The Road to the Database
It was on a warm summer evening in 1975 that an event took place in my life that was to fundamentally alter it in ways that I could never have imagined. I was to experience something that would change my perception of the universe and man's place within it. In simple terms I had a UFO encounter that sowed the seeds in an ever widening ripple effect that would eventually pull me into the field of ufology to the extent that it has become the pervading theme of my life.
That sighting was to become the catalyst for a personal journey that was to take 26 years to fully realize. As I now look back on my life I can recall five clear steps that I took before creating the PRUFOS (Police Report UFO Sightings) Database in November 2001. I believe that all five of those steps are relevant to the story of the founding of the database so I will outline each one in chronological turn.
Step 1. My sighting.
I have often tried to be more precise about the actual date of my first UFO sighting but in the end all I seem to be able to do is narrow it down to a pretty loose framework of time. That is not to say the incident that unfolded is unclear, no, much of it remains very vivid to this day. It is simply the practical things like the exact month, the actual date etc; that remain beyond my recall.
To the best of my knowledge the sighting took place during the summer months of 1975 in my home town of Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire. To be more precise in a suburb of Scunthorpe called Ashby. I was 15 years old and going out with my first proper girlfriend called Dawn 'S' (I won't embarrass her by printing her surname as I have not had contact with her since we broke up at the age of 16). I went out with her for about twelve months and it must have been during the first summer we were together that our sighting took place.
I'm not sure where we'd been but all I remember is walking beside her on Grange Lane South heading in the direction of my comprehensive school (Frederick Gough). Dawn lived in another suburb of Scunthorpe called Bottesford. In order to get to her home we had to walk along a long narrow footpath that dissected the school fields of my comprehensive school and a large allotment site. The school fields were on our left and the allotment on our right. As I recall there was little or no street lighting at that time and it was a very dark and isolated place at its quietest stretch. That spot was approximately half way down it, after you had passed by the school buildings and were walking alongside the school fields.
As we were walking along the footpath both of us suddenly became aware of what I can only describe as a large bright white light moving very slowly from our right to left. The light was set against a background of a clear night and the twinkling of numerous stars. The object was much larger than the background stars (see plate one - a photograph recreating the event taken at the actual location) and appeared to be moving in total silence at a sixty degree angle to our position. If you can imagine the line of the footpath stretching out in front of us the object passed directly across our course. No sooner had it done so something really odd occurred. Suddenly all the electricity on the housing estate that we could see in the distance was plunged into darkness. Dawn immediately became frightened and rightly or wrongly associated the light with somehow causing the power failure.
I tried to calm her down whilst at the same time we were both transfixed by the strange object in the sky before us. It seemed to 'glide'. I remember straining to hear for any engine noise but there appeared to be none. The UFO (for want of a better word) was moving very slowly and heading in the direction of the Anchor Steel plant and indirectly towards my home. Moments later a second power cut followed in a different area of the same housing estate. Things were getting really odd.
There is a classic scene in Steven Speilberg’s film 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' where the bemused Richard Dreyfuss character has his first real encounter with the UFOs and watches in awe as they appear to trigger a series of grid failures one by one (note - our sighting took place prior to the film's release and therefore at that time I had no context in my mind to associate/invent such a scene).
Significantly I realised that the power cuts had taken place once the UFO had passed by the housing i.e. behind the flight path of the object. With Dawn still visibly shaken by what we'd seen I said I would take her home. I quickly told her to get on the crossbar of the cycle (I’d been pushing it to that point) and we quickly rode to her home. There we found it and the entire area in total darkness. I literally dropped her off and sped back through the darkened streets heading in the direction of my home. I reasoned that because of the object’s slow speed that if I raced back and took a short cut I might just be able to get ahead of the UFO before it passed over the area near my home.
I have this clear memory of taking the short cut and getting onto Grange Lane South (a long main road near to my home) and emerging into the 'light' as it were. By that I mean an area where the electricity was still on. In other words I had managed to get ahead of the UFO. Every few seconds I would glance over my right shoulder to make sure where the light was in relation to my position.
It wasn’t long before I turned the corner onto Baysdale Road where my house was. I remember jumping off the bike and running into the living room of the house to find my parents having supper. In a state of excitement and some apprehension I said to them, "Come out into the garden, there's this light and I think it's going to cause a power cut!"
