Report was intended from outset to absolve MoD of responsibility for investigating sightings

It was 1997, the 50th anniversary of the suspected flying saucer crash at Roswell in New Mexico, and the heyday of the paranormal mystery series The X-Files. The English-speaking world was gripped by UFO-mania. But what seemed a delightful mystery to some was becoming a headache for the spooks at Britain’s Defence Intelligence Staff.

Analysts at the DI55 office, the department lumbered with the UFO brief, were being peppered with requests from ufologists – and even parliamentary questions – for information on flying saucers, taking up time they felt would be better spent on terrestrial defence matters. So top brass decided to undertake a definitive study of the unit’s collection of reported UFO sightings to establish, once and for all, whether there was anything in them.

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