UFO Desk: Why MoD Shut Real-Life X-Files

The mystery behind the closure of the Ministry of Defence's UFO desk and hotline in 2009 has been solved with the release of declassified files.

The Government shut down its UFO operations because they served "no defence purpose" and were taking staff away from "more valuable defence-related activities", according to 25 files from the National Archives.

Documents reveal 643 sightings were reported in 2009, treble the previous year and the second highest recorded since 1978 when 750 sightings were logged.

They include accounts of alleged abductions, contact with aliens - including a person who claimed they'd been living with an alien - and UFO sightings near UK landmarks like the Houses of Parliament.

Despite these, in a briefing for then defence minister Bob Ainsworth in November 2009, Carl Mantell, of the RAF's Air Command, said 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".

The memo said there was "no defence benefit" in the recording, collating, analysis or investigation of the sightings, adding: "The level of resources diverted to this task is increasing in response to a recent upsurge in reported sightings, diverting staff from more valuable defence-related activities."

Officials predicted a backlash from "ufologists" to the decision to close the UFO desk, and also noted that they had "deliberately avoided formal approaches to other governments on the issue" amid fears of "international collaboration and conspiracy".

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.

An official MoD statement said: "The Ministry of Defence has no opinion on the existence or otherwise of extra-terrestrial life.

"However, in over 50 years, no UFO report has revealed any evidence of a potential threat to the United Kingdom.

"The MoD has no specific capability for identifying the nature of such sightings. There is no defence benefit in such investigation and it would be an inappropriate use of defence resources.

"Furthermore, responding to reported UFO sightings diverts MoD resources from tasks that are relevant to defence.

"MoD will no longer respond to reported UFO sightings or investigate them."

Sightings recorded in the documents, which cover the years 2007 to 2009, include:

:: 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.

:: Sightings of UFOs over the Houses of Parliament, Stonehenge and Blackpool Pier.

Nick Pope, who previously worked on the MoD's UFO desk, said: "I hope people have as much fun reading these real-life X-Files as I had working on them.

"These documents don't resolve the UFO mystery, but they certainly show how the phenomenon was just as intriguing to the Government as it is to the public.

"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".

The files include 4,400 pages and cover the work carried out in the final two years of the MoD's UFO desk, from late 2007 until November 2009.

Also contained in the files are briefings about possible reasons for the surge of UFO sighting reports.

The files suggest that it was believed the increase could be partly a result of the craze for releasing Chinese lanterns at weddings and public holidays.