Looking bemused neither said a word! Realising they weren’t going to follow me I rushed through the hall and into the kitchen before running out of the back door and into the garden. Stopping halfway down the garden I turned to look back at the house and no sooner had I done so I saw the same object appearing over the rooftop of my home (see plate 2). Now by this stage the object appeared much higher in the sky and was not as bright as earlier but I clearly remember having the belief that there would be a power cut after it had passed over the house.
Guess what? As soon as the object passed by over me at a ninety degree angle my home and the entire surrounding area was plunged into darkness! Wow! Elated I rushed back into the house to find my parents looking even more bemused as they stumbled in the gloom to find a set of candles.
I couldn’t believe it; I’d actually predicted a power cut! It was that realisation that led me to conclude that from a second geographical location the light must have been in some way involved in triggering the series of power failures.
After approximately 30 minutes of candle power the electricity was restored and whatever it was that had happened was over. Now at the time we weren't on the phone so I had to wait until the next day to speak with Dawn. She told me the power had been off for a similar period but that her parents had dismissed what we'd seen as nothing more than a plane and the power cuts as a pure coincidence.
As for my parents, they also said that it was just a coincidence but for me it was something much more. I didn’t know what the light was but it like nothing I’d seen in the sky before.
That said I did not pursue up any follow up enquiries to establish what it may have been. The reason, well who do you tell? Because we weren’t on the phone it would have meant going round to the local confectionary shop to use one and anyway my parents didn’t believe my story, so why bother to think that anyone else would. So sadly I did nothing. I didn’t ever look in the local newspaper, The Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph, the next day to see if anyone else had witnessed the strange object.
However having seen the UFO the real effect of me was pretty much instantaneous because prior to the sighting I had no interest in the subject, afterwards I was mad keen to find out anything about flying saucers and I did what most people do after having had some kind of paranormal experience... I visited local bookshops in an effort to any reading material on the subject.
Significantly the first book I came across was entitled ‘Aliens from Space’ by Major Donald Keyhoe and it was during the course of reading it that I came across references to UFOs being linked with triggering several power grid failures in the United States (most notably the 1965 New York blackout that stranded hundreds of thousands of people for several hours). When I read that my reaction was to definitely categorize what I’d seen as a 'genuine UFO'.
But the book also impressed me because of the wealth of high calibre witnesses reporting UFO experiences. After all, Keyhoe was a senior military officer who had links with people in even higher office and he was saying for certain that a proportion of sightings, especially those by military pilots, were definite proof an extraterrestrial presence on Earth. Wow! UFOs – I was hooked.
Step 2. Discovering ‘UFO Magazine’.
So having had one genuinely puzzling UFO experience and after doing a bit of reading, my deep and lasting passion for the subject was born and so over the next year or so I built up my library of UFO related books.
But what else did I do to follow the phenomenon? Well, when I was 18 or so I became a non active associate member with BUFORA – The British UFO Research Association, a grand sounding organisation that produced a quarterly publication. It was nothing fancy, just a small A5 booklet containing news of sightings from around Britain and the world.
Was there a local club I could join? Well there were one or two people scattered around the town with an interest in the phenomena and I met with a couple of them but I never felt comfortable so never became actively involved in any investigations or the like. Having said that it would be around that time that I got involved in the organising of a local UFO event at what was then the newly opened Scunthorpe Film Theatre.
Philip Jenkinson, the presenter of the BBC Cinema programme at that time had been approached to give a presentation on the way UFOs had been depicted throughout the history of the movies. That was to take place in the evening after a full day of UFO related lectures, one of whom was from a young Jenny Randles, who has since gone on to become a prolific author on the subject.
I actually found myself opening the event and presented the first segment of the event that featured the showing of a number of classic UFO film sequences that included the famous Great Falls, Montana and Tremonton, Utah footage.
Little did I realise that the event was to mark the beginning of an extended period where I pulled back from the subject as my adult life began to take shape. By the age of 19 I was in a relationship, had a young daughter, a job and a mortgage. UFOs were still interesting but they were pushed back into the background. I would still read the occasional book and watch anything on television about the subject but that was about it.
