Secret files released by the Ministry of Defence last week reveal its investigations into UFO sightings dating back to the Seventies, including some close encounters in the borough of Barnet. Tomasz Johnson reports.

You might think investigations of the paranormal were confined to eccentric conspiracy theorists and agents Mulder and Scully.

But previously classified files released by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) last week illustrate how seriously reports of UFOs have been taken by the Government.

Hundreds of papers detail sightings of unexplained lights and strange objects in the night sky by police, RAF officers and members of the public between 1978 and 1987.

One evocative report deals with a sighting in Stanmore on April 26, 1984, of a circular dome with flashing lights, apparently hovering over either Borehamwood or Mill Hill.

When two policemen from Edgware police station responded to the call, they were able to observe the object clearly through binoculars and recount what they saw.

One of them wrote in the report: "I saw the object was circular in the middle with a dome on top and underneath. The middle section of the object had bright blue lights around it with a red or pink light on the extreme right.

"The dome on the top had blue and white flashing. We observed the object for one hour. During this period of time the object moved erratically from side to side, up and down and to and fro."

The police report includes a rough sketch of the object, indicating where it was flashing in different colours.

The Stanmore resident who first reported the sighting told police: "My friend and I stood watching it when a blinding white ball with a trail behind went above from left to right, we both screamed at the same time. Our neighbours heard us.

"The object was moving very fast and very erratic the whole time. I am not a nutter."

Other sightings in the borough were less clear, but recorded nonetheless by the MoD.

In July 1987, three spherical orbs about four feet in diameter were spotted above Finchley Golf Course, in Frith Lane, Mill Hill East.

They were seen flying over trees on the course, at three times the height of the trees for about one minute, and reported to Golders Green police station.

In 1985, a family of three from Edgware spotted what they described to police as "an unusual, small aircraft".

The sighting was reported to Air Force Operations and the investigating officer noted: "Witness thought object may have been balloon but discounted this due to speed of object which was as quick as a small aircraft."

During the period covered by the files, the MoD papers claim its interest in UFO sightings was not that aliens might have been invading, but that aircraft from hostile states had entered British airspace.

Nonetheless, the unusual and fleeting nature of these sightings left the Government guessing at their origins, although experts say they are most commonly aircraft lights, bright stars and planets, satellites, meteors, or airships.

The last public debate about UFO sightings held by the Government took place in 1979, instigated by ufologist Lord Clancarty, who tabled a motion demanding a public inquiry into their existence.

The Government's position, however, was delivered by Lord Strabolgi, who told his fellow peers: "Let me assure this House that Her Majesty's Government has never been approached by people from outer space.

"There is nothing to suggest to Her Majesty's Government that such phenomena are alien spacecraft."

With a keen interest in aviation and bird watching, Finchley resident Donald Lyven has spent much of the past 40 years with his eyes skyward but says he has seen nothing unusual.

"People often tell me they've seen lights hovering in the sky but it's always aeroplanes being held in stack over London, waiting to land," he said.

"I'd love to see something like this but in more than 40 years I've seen nothing unusual. Disappointingly, I should add."

m To view the reports released last Wednesday, go to