BRITAIN'S original Men in Black were light years away, it seems, from Mulder and Scully of X-Files fame.

An investigation team, working under the comical title of the Flying Saucer Working Party, was set up from Ministry of Defence officials following a spate of UFO sightings in post-war Britain.

Earlier this month the lid was lifted on the group when the Public Record Office released documents under its 50-year rule. DSI/JTIC Report No 7 Unidentified Flying Objects revealed that one of the group's most curious assignments was to look into a sighting in the skies over Farnborough.

In 1951 an experienced test pilot reported a low-level, fast flying aircraft over the town and the men from the ministry came out to investigate.

RAF Flight Lieutenant Hubbard claimed he had seen "a flat disc, light pearl in colour, about 50ft in diameter" flying low at speeds of 800 to 1,000mph over Farnborough.

Two weeks later Flt Lt Hubbard came forward again to say he had seen another disc-shaped object low in the sky in the direction of Farnham and this time it had been seen by five other senior RAF officers.

All six were interrogated by the MoD team and banned from discussing their experience in public.

When the team produced their report on the Farnborough UFOs they concluded the pilot's first sighting was an optical illusion because — they reasoned — the object could not have flown so low and fast without other people spotting it.

The testimony of the five officers was undermined by the MoD saying they had already been influenced by Hubbard's original report. The working party concluded it was probably a normal aircraft that seemed unusual because it was seen manoeuvring in the distance.

The revelation of the existence of the working party has caused a stir in the world of UFO enthusiasts. It has added to the conspiracy theories and demonstrated just how seriously the government took the spate of flying saucer sightings on both sides of the Atlantic after the war.

But UFO experts said news of the Farnborough flying saucer was no surprise, because Hampshire alone is still subject to up to 30 unexplained sightings every year.

The Southampton UFO Group, which covers the whole of Hampshire, has been collating information from reported sightings for more than ten years.

Its founder and chairman Steve Gerrard said: "We normally receive between 20 and 30 sighting reports a year. The activity is not as much as in the Yorkshire area but that could be because there's not as many groups collating information in the south as in other areas. There's a lack of co-ordination which leads to missed information."

He described the types of sighting reports the group receive.

"There can be a range of reports from lights in the sky to physical craft, to people being taken aboard craft as in the case at the Basingstoke Canal and Alfred Burtoo in 1983."

Mr Gerrard went on to explain the way SUFOG investigated sightings.

"Wherever the sighting is we go. We contact a lot of people who may be able to prove or invalidate a report — military police, search and rescue teams, we make appeals through the local newspaper for other witnesses. A good one to use is star-charts — to see if there is anything happening that might explain sightings. We follow every angle we can."

Graham Birdsall, editor of UFO Magazine, was critical of the official investigation into the Farnborough sightings in the Fifties.

He said: "Essentially, they undermined the officers at Farnborough. They are trained observers and they would not risk ridicule by saying they had seen something like this if they hadn't.

"They undermine the report of Hubbard saying that other people should have seen the craft too.

"But when five other officers make statements on the second sighting they say they were influenced by Hubbard's original report.

"How many witnesses did they want before taking it seriously?"

Mr Birdsall added: "An important point to make is that, at that time, we hadn't been to the moon yet. Space travel was still thought of as impossible — and if we couldn't do it, how could anything else?

"The people in Farnborough must have seen something so unusual that they risked ridicule, possibly their future career even. It was very brave and well done to them for coming forward."

Mr Gerrard believes the officers must have seen something unusual.

He said: "People like pilots and police officers are trained to observe so they knew what they were looking at.

"As investigators there is a lot more credence given to their reports precisely because they are trained."

The problem with sightings is that they leave nothing behind but the memory of the witness and perhaps a few tongue-in-cheek newspaper reports.

Until a physical item provides tangible evidence that even the most ardent cynic can't argue with, alternative explanations will always be put forward.

In this area, with its military links, it has been easy to dismiss any peculiar sightings as connected with the Army, RAF or Royal Air Establishment, especially amid the paranoia of the early Cold War.

However, by looking into the News archives, it becomes clear that many sightings over many years are still awaiting an explanation.

More information on UFOs can be found on the Southampton UFO Group website at www.sufog.freeserve.co.uk. and UFO Magazine's website at www.ufomag.co.uk.

AFTER news broke of the investigation into the sightings at Farnborough, we delved into our archives and found an X-File of our own:

November 11, 1969

Surrey Investigation Group on Aerial Phenomena announces it has investigated 171 unidentified flying object reports since its formation in 1967.

SIGAP claims more than a quarter of them remain unexplained.

The group's chairman, Omar Fowler, said that SIGAP treated all sightings impartially and adopted a scientific attitude in its investigations.

He said: "We cannot say from the evidence we have examined whether or not the genuine UFOs were from another world. But our research does show that the whole subject is worthy of international scientific investigation."

February 5, 1971

Fifteen ambulances, two fire engines and five police cars rush to Farnham's Folly Hill after reports of a crashed aircraft — but no wreckage was ever found.

Art Student James Rawlence, 21, made the emergency call. "I saw an orange light in the sky. I thought it was sparking the electricity pylons. It was lighting up the clouds.

"It went down over the horizon very fast. Five minutes later there was a flash and a slight bang."

But after checking with the RAE, the Army, RAF Odiham and Blackbushe Airport it was confirmed there were no aircraft in the area at 7.10pm on that evening.

April 4, 1978

Doris Luke, of Park Row, Farnham, has a close encounter with a flying saucer. She said at the time of the sighting: "It was just like a spinning top, dull black on the bottom and brilliant silver, like moonlight, on the top. It came at an angle from the north and seemed to float at a terrific speed."

April 11, 1978

Eight people reported sightings of an unidentified flying object in the skies above Farnborough and Ash.

Peter Inwood, a former wartime Royal Observer Corps member, alerted police to an electric blue UFO that changed rapidly through red, white, green, orange and gold.

Pc Alan Cragg said the object was not an aircraft and watched it for 25 minutes before it moved off.

October 14, 1983

Pensioner Alfred Burtoo, of Aldershot, claims he was taken on board a UFO while on a fishing trip at the Basingstoke Canal.

Mr Burtoo said the flying saucer settled on the bank and two forms came towards him. They were dressed in pale green suits, were about 4ft tall and had dark visors covering faces.

One of the little green men spoke to Mr Burtoo in "a kind of sing-song voice, with an accent something between Russian and Chinese."

He later said: "They asked me how old I was and I said 78 next birthday. Then they said I could go because I was too old and infirm for their purpose."

July 27, 1984

A SPATE of mysterious, unexplained noises are heard by several people in Aldershot late at night.

The sounds seemed to cut through the atmosphere, filling the air with a loud humming.

Aldershot police said they were not aware of any problem of unexplained night-time noises of the type described.

An Army spokesman said the military had received many inquiries but could not offer any explanation about the sounds.

January 12, 1988

Sixteen-year-old Andrew Findlay joined the ranks of people who claim to have had a close encounter after seeing a UFO over Bagshot.

Andrew said: "There was a gap in the clouds and out of it came a flying saucer shaped thing. It was bright white with green lights in the middle of it."

November 1, 1994

A former policeman and his wife report seeing a mystery aircraft flying silently over Farnborough.

Mrs Bos, of Austen Road, Farnborough, said: "It was silent, had no lights and just moved along in the sky."