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Features: Fortean Bureau of Investigation


Policeman Probed

British bobby abducted by aliens!

Godfrey illo

Illustration by Florent Calvez


Alan Godfrey’s experience in November 1980 is widely regarded as one of the most significant examples of an ‘alien abduction’ in the UK. It is certainly seminal, in that such claims were few and far between at the time it occurred, even in the USA. Like many other UFO reports, it relies on the testimony of a single witness. But Godfrey is an impressive witness. Everyone who has met him has been struck by the straightforward, matter-of-fact way he recounts his story. And this story, despite minor variations and inflat­ions, has remained remarkably consistent over the years.

So when, early in 2008, the producers of Channel Five’s series Britain’s Closest Encounters asked David Clarke and Andy Roberts to take part in a documentary centred on Godfrey’s experience, they leapt at the opportunity to look again at a classic British ‘close encounter’ case that had long fascinated them. Following the programme, they were joined in further raking over the case, in protracted email exchanges, by Gary Anthony, Peter Brookesmith, and Jenny Randles. Jenny was part of the team from the Manchester UFO Research Assoc­iation (MUFORA) that investigated the case in the early 1980s, and she later wrote a detailed report of it in The Pennine UFO Mystery (Granada, 1983). Despite persistent wheedling, we were unable to persuade Alan Godfrey to respond to our findings.

So, first, take yourself back to the early morning of Saturday 29 November 1980.[1] Just to help you with controls of your time machine:

• The Russians have invaded Afghanistan.
• War has broken out between Iraq and Iran.
• The Iron Curtain is still in place across Europe, but the Polish workers are pushing hard against it.
• In the UK we are in the middle of a recession, and Prime Minister Thatcher has declared she is “not for turning”.
• Michael Foot is the new Labour leader.
• Blondie are at No 1 in the UK charts with The Tide is High, and John Lennon is alive and well and living in New York.

We are in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, an old mill town nestling at the juncture of three Pennine valleys on the border between Yorkshire and Lancashire. The town is surrounded by bleak gritstone moorlands, which rise to some 460m above sea level and are scattered with reservoirs and sheep farms. Tod, as it’s known locally, has a population of just 11,000 souls. One of them is Police Con­stable Alan Godfrey. Tonight he is working his regular night shift, which is due to end at 6:00am. Here, with a few passing comm­ents, is his story as it’s usually told – the ‘canonical’ version.[2]

PC Godfrey had spent much of the night driving around in a panda car with a fellow officer trying to locate a herd of cattle that had been seen wandering around a housing estate. Having had no success, he dropped his colleague back at the police station. At 5.05am, he decided to drive back up Burnley Road, which leads to the northwest of the town, for a final look around.

It wasn’t exactly a dark and stormy night in Todmorden, but it was a typical grim night up North – cold, wet and miserable. Earlier, rain had fallen as a frontal system passed over the Pennine hills. This had now cleared away, but the road was still wet and glistening under the streetlights. Godfrey turned onto Burnley Road, and drove the few hundred yards towards the junction with Ferney Lee Road. Just as he was about to turn in there, a large object caught his attention, further up Burnley Road. At first, from the double row of black windows or panels along its side,[3] he thought it was one of the mill buses that took workers to their jobs in town; one, he knew, passed here at about 5:00am. (Years later, he would say he wondered too if it was perhaps a hot-air balloon). But as he approached, he realised he was looking at a fuzzy oval with a light beneath it, rotating at such speed and hovering so low that it was shaking leaves on the bushes by the roadside. (Godfrey now maintains that leaves were being torn off, and trees and bushes were bending over, from the draught.)

Godfrey parked about 30m from the object, and attempted to use both the car VHF radio and his personal UHF ‘batphone’ to report what he was seeing. Both failed to work. He took out a pad kept in the patrol car to make sketches of road accidents, and drew the object. Then there was a burst of light, and the next thing he knew he was driving his car again, 90–140m further up Burnley Road, with no sign of the thing he had seen. Godfrey drove back to the town centre, picked up a colleague who was on foot patrol, and took him to examine the spot where the ‘UFO’ had hovered. Here, Godfrey noted a circular patch where the roadway had been dried in a swirled pattern; his companion later said he himself did not observe this. Returning finally to the police station at about 5:30am, Godfrey realised that it was a little later than he had expected – although any ‘missing time’ probably amounted to just a few minutes.[4]

