chose to close their UFO desk in 2009 and stopped taking UFO reports altogether. In fact, this batch of UFO files contains a lot of information pertaining to the conversations going on behind the scenes about the UFO desk closure. According to the files, the closure was recommended in a briefing on November 11, 2009 for Defence Minister Bob Ainsworth prepared by Carl Mantell of the RAF’s Air Command. The report says:
This 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.’ 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.’
The report also says that they refrained from formally approaching other governments when coming to this decision because they feared “ufologlists” would see this as an international conspiracy. This isn’t the only mention of how ufologist might perceive the closing of the UFO desk. They noted that ufologists will have negative comments, and “mount a vociferous, but short-lived campaign to reinstate the UFO Hotline suggesting that, by not investigating UFOs, MoD is failing its Defence commitment.” However, their concern for media reaction was minimal, stating that it would attract attention, but it would only be “frivolous,” and not serious.
The files then note that letters were sent to other branches of the UK government, including the police and air control centers, informing them to no longer send UFO reports to the Ministry of Defence.
However, as was the case in 2009, there are reports within this batch of UFO files that could be viewed as a concern for air safety, if nothing else. Most intriguing are reports by police helicopters and UFOs caught on radar. One of the UFO reports from a helicopter came from the crew of an Irish Air Corps helicopter, who spotted a UFO over Dublin Bay in August of 2006. The MoD’s response was that “this would be a matter for the Irish authorities.”
In 2008 there were two reports by police helicopters. The first came in May regarding a sighting over Birmingham city centre. The lights were first seen about 100 meters from the craft, causing the pilot to maneuver to avoid a collision. The report says, “The lights appeared to continue to circle their ac the same height, flew away to the N slightly then returned.” The MoD did not investigate this case, however, the UK Airprox Board, a group that investigates near collisions by aircraft, did investigate. They speculated that the object could have been a radio controlled plane, and someone “messing around,” but in the end were unable to explain the incident.
In June, 2008, a small object flying near a South Wales Police helicopter was reported to Cardiff airport. The MoD said nothing was captured on radar, and they never received a formal report from the police.
The files include a couple of radar cases. The first is a statement from a retired RAF Flight Lieutenant who writes about a sighting on radar that he witnessed in December of 1994 or 1995. He said he saw a large “blob” on the radar screen that was stationary. He said the “blob” then burst and objects went flying off in several directions. Later he received a phone call from an airman who said he had witnesses a bright light that burst, shooting off fragment. Soon after that another airman called with a similar report.
The second radar case was one from Beachy Head, near Eastbourne in 1953. In this case a serviceman recalled seeing an unidentified “blip” on radar that moved over the English Channel. He said it flew at speeds four times that of a normal jet aircraft.
A third radar case was from a UFO sighting reported in October of 2007. The witness saw an “oval/spherical shaped object “cross the path of an airliner near Portsdown Hill, Portsmouth. It was just after noon, in the daytime. He reported that the object accelerated very fast, narrowly missing the airliner. The MoD referred the case to NATO, and the RAF checked their radar tapes. They suggested the UFO could have been one of a number of low flying light aircraft that were in the area at the time.
This is only a few of the many reports in these files. Nick Pope, who worked for the Ministry of Defence for 21 years and worked at the UFO desk from 1991 to 1994, says:
These are the real-life X-Files. Most UFO sightings had conventional explanations, but a small percentage remained unexplained. These included cases where UFOs were seen by police officers, chased by pilots and tracked on radar. Whatever you think about UFOs, the release of these files shines a light on one of the most intriguing subjects ever studied by the British Government.
Keep checking back with Open Minds as we bring you more stories from these files, and interview Pope on his thoughts on some of these more intriguing cases.
You can download the UFO files at the UK National Archives.