After sixteen years of being away from the subject (during which time I got married, became a father again, spent six years in the RAF before eventually joining the Police in 1989) something happened to change all that.
By the spring of 1995 I had been police officer for almost six years. I had just been appointed an aide to CID and was seconded to a Major Crime Unit. Now from time to time the unit would have to go to Leeds and it was during one such visit that I found myself in W H Smiths on the main concourse of the station casually glancing through the racks of magazines.
Suddenly I came across a publication that literally stopped me in my tracks. There in front of me was this glossy A4 colour magazine called ‘UFO Magazine’ (published by Quest Publications). I picked it up and even now I remember the buzz of coming across the magazine for the first time. I immediately bought a copy of it and over the course of the next few months (it was then a bi-monthly publication) I began to gradually re-acquaint myself with the subject that I’d been away from for such a long time.
The first thing I noticed was the amount of new ‘evidence’ that had seemingly emerged in the public domain during the intervening years since I had been away from the subject. New evidence that took the form of thousands of documents obtained in the United States as a result of their Freedom of Information Act. Documents relating to UFOs had been released that had originated from all strands of the major intelligence and military services in America i.e. FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), NSA (National Security Agency), Army, Navy, Air Force not to mention the likes of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency).
This was significant in itself given the fact that according to the infamous ‘Condon Report’ (The Colorado University Report presided over by physicist Dr Edward Condon commissioned by the U.S Air Force to reach conclusions about the phenomenon published in 1969) had concluded that all sightings could be identified as misinterpretations of known objects or meteorological phenomena etc; and there was no evidence to support the extraterrestrial hypothesis.
Far from negating the subject, these documents appeared to totally contradict that stated position. Why if there was nothing to this subject were there so many documents (many classified at Top Secret and Secret level)? Several actually appeared to promote a belief in the extraterrestrial hypothesis.
What’s more some of the documents showed that many commercial and military pilots had come forward with extraordinary reports that quite clearly seemed to me to suggest that some UFOs were real machines that performed in ways beyond our current knowledge of technology. For example objects that could make incredible right angled turns, perform reverses in flight, make instant stops, hover in total silence, had the ability to change shape or separate into multiple objects not to mention displaying incredible bursts of acceleration (to many thousands of miles per hour and often officially confirmed on radar).
Over a period of eighteen months or so I regularly bought the magazine and purchased the latest books on the subject. In particular I was drawn to the works of two British authors, Tim Good and Nick Redfern.
Tim Good had written several best selling books about UFOs including what are arguably two of the finest works ever made on the subject, ‘Above Top Secret and Beyond Top Secret’. What particularly impressed me was the amount of factual data i.e. military and commercial pilot reports, sightings by astronauts and cosmonauts, radar operators as well as those of senior military officers (including the likes of Admirals, Generals and Colonels etc).
The other book that really impressed me was by a new British author called Nick Redfern. His book, ‘A Covert Agenda’, covered much of the same ground as Tim Good’s work – in other words providing more factual testimony and documentary evidence from a whole host of credible witnesses.
Note the phrase ‘documentary evidence’. Without realising it I was not looking at this information through the eyes of just another interested reader, no, I was assessing the material through the eyes of a police officer.
To me the testimony of the pilots, the radar confirmations, the documentary evidence all pointed to the conclusion that the phenomena was real and that some of the sightings appeared to genuinely support the premise that they were of extraterrestrial origin.
Yet there was an obvious contradiction staring me in the face. If I could see the evidence then why did the media and mainstream science dismiss it virtually out of hand? For example, one day a newspaper would publish a serious fact based article about UFOs, whilst the next day the same paper would print another piece which totally belittled the subject.
As time went by and my thirst for knowledge grew, I began to feel a sense of frustration welling up within me. More and more I began to question the reasons why the media and mainstream science were ignoring what to me was glaring evidence that indicated that the subject of UFOs was worthy of serious scientific investigation. After all I was a police officer used to dealing with ‘evidence’ everyday at work. The testimony of the high calibre witnesses alone demanded serious scientific discussion, yet there was virtually none. That sense of frustration was to suddenly manifest itself in a way that I could never have predicted.