Not wanting to be mocked, Godfrey at first chose not to make an official report. He changed his mind when he discovered that after breakfast that morning, a driver had contacted Todmorden police to report seeing a brilliant white object on the Burnley Road at Cliviger, 4.8km from Todmorden. The time matched that of Godfrey’s sighting. Furthermore, a police patrol from Halifax had been engaged in a search for stolen motorcycles on the moors of the Calder Valley and had witnessed a brilliant blue-white glow descending towards Todmorden shortly before Godfrey experienced his close encounter. Their story, when it reached Todmorden police station, formed a second match. Encouraged by this news, Godfrey filed a report.[5]

A week later, and to Godfrey’s surprise, the police released details of both sightings to the local weekly newspaper, the Todmorden Times, which ran a front-page story under the headline MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU (a reference to Star Wars). It was here that the first hints emerged that something altogether stranger might have happened to Godfrey than just “seeing a UFO”. In the interview with the newspaper, he recalled that, as he sat watching the UFO, he heard a voice say: “You should not be seeing this. This isn’t for your eyes.” He told the reporter: “Now whether someone was telling me this, or I was just thinking it, I don’t know.”

Although Alan Godfrey had no idea what happened during the apparently missing time, he noted that one of his police-issue boots had been split on the sole, as if he had been dragged along the ground and it had caught on something. He also had increasingly confused, “dreamlike”, memories of what happened after the sighting. In one, he saw the object simply fade away. He then drove on through the point where it had been to the place on Burnley Road where he first remembered regaining consciousness. A second memory had him backing the patrol car away and returning to the ‘landing’ spot. Then, after an on-site reconstruction with MUFORA, a third fragmentary memory returned in which, while the object was still visible, he got out of the car and went into the muddy field beside the road.

Some months later, in August 1981, Godfrey was hypnotically regressed. His own hope was that this would clarify which of his conflicting memories was accurate. Instead, over several sessions, something resembling an ‘abduction’ account emerged. Godfrey later told Jenny Randles: “What I said under hypnosis is a mystery to me. I will accept the fact that it might be something I have read, dreamt or seen. I just don’t know.”

The testimony that emerged was indeed very odd. Under regression, he told of the bright light stopping the car engine (an event he doesn’t consciously recall) and engulfing him. He was floated through an opening in the UFO, into something like a room in a house, oval yet with corners, and with a carpet on the floor – an unusual feat­ure in ‘spaceships’ as described by abductees. There was machinery, too, which pained him when he tried to look at it. In the corner of the room—

“There’s a bloody dog down there.”
“A dog?” asks the hypnotherapist, Dr Jaffe. “Describe the dog.”
“Well I think it’s a dog. Horrible. Just looks like a dog… like the size of an Alsatian.”
“What’s he doing?”
“Just sat there.”

Godfrey was persuaded onto a black leather bed, where he was studied by a frequently smiling, heavily bearded man with a long thin nose, wearing a skull cap and a robe “like a white sheet”. He telepathic­ally conveyed that his name was ‘Yosef’. Something like “bracelets” were attached to Godfrey’s right arm, left leg, and head. There was no intimate medical examination, as often reported by abductees, but assisting Yosef was a group of about eight metallic, robot-like creatures the height of “a little five-year-old lad”. Two of them “plugged in” to the bracelets. [6] Godfrey described them as “horrible”, and as “feeling my cloth”. In one session he says they have heads “like a lamp”; in another he says he “could not have seen their heads. They have a sort of lampshade on.” They made a noise similar to the robot Tweeky’s Bi-de-bi-de-bi-de in the science fiction series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, then showing on ITV.

Our analysis of this case fell fairly naturally into three broad parts. Perhaps most easily dealt with, for reasons soon to become clear, was the account given under hypnosis. More problematic was what Alan Godfrey actually saw on Burnley Road, and what caused him to report it as he did. We didn’t wholly agree on the causes here.

