Alien visions give rise to earthly clamour

UFO protest: MoD asked for 'truth' on sightings
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It was all a question of common- sense reasoning, they said. The Ministry of Defence knew a lot more about unidentified flying objects (UFOs) than it was publicly prepared to admit.

"The earth is in the midst of something non-human," said John Holman, UK co-ordinator of the campaign to end UFO secrecy. "It's becoming more and more documented.

"They're not hallucinations, they're not all mis-identifications. I am as sceptical as the next person, but when I see video tapes and I don't know what they are - they are not balloons and they are not aircraft - I want to know."

The point seemed perfectly reasonable. The Government has files. It has people in its Secretariat Air Staff assessing whether flying flashing lights are the Russians or little green men from outer space. Operation Right To Know believes the public should be told.

As Mr Holman, a 46-year-old industrial designer from Ripon, North Yorkshire, and 20 supporters demonstrated outside Parliament yesterday, passers-by seemed only slightly puzzled by the banners proclaiming: "UFOs Are Real. The Truth Is Out."

Closer questioning threw up matters more baffling, however. "Alien abductions have been going on for a long time," confided Busty Taylor, a driving instructor from Hampshire who also lecturers worldwide on crop circles.

"The aliens have been carrying out experiments. There's lots of evidence to prove that point now. I've seen many UFOs."

Phillip Lambro, a 60-year-old Los Angeles composer, told a story of Christopher Colombus. When the great explorer was looking for money for a ship, he was told he would never get across the ocean and how the beasts and dragons would devour him, or if he survived, how he would fall off the end of the horizon. "We know now that is not the case," Mr Lambro said.

There have been 50 million reports worldwide of UFO sightings since 1954. Not all of them were fakes. Mr Lambro belongs to the Raelian Movement, which is preparing an embassy for extra-terrestrials for when they land.

There was nothing to be afraid of, said Andrea Corsick, 45, a Californian marketing manager. "I really don't think there's going to be things like in the movies."

Mr Holman endeavoured to bring the debate back down to earth. "What we are after are the military reports and pilot reports which have been collected over 50 years," he said.

"We want to know what the military assessments are and what recommendations were made to government. We are not in a Cold War situation now, so why should UFOs be deemed a threat?"

Next year, Nick Pope, a serving civil servant who spent four years with the Ministry of Defence's UFO-watching secretariat, publishes a book, Open Skies, Closed Minds - official reaction to the UFO phenomenon. Mr Holman and Operation Right To Know are excited at the prospect. They believe he is now on their side.

Michael Owen, 47, a passing American businessman, took a leaflet from the group for a UFO-spotting friend back home. "As people of old looked for dragons, people of today look for what may or may not exist," he said.