Step 3. Writing a fictional UFO related film script!
As a teenager I had often dallied with writing stories but what always happened was that after that initial burst of enthusiasm my interest would wane and I ended up never completed the story. It was a bit of fun but no more. Now as a rule I usually can’t recall my dreams but on one particular night I went to bed and had a really vivid dream that upon waking I could still clearly remember. So much so that I quickly wrote down the premise of the story.
A respected senior U.S Senator would go on a fishing vacation with his son in the rugged wilderness region of Montana. One day as they are fishing on the lake they witness a UFO being pursued above the water by several military helicopters. Meanwhile on a hillside overlooking the lake an Oscar winning documentary filmmaker is recording a bird habitat that has the lake in the background. Moments later the helicopters take down the UFO that sinks beneath the water, all of which is captured on a state-of-the-art high definition camera. Within minutes a military retrieval operation begins to recover the alien craft and a cordon is put in place to secure the area. Anyone witnessing the crash within the cordon is to be systematically eliminated. Will the Senator and his son survive? What happens to the cameraman and will the film ever be broadcast to the outside world?
In effect my frustration had conjured up a fictional scenario that could bring about total disclosure on the subject of UFOs. I was convinced that I had a really good story, but what would I do with it? I suppose most people would think of developing the premise into a novel but for me it was always going to be in the form of a screenplay because my first genuine passion in life (away from playing football) was the cinema or as I called it ‘the pictures’. Yet in terms of writing a screenplay I had absolutely no experience or knowledge of how to do so. That said, over the course of several weeks I began to just write it down in a format that I thought could easily read. Seeking feedback I would print it off in segments and ask friends and family to read and review it. All the feedback I got indicated that the story was readable and enjoyable. But one thing stood out above all my previous attempts at writing. This time I knew that I would finally finish a story.
I found I really could sit down at a keyboard and produce something from nothing. I wrote every day for a period of eight weeks and the story developed before my very eyes until it was finished. I had finally made the journey from A to B and I was elated.
Now at this juncture you might be forgiven for wondering what the relevance is for highlighting the screenplay as a step toward evolvement of the database. Well it is relevant because of what writing the screenplay made me do next.
Step 4. Meeting Graham Birdsall, Editor, UFO Magazine
Now there is one thing thinking you have written a good story and another trying to actually prove it so after completing a second draft of 'Conclusive Proof' I wanted to get a professional ufologist to review it. So one Sunday I drove over to Ilkley where Quest Publications were then based and nervously posted a large A4 envelope through the letterbox of their business premises. The script was addressed to Graham Birdsall, the founding editor of UFO Magazine, a magazine widely regarded as the finest publication of its kind in the world.
I wondered whether he would bother to read the script and what his reaction to it might be even if he did but three or four weeks later I was to find out the answer. Early one evening whilst at home I took a call from Graham who was nothing short of gushing in praise of the script and wished me every success in trying to get it made into a film. I remember that we talked for about ten minutes and I was really flattered that he had taken the time to call me personally. What's more he had even sent a written review of the script which I framed and keep on my wall to this day.
Dated 23rd February 2000 he wrote,
Thanks for sending me a copy of your screenplay entitled 'Conclusive Proof.'
I thoroughly enjoyed reading every page and found it difficult to put down. From beginning to end, I found myself carried along in a plot full of twists and turns and was never really certain how it would all end until the final page.
Were it to become a move, I've little doubt it would be a big hit at the box office.
A UFO crash retrieval, the cover-up, murder most foul by the 'Duty, Honour, Country' brigade, the hunt, the conspiracy, the little guy coming out on top over the establishment, the truth finally dawns etc… All highly convincing and hugely entertaining.
Thanks again for allowing me the opportunity to read the screenplay and wish it, and you, every success in for the future.
Graham W. Birdsall (Editor)
As I said earlier the relevance of the above letter is important to the story of how I became active in UFO research. Not content was I to just make contact with Graham, I found myself wanting to become involved in research.
The lure of this subject was beginning to slowly take its grip on my life.
For twenty two consecutive years between 1980-2002, Graham Birdsall and UFO Magazine hosted a UFO Conference in Leeds with guest speakers flying in from all over the world. From humble beginnings the conference had grown year by year into three day event widely regarded as the subject's principal calendar conference in Britain and Europe.