We were agreed that the hypnosis sess­ions didn’t indicate that an abduction by aliens had occurred. As Jenny Randles wryly remarked: “Alan’s confused conscious flashbacks… were never helped by the hypnosis, which is only interesting if you believe in dog-owning Jewish extra­terrestrials called Joseph, who own robots bought from the Buck Rogers film set, and visit CarpetRight to fit out their spaceships.” Taken on its own, the imagery of the black dog and the prophet-like ‘alien’ smacks more of terrest­rial folklore than of authentic aliens.[7] As it happened, the first name of one hypno­therapist involved, Dr Jaffe, was Joseph; and he was an orthodox Jew, though how obviously so isn’t clear. In the trance, the authority-figure of the healing hypnotherapist was perhaps transmuted into a stereotype of sorts – a patriarchal Hebrew prophet in a doctor’s white garb. However, the other two people present at the sessions (a lawyer and a tailor) were also Jewish, and had spent much time with Godfrey in the previous few months. This may be a more significant influence than Dr Jaffe’s, particularly as the ‘Yosef’ figure was first mentioned in a session with a different, non-Jewish hypnotherapist.

That the account doesn’t fit very well with what we now take to be a ‘standard’ abduct­ion scenario isn’t surprising, even though it’s known that Godfrey had read some UFO literature before being regressed. In 1981, ufologists were familiar with fewer than a score of abduction cases. Only four of these – Betty and Barney Hill (New Hampshire, 1961), Herb Schirmer (Nebraska, 1967), Hickson and Parker (Mississippi, 1973), and Travis Walton (Arizona, 1973) had had wide general publicity. None of the entit­ies in these cases matched any other, let alone Godfrey’s. A few blurred patterns of behaviour were apparent across the whole range of cases, most likely deriving from the Hills’ archetypal account, but the vari­ations in the aliens’ forms become even more extreme. A few had a leading figure with more dimin­utive ‘helpers’, notably the Avis/Day case (England, 1974), whose aliens consisted of humanoid ‘controllers’ over 1.8m tall in one-piece silvery suits, and who sported slanted pink eyes with no pupils and long noses. They were aided by ‘examiners’ – hairy, bearded dwarves with triangular eyes, beaked noses, slit-like mouths and hairy, claw-like hands. Other aliens resembled mushrooms, brains, mummies, men in black, and more dwarves (see 'More Space Oddities', below). The Antonio da Silva case features a prophet-like figure, much more resembling archetypal representations of Christ than a Hebrew patriarch. The entity is singular in that it appears in a vision within the abduction, like a dream within a dream: da Silva’s abduct­ors were unaware of this other unearthly presence.

To the extent that Godfrey’s account foll­ows the received ‘standard’ sequence of events in abductions, the length of ‘missing time’, if it exists, is negligible; otherwise, many standard episodes are missing. Godfrey may have simply been using common sense here, or have picked up elements, such as the ‘examination’ phase, from his pre-hypnotic reading. We don’t know if he was familiar with the da Silva case or, indeed, any others. It is certain that he was not hypnotised by people imbued with ufological or alien-abduction lore, and so wasn’t to be led (however subtly or unconsciously) over either specifics or generalities. As the cases from the 1960s and ’70s show, the reported physical appearance of ‘alien’ entities and their behaviour was heterogeneous. Meanwhile, the abduction folklore had not yet crystallised into a recognisable pattern – and that pattern itself was to mutate more than once after 1981.

Let’s rewind to Alan Godfrey’s init­ial experience on Burnley Road. What did he see, and what made him think it was a UFO?

Jenny Randles believes there is a strong case for his seeing an unidentified atmo­spheric phenomenon (UAP) – a catch-all term for a range of light phenomena that includes earthlights, ball lightning, and atmospheric plasmas and vortices similar to those proposed by Terence Meaden as the source for some crop circles. There have been literally thousands of sightings of this type of UAP reported in the Pennine region between Yorkshire and Lancashire: the area has been dubbed “UFO Alley”. Reports describe nocturnal lights that dance around, split apart, merge, and sometimes emerge from or disappear into the ground.

