- Scientists and generals drew up a top secret report on
Unidentified Flying Objects and then decided to cover up a wave of rumours
and sightings that swept Britain in the 1950s, The Observer can reveal.
- The existence of the UFO report, written in 1951 and
later used to brief Prime Minister Winston Churchill, was denied by the
Ministry of Defence for almost 50 years. But the six-page document has
recently been unearthed by UFO historians Andy Roberts and David Clarke
as they researched a book on UFOs and the Cold War. The report has been
a 'holy grail' of British 'ufology' and details the conclusions of a shadowy
panel called the Working Party on Flying Saucers. This group was the idea
of Sir Henry Tizard, one of Churchill's most trusted scientific advisers
during World War II and a key figure behind the development of radar.
- But anyone looking for an elusive 'X-file' that confirms
the existence of aliens will be disappointed. The report concludes that
all sightings were explainable by natural events, such as the weather or
meteors, or were of normal aircraft.
- But it does speak volumes about the scale of paranoia
in Britain at the start of the Cold War. From 1950 onwards, hundreds of
UFO sightings were reported across Britain and were regular front page
news. Leading public figures, including Lord Louis Mountbatten, came out
with their belief that Earth was being visited by aliens.
- The phenomenon terrified the top brass on both sides
of the Atlantic. Generals were worried that reports of flying saucers could
be used by the Soviet Union to disguise an earthly attack or that the sightings
were giving the Russians a clue that Britain's radar network was faulty
and easy to penetrate - which was actually true but unknown within the
- 'This was a time of great paranoia and fear. The Government
took a decision to throw a blanket over the UFO scare and say as little
as possible about it,' said Clarke.
- 'There certainly was a cover-up, but what was being covered
up was Cold War paranoia and our fears over our radar system. It was nothing
to do with aliens.'
- Despite the official silence, the UFO scares did not
die down. In 1952 Churchill fired off a memo to his advisers in the wake
of fresh UFO sightings in the United States. 'What does all this stuff
about flying saucers amount to? What can it mean? What is the truth?' Churchill
- Tizard's report was then used to brief the Prime Minis
ter on the perceived lack of real threat from UFOs in August of that year.
A few months later an order went out expressly banning all RAF personnel
from discussing sightings with anyone not from the military.
- In trying to underplay the sightings, Britain was following
the lead of the United States, which had conducted several studies into
its own UFO sightings and also adopted a policy of official secrecy. When
the British report was presented, a top CIA scientist travelled over to
the meeting to make sure the conclusions of America's closest ally fitted
- Even today, the report is unlikely to dispel the convictions
of thousands of British UFO-believers, despite a collapse in the number
of sightings and the closure ear lier this year of the British Flying Saucer
Bureau. 'Believers will say that this report is fake or a decoy and that
the Government is still hiding something. You cannot win,' said Roberts.
- The explanation Roberts and Clarke offer for UFOs is
more prosaic than the conspiracy theories of secret alien contact. It lies
in mass hysteria. They believe the true importance of the UFO phenomenon
lies in the fact that it was an urban myth that gained enough public power
to panic the highest echelons of British government - all the way to Winston