On Saturday 22nd September 2001 whilst at the 21st conference I met Graham Birdsall for the first time and I was finally able to put the face to the voice from the phone from him seventeen months earlier. He remembered me from the script and again gave it high praise.
Over three days of that conference I listened to the lectures from the likes of Dr John Mack, the esteemed Harvard Psychiatrist and expert on the 'abduction phenomena', Budd Hopkins, widely regarded as the leading abduction authority in the world and Dr Richard Haines, the world's leading expert on pilot/UFO encounters.
Listening to the various speeches I found myself more and more convinced of the reality of UFOs as a real phenomena and that there was factual material in the form of real and documentary evidence to support the ET hypothesis.
That particular conference was also memorable for me for one other reason. As was custom during the lecture breaks the various speakers would mingle with the audience to sell their respective books, sign autographs and answer questions. At one such break I noticed one of the most respected ufologists in the world, Tim Good. Seizing the unexpected opportunity I approached him, told him of my high regard for his work and asked if he would be kind enough to read the script! I was pleasantly surprised to find that he was willing to do so. Several weeks later he too rang me unexpectedly and in enthusiastic tone praised the script saying he'd really enjoyed it. He wished me every success for the future and offered to help in any way he could. I was very flattered by his kind words of support.
Which brings me back to the relevance of the script, without it I would not have approached Graham Birdsall and without his influence and enthusiasm I would not have attended the conference, met Tim Good and thus opened myself up to the stimuli of some of the lecturers.
The result was I wanted to get involved in serious research. The question was how?
I now found myself at the point of wanting to become an active UFO researcher but the problem for me was doing it in a way that would fit around my full-time role of of being a busy police detective.
I contemplated joining one of the many UK based UFO organizations but concluded that such a move would not suit my particular circumstances and ruled it out. No, I had to find something that would suit my needs.
It would be a further two months before the final piece of the jigsaw would suddenly fall into place.
Step 5 - The creation of the PRUFOS Police Database.
Having finally realised that my destiny lay in UFO research I still had to find a solution to making it fit around my daily police life. What could I do that would cater for my set of circumstances?
Well, for perhaps only the second time in my life I went to bed and had another good idea. I woke up the following morning with an idea that seemed to fit all the necessary criteria to make it work for me. It was November 2001.
The idea? I would research British police officer UFO sightings and the more I thought about it the more I was certain there must have been literally hundreds of sightings made by officers during the modern era of UFOs (1947 onwards). Having said that, I guess the germ of the idea had been in my sub conscious mind for a while because as I’d done ongoing research for re drafts of my first script ‘Conclusive Proof’ I read more and more UFO literature in books and magazines.
Whilst reading them I had come across several references to British police officer UFO sightings, perhaps a dozen or so cases involving around 14 officers. I’d even bookmarked the references as if unwittingly preparing myself for the task ahead.
The database didn’t have a name at that point but the basic idea would be to record 'on and off' duty sightings made by serving and retired officers and in an effort to get them to come forward I would offer total confidentiality (if requested).
The database seemed to offer me the perfect solution for my particular set of circumstances. After all, I was a police officer and knew how they worked and their mindset.
That said I needed a catchy title for the database. It would have to contain the word ‘UFO’ within it. After one or two attempts I suddenly hit on the idea of the name ‘PRUFOS’ that stood for Police Reporting UFO Sightings.
Having thought of the name I now needed the oxygen of publicity.
I immediately thought of approaching Graham Birdsall at UFO Magazine. I quickly wrote down some notes about the proposed database and went to visit Graham at the magazine’s new offices at Stourton in Leeds. Once again I found him to be very accommodating and over a cup of coffee he invited me to outline my idea to him. I asked him if I could write an article for the magazine and just a few minutes he said ‘OK’ and that was that! So by mid December 2001 I supplied Graham with my first article for the magazine. He agreed to publish it in the January 2002 issue and it would mark the public launch of the database. I will never forget the thrill of seeing that first article in print.
When the article was published I realized that I had completed a journey that had begun unknowingly 26 years earlier with my own sighting - a journey that had fundamentally changed the course of my life.