An analysis of 10,278 UFO sightings between 1947 and 2001 shows that, as a ratio of population against sighting numbers, sightings are 12 times more frequent within this sparsely settled region than the national average. Cases with reported physical effects average 2.8 per cent but rise to 10.1 per cent in this area; and 73 per cent of all alien contact reports within the Penn­ines occurred within 16km of Todmorden. There was a major build-up of sightings during 1979 and 1980. Godfrey’s experience occurred at the height of an intense UFO flap that included two other independently reported ‘alien encounters’ on the road to Burnley. And Godfrey’s exper­ience and others from the Pennine region have features in common:

•  Electrical disturbances – as in the interference on Godfrey’s UHF and VHF radios when the UFO was present. This is highly suggestive of unusual atmospheric ionisation known to be associated with UAPs.
•  The appearance of the UFO just after a low-pressure frontal weather system had cleared the area. Such meteoro­logical conditions have been identified as a trigger for the creation of spin-off atmospheric vort­ices. Godfrey described the leaves shaking on nearby trees as the object hovered, rotating. Later he found a dry, swirled pattern on the road surface. This is consistent with the transient traces left by a rotating vortex. In other cases, these have left traces in hay, grass, snow and sand.
•  Godfrey described the UFO as a like a glowing, spinning top. He also described a series of dark blotches on it, which he interpreted as windows. This is a common feat­ure of reports of rotating funnel vortices. Similar descriptions can be found in some 200 other cases turned up by Randles’s crop circle research.
•  Finally we have the (admittedly controversial) theories of Dr Michael Persinger and Paul Devereux. These suggest that some people, who are more susceptible to the effects of ionisation and other energy fields, might experience ‘missing time’ and spatial relocation in close proximity to a UAP. Only a few people – in the right place at the right time, or who got closest to the UAP – would experience a full-blown altered state of consciousness that might be perceived as an ‘alien contact experience’.[8]

Andy Roberts, on the other hand, argues that Godfrey may well be reporting his own experience, but that it is unlikely to have taken place in our consensus reality – for the following reasons. First, there is no physical evidence that what Godfrey described took place at all. Second, it was well publicised, and has since featured in numerous books, magazines and TV documentaries. Yet no other witness to any part of it has come forward.[9]

This seems odd, as the event took place on one of the main Yorkshire-to-Lancashire trans-Pennine routes. Also, in 1980, the main road from Todmorden to Burnley was lined with mills and houses. The mills in those days worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and there would have been workers going to and coming from their 6:00am shift-changes at mills in East Lanca­shire and West Yorkshire, by car, on foot and by bus. Not to mention early morning market traders and others setting off from or going to their day’s work. It’s reason­able to suggest, although not certain, that some human being would have passed that spot at the time Godfrey was there. Yet no one reported seeing a huge hovering UFO, nor did anyone report, in the wake of the national and local publicity about the case, seeing a UFO and/or Godfrey on Burnley Road at the time.

As mentioned previously, Godfrey was encouraged to make an official report when he was told about another sighting by three Halifax police officers that same night (28/29 November). They saw “a very bright steel blue flashing light” moving north-to-south high in the sky over the moors. They saw this strange light two or three times as it zoomed around the sky at close range. This reportedly occurred about 15 minutes before Godfrey’s encounter, and was all the more significant in that the light was last seen disappearing in the direction of Todmorden. That’s how the story was told in the local paper at the time, and subsequently in all other accounts of the case.

But if one looks carefully at the report sent to the Ministry of Defence by West Yorkshire Police (which can be seen in an MOD file released at the UK National Archives in 2007), one notices the date given is 21 November 1980 – approximately one week earlier than Godfrey’s sighting. Could this simply be a typo? No. Because the Halifax officers’ report was attached to a forwarding letter from West Yorkshire Police HQ, which is clearly dated 24 November 1980 – four days before Godfrey’s report. This demolishes one of the key claims made about Godfrey’s story – that it was corroborated by the sighting by the three Halifax constables on the same night.

Nonetheless, let’s consider the possibility that things happened as Godfrey said they did, and he did see a large object that appeared to hover a few feet above the road. What could have caused it? It could have been a large, metallic UFO that no one else saw. But curr­ently there is no evidence that could prove or disprove whether or not this is what actually took place. Perhaps, then, what he drew and described couldn’t be seen by others because it took place entirely in his mind. That’s an equally unprovable contention – unless there is some form of stimulus that might explain his experience. Godfrey has stated repeatedly that when he saw the object his first thought was that it was a bus. Indeed, when Godfrey was hypnotically regressed his first words on encountering the UFO were: “It’s a bus. (Pause) It’s not a bus.”

