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UK Politics

The (not so) real life X-Files: Chinese lanterns responsible for surge of UFO sightings, files from MoD reveal

Abductions, extra-terrestrial invasions and the man who had lived with an alien "for some time" - newly declassified files reveal the phone calls patient staff at the MoD received on a typical day

The Ministry of Defence’s UFO hotline was shut down because it was a waste of money despite UFO sightings soaring the year it was closed, declassified files have shown.

By November 2009 - the year their UFO desk was closed - the MoD had already received 520 reports, three times the 150 they usually dealt with on average each year. According to a briefing in the files, this increase was associated with a growing trend in setting off Chinese lanterns during weddings and public holidays.

UFOs were also spotted by the public near several major UK landmarks, including Stonehenge and Blackpool Pier. These latest files, released by the National Archives, show records of sightings reported to the MoD's UFO Desk during its final two years.

The MoD shut down its UFO desk in 2009 because it served “no defence purpose” and was taking staff away from “more valuable defence-related activities”, the declassified documents showed. In a briefing for Bob Ainsworth, the then Defence Minister in November 2009, Carl Mantell, of the RAF's Air Command, suggested the MoD should try to significantly reduce the UFO task, “which is consuming increasing resource, but produces no valuable defence output”. He told Mr Ainsworth that, in more than 50 years, “no UFO sighting reported to

(MoD) has never revealed anything to suggest an extra-terrestrial presence or military threat to the UK”.

The 25 files include reports of alleged abductions and contact with aliens, with UFO sightings coming from as far across the British Isles and the Canary Islands. One person even left a message on the hotline's answerphone, reporting a UFO flying over the Houses of Parliament in London.

Other reports included “green, red and white lights” remaining static in the sky in 2008, photographs of Blackpool Pier showing aircrafts in the sky that had not been visible before, a letter from a school child to the MoD asking for the truth about UFOs after she had seen witnessed strange lights, and including a drawing of an alien waving, and someone claiming they had been “living with an alien in Carlisle for some time”.

Another sighting described “discoid” shapes noticed in photographs of Stonehenge. In an email, dated 14 January 2009 and titled “UFOs over Stonehenge?” it said that the shapes had gone unnoticed until the photos had been uploaded onto a computer and the background had been zoomed into.

The files also showed that some members of the public were keen to offer the MoD their advice on how to “correctly shoot down UFOs“, with one letter from an Australian sender addressed to the Queen saying: “I know how you can correctly shoot down a 'UFO:' using electrodisruption.” In another message, dated 16 May, the author wrote: “I have a theory for a device which could be used to take down an extra-terrestrial UFO craft. My theory involves using a device similar to that of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapon which once deployed from an aircraft would be fired and the device would attach itself to the UFO through use of magnetic pull.”

MoD employees politely declined such offers, and replied: "The UK has a comprehensive suite of capabilities that provide its air superiority, both here at home in the UK and also on expeditionary operations. The UK's Air Policing Area is under continuous surveillance using a combination of civil and military radar installations that provide a continuous real-time 'picture'. Any threat would, of course, be handled in the light of the particular circumstances at the time, however, rest assured that we have at our disposal a range of capabilities that we are confident can neutralise even the most demanding of targets."

The files also shed light on the campaigns led 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.

Officials had predicted a backlash from ufologists on 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“.

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.”

Dr David Clarke, author of 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.”