London - Britain's UFO Capital


By Nick Pope

UFO sightings in the UK are on the increase. In figures released by the Ministry of Defence recently it was revealed that the Department received 285 UFO reports in 2008 - more than twice the 2007 figure. 2009 sightings are set to exceed the 2008 figure. One possible reason for this massive increase was the public interest generated last year when the MoD began the process of releasing its archive of UFO files. There was massive media coverage and the files were downloaded from the National Archives website over a million times in the first 4 days following their release.

A popular misconception about UFO sightings is that they occur predominantly in remote areas - people envisage a lonely country road, late at night, with a driver suddenly noticing a strange light above the car. Every now and then a town declares itself a UFO hotspot. The MoD files tell a rather different story. Britain's UFO hotspot is, in fact, London.

At first, this may seem counter-intuitive. In our cities, people shuffle along grimly, tending not to look up. If they do, views are generally obscured by buildings and the light pollution in London means one can see only the brightest stars and planets from the capital. However, thinking it through, the explanation is obvious. In the countryside, if there's something unusual in the sky, it may only be seen by a handful of people, if it's seen at all. Moreover, most people who see UFOs don't report them, either because they fear being disbelieved and ridiculed, or because they don't know who to contact. However, if something flies over London, with its teeming millions, there are more potential witnesses.

Most UFO sightings, of course, turn out to have ordinary explanations, with people misidentifying satellites, meteors, lasers and searchlights reflecting off clouds (often used at pop concerts and nightclubs), not to mention the ubiquitous Chinese lanterns - essentially a miniature hot air balloon. These are increasingly poplar in the UK and are let off at birthday parties, Christmas and New Year celebrations and all sorts of other occasions. Several are usually launched at once and any UFO report involving an orange light or lights drifting in a straight line is almost certainly attributable to lanterns.

There can be some funny and surreal moments in the weird world of UFO investigations. I once spoke to an earnest woman telling me about a sensational sighting of a bright white light, with red and green flashing lights on either side. When I asked where this was, she told me, without a hint of irony, that it was near Heathrow airport. On another occasion an excitable man gave a running commentary concerning a small, diamond-shaped UFO he was watching above Regent's Park. The object turned out to be a kite and he ended the call, crestfallen, with a polite explanation that it was now being put back into its box.

Some London sightings from the MoD's files are more difficult to explain. On 26th April 1984 several members of the public reported a UFO in Stanmore. Two police officers attend the scene and actually saw the object themselves. They observed it for a considerable length of time, with the naked eye and with binoculars, and even produced an official police sketch. On 13th October 1984 a saucer-shaped UFO was seen from Waterloo Bridge by numerous witnesses. One report was telephoned to the MoD's UFO desk by a civil servant in MoD's Whitehall headquaters, who had seen a UFO from his window. And last week, when MoD released details of the 2008 sightings, there was reference to an incident that took place on 12th February last year. The description read "There was a craft that had green, red and white lights. It was still and static in the sky. It was seen for about an hour and a half". The stated location was "opposite House [sic] of Parliament".

So if you want to see a UFO, there's no need to trek out to some windswept spot in the middle of nowhere. Come to London! And keep watching the skies ...