Why did Godfrey think a UFO was a bus – or, perhaps more to the point, why did he think a bus was a UFO? Consider this: Godfrey has been up all night. It’s the latter part of his shift and he’s been unsucc­essfully hunting cows up and down the backstreets of Todmorden. He’s driving up Burnley Road, tired, through a light drizzle. Suddenly he sees something at a bus stop opposite the Mons Mill. Whatever it is, by his own account, it reflected the headlights of his police car. He can’t immediately recognise the object but thinks it’s a bus. As his tired, perhaps confused, mind processes this information, he slips into an altered state of consciousness (ASC), and in this hallucinatory state, voilà, the bus becomes a UFO. The ASC lasts long enough for him to test his radios, sketch the object, and drive his car 90m or more up the road before he comes round.

But why would he misinterpret a bus as a UFO, and why did he draw the particular shape he did? Consider what he did draw – it’s quite different from the configuration of UFOs that people usually describe; we don’t know of any other UFO image quite like Godfrey’s.

So if he did misperceive a mundane object such as a bus and slipped into an ASC in which the bus became a UFO, where did he get his imagery from?

Perhaps it came from a prefabricated, plastic building called the Futuro. He would have seen the Futuro house in Todmorden, almost every day of his life – some days many times – over a 12-year period. For the building was parked at the side of Burnley Road, in a number of locations between 1969 and the early 1980s. Initially, it was used as an information centre, when it was situated just a few hundred yards from Todmorden police station. Latterly it sat outside a factory on Burnley Road.

It is possible then that the following took place: Godfrey sees a bus parked at the stop on Burnley Road, and slips into an ASC thinking he has seen a UFO, whose appearance is created from stored mental images of the Futuro house. People could have driven or walked past him while this was happening: all they would have seen was a bus, and a police car parked nearby, with a policeman in the driver’s seat. Hence no one would report anything out of the ordinary and probably wouldn’t connect what they had seen with the Godfrey UFO story when it broke in the press.

It seems unlikely that we will ever resolve precisely what happened to Alan Godfrey. But, if he didn’t make his experience up or simply dream it, there has to be an explan­ation. The bus-and-ASC hypothesis is the simplest and most elegant explanation available, and it accounts for all the elements of his story. The shaking leaves, in this scenario, were disturbed by a large vehicle’s exhaust; the dry patch and swirled pattern on the road were produced by a combination of heat from the exhaust and the vehicle sheltering the road from the rain for a while.[10]

Even if we accept the likelihood of an ASC, this is not an entirely straightforward hypo­thesis. ‘Altered state of consciousness’ is a portmanteau term for experiences with a variety of causes and effects. What happens is that one dissociates from one’s normal sense of self, and/or that sense of self dissociates itself from one’s physical body. One may, as in an out-of-body experience, seem to separ­ate from the physical self, even be able to watch it (it may be asleep, or awake; inert, or highly active). One may temporarily lose all consciousness (so entailing loss of memory) of what one’s body is doing, as some people do during epileptic fits. One may experience a blissful oneness with God, as mystics report, or enter a mental realm of dream-like narrat­ive, which possibly best describes accounts of shamanic journeys and other visionary exper­iences. While trauma, exhaustion or sleep disturbance, intensely monotonous activity or frenzied activity or hyper-awareness or extreme boredom can trigger an ASC, the literature supports the idea that sensory numbness or relentless repetitive rhythms or exhaustion, or a combination of these factors, are nearly always involved. There’s also some evidence that plasma-like electromagnetic phenomena (earthlights and such, or UAPs) can induce an ASC.

Some things can be said unequivocally in favour of Alan Godfrey having slipped into an ASC of some kind. Perhaps the most telling is that he is known to have had hallucinatory experiences and episodes of missing time before. This should be emphasised – that, first, anyone can hallucinate (doing so is not a sign of mental pathology) and, second, that a hallucination is indistinguishable from reality, and forms memories that seem to be veridical. Godfrey’s first experience occurred in childhood, when “a ball of light ‘like the earth rushing towards him’ had appeared in his bedroom”.[11] Then, in 1965, aged about 18, he was driving home with his girlfriend at about 2am when, sudd­enly, “a woman with a dog seemed to step out in front of them. Alan hit the brakes and yelled out, ‘Bloody hell! I think I’ve run over her.’ … [He] stopped and got out. There was nothing to see. Badly shaken, the pair drove home, to discover that two hours of time had vanished as myst­eriously as the phantom figure.” This story closely follows other ‘road ghost’ tales known to folklorists.
About five years after this, Godfrey was in a park walking his brother’s dog, which sudd­enly ran off. “Alan thought he could make out a form in the bushes; it turned out to be a friend.” When he didn’t return home with the dog, Godfrey’s brother went looking for him and found him wandering alone in a daze. He seemed to remember talking with his friend. But the man in question had died some months previously.[12] These last two instances are particularly pertinent because they follow the same pattern as the Todmorden experience: a gross misperception of an object of some kind, which proved so surprising it induced a trance-like state, in which either no distinct memory, or a false one, registered.

We can but speculate about what else may have made Godfrey vulnerable to slipping into an ASC on this occasion. He was working the night shift, a disruption of normal diurnal rhythms, and may have been awake for many hours longer than normal. He was also prob­ably debilitated by long-term phys­ical distress due to injuries sustained in an assault while on duty, and consequent surgery, some months before. A combination of disturbed sleep patterns and chronic weariness from pain would have made him particularly susceptible to an ASC; his confusion at seeing the ‘UFO’ may have been the final trigger.

Alternatively, he may have had a seizure (‘fit’) of some kind; if this was a solitary episode of the kind that strikes one in five people in a lifetime, there is no way of knowing what kind of seizure it was. Tests for epilepsy conducted later by police-approved doctors proved negative, but we don’t know what those tests were, or how thorough they were compared to modern techniques. We note that an epileptic seizure (a sudden disruption of communications among neurons in the brain), like other ASCs, may begin with a “burst of light” as Godfrey reported; and during a petit mal fit some people are capable both of being ‘unconscious’ and of performing complex self-preserving acts in a potentially lethal environment.[13] Godfrey’s later competing memories suggest that his brain was desperate to fill a gap in his consciousness and was flitting between alternat­ive possibilities, as brains do.

The other difficulty with the ASC hypo­thesis is that there was clearly some delay before it took full effect. Some major shift of perception seems to have occurred between Godfrey’s first thinking he was seeing a bus (it was perhaps another large vehicle), then seeing what is so startlingly like a local landmark, the Futuro house; we interpret this ‘vision’ as a projection of memorial mat­erial in a liminal state of consciousness. At this stage, Godfrey was apparently still able consciously to stop his car and make a sketch of the ‘UFO’ before losing touch completely with normal awareness. It would appear that this ASC fully kicked in only with the burst of light and his hearing a voice saying “This is not for your eyes” – which he described as not exactly an external voice but “very much like his own thinking voice”, inside his head, speaking in an unusual monotone – and subsequent loss of consciousness.

This is at least redolent of a ‘complex-partial’ epileptic seizure, which starts in one hemisphere of the brain, often in the temporal lobe. It may spread to areas that govern consciousness, and may involve visual, auditory and/or olfactory hallucinations. Complete loss of consciousness may follow, particularly if the seizure spreads to both brain hemispheres.[14] Whether or not such a movement through different stages (or levels) within a single episode of a non-epileptic ASC is relatively common has (so far) proved difficult to establish. That there are different levels or kinds of ASC is not at issue: there are recognised ‘depths’ of hypnotic trance, for instance, while both meditators and users of hallucinogens report experiencing distinct levels of altered awareness, which seasoned meditators can reach at will. There has also been some academic discussion of the characteristics of progressive stages in shamanic (induced) trance. [15]

There are, of course, other interpret­ations of Godfrey’s account. One is that he made it up to explain being out of radio contact (we have only his word that both his radios failed to function), for whatever reason. Perhaps he fell asleep. Perhaps he fell asleep and dreamed the whole thing; sleep, after all, is an altered state of consciousness, and one enters it in stages. It is also possible, if unprovable, that Godfrey is misremembering the order of events. He may have been discombobulated by the ‘UFO’, gone straight into an ASC, regained normal consciousness a bit further up the road, and then tried his radios and made his sketch. One may speculate that he then constructed, post hoc, a logical sequence of events from random, fragmentary memories of experience. This ‘rational’ version resolves any problem of conflicting memories (although we know these persisted) and shows Godfrey following something like proper police procedure. Through processes well known to psycho­logists,[16] this reconstruction would then become the dominant, actually false but seemingly real, memory – the story Godfrey has soberly repeated all these years.

So, all in all, even if our re-examination of the case so far suggests that the UK’s most renowned ‘abduction’ was largely the creat­ion of ufologists, it also shows how a relatively ordinary event can become an extraordinary one, given the right person in the right place at the right time. Nonetheless, as with all the best forteana, many questions remain unanswered, and some perhaps remain unanswerable.

1 Accounts of the case usually give the date as 28 November 1980 (see for example Sunday Mirror, 29 Nov 1981). Alan Godfrey started his shift on that day; this was due to end at 6:00am the following day (29 November), and his encounter occurred about an hour before that.
2 We have omitted from this account the story of Alan Godfrey’s involvement in finding the corpse of Zygmunt Adamski the previous June. Despite some febrile press claims, this still-open murder case has no connection with Godfrey’s ‘abduct­ion’ experience, or even with UFOs, beyond the deceased sharing a surname with the celebrated contactee George Adamski of Palomar, California (died 23 April 1965).
3 Alan Godfrey, email of 14 Nov 2008 to Andy Roberts: “I have never described the object as having TWO banks of windows, if you listen to what I have always said, I describe it as having a ‘row of darkened windows or they could have been dark panelling I wasn’t sure’.” We stand by our impression of a double row of windows, easily taken from Godfrey’s sketches of what he saw. It is also a matter of history that most mill buses traversing Todmorden were double-deckers.
4 In a 2008 interview for Channel Five, Godfrey inflated the period of ‘missing time’ to 30 minutes, which doesn’t stand examination. He set eyes on the ‘UFO’ at about 5:07am. If one allows: 10 seconds for him to react to the ‘UFO’ and brake to a halt; 30 seconds to attempt radio contact; 30 seconds to make his sketch; and 40–60 seconds to drive 100–150 yards (at 5mph) – then about two minutes elapse between the initial sighting and turning the panda car to drive to the town centre. This is an ambiguous term, so he may have driven as far as some 700 yards down the road, taking longer than the two minutes that the outward journey took. He then gathered up a colleague, drove back to the ‘landing site’, examined it, and then returned to the station, where he arrived at about 5:30. If each journey took about three minutes, he’s consumed at least another six minutes of an available 23, leaving 11 minutes to examine the landing site and be abducted. We don’t know how long he was unconscious (when presumably any abduction would have occurred) and we don’t know how long the two officers spent at the landing-place, and we may be underestimating the journey times, which involved getting in and out of cars, reversing, etc., as well as actual driving and parking time. Even at these conservative estimates, however, there seems precious little time left for the aliens to get to work.
5 This report was not forwarded to the MoD and so does not appear in their files. In April 2008, West Yorkshire Police responded to an FOIA request (reference FOI-2008127/82) with the observation that the report “has been disposed of in line with our Information Retention Policy”, which means that because it was not directly related to a criminal incident or allegation it was binned after a few months. The report by the Halifax officers was, however, forwarded to the MoD. It would be interesting to know what criteria WYP used in each case in these decisions.
6 ‘Bracelet’ was the term used for a teleportation device used in the BBC TV series Blake’s Seven, which ran for four series in the UK from 1978 to 1981, and was celebrated for continuity gaffes, dire costumes and spectacularly ham acting.
7 Curiously, Godfrey said under hypnosis that he didn’t like dogs (he certainly didn’t like that one). He was puzzled by this, because in fact he did; they were a constant feature of his family life.
8 Others in this ad hoc research group felt that the plasma-vortex hypothesis was too exotic to be given a high probability rating; and specifically that a 6m-wide, 4m-high PV was unprecedentedly large, while its energy source remains problematic for one that lasted long enough for PC Godfrey to sketch it. It was also noted that Terence Meaden’s conclusions regarding plasma vortices (reached in an attempt to explain complex crop circles, all of which turned out to be man-made) has largely been discredited. See xstreamscience.org, section 7ff, for a discussion of the relevant problems. Plasma vortices form in high-atmosphere auroræ because extremely low pressures there allow them to, and self-sustaining plasmas form only as part of a large weather system. Former MoD scientist Rodney Ashby (telephone conversations with Peter Brookesmith, 12 