London: Reports of flying Toblerones, close encounters of the second kind, and attempted alien abductions in the latest batch of UFO files released yesterday by the Ministry of Defence demonstrate that the British public's appetite for matters extraterrestrial shows no sign of abating.
More than 650 reports of UFO sightings reached the Ministry of Defence (MoD) last year, the highest for 31 years before it took the decision to close its UFO desk, known as Air Secretariat 2A1, in December.
Many of the reports are simple sightings by members of the public. A West Lothian electrician said he had spotted a "Toblerone shaped" UFO hovering over a field and included a quick on-the-spot sketch.
The latest files released at the National Archives cover the period from 1994 to 2000 when sightings were running at 200 to 300 a year. The MoD intends to make public the files for the last 10 years by the end of 2011.
The files show that most reports are filed by "overzealous ufologists", and for the first time officials have released files based on reports from those they call "persistent correspondents".
Foremost among these was the Alien Acknowledgement Campaign, which alleged an MoD cover-up of alien visitations.
Its particular target was a freedom of information campaign to release the files on an incident in Rendlesham forest, Suffolk, in 1980 in which US and British military personnel testified that at least one UFO was tracked on radar.
The files show that it is not just dedicated ufologists who have shown an interest. Leading scientists, air traffic controllers, pilots and even Sir Winston Churchill have, too.
The Churchill memorandum dates from 1952 when flying saucer speculation was at its peak.
With figures as prominent as Lord Mountbatten willing to entertain the notion of extraterrestial life, Churchill asked his air secretary, Lord Cherwell: "What does all this stuff about flying saucers amount to? Let me have a report at your convenience."
A UFO sighted by the Boston and Skegness police was captured on film and reported to the coastguard, who alerted ships in the North Sea, where a crew saw more UFOs. The investigation which followed suggested the lights were the planet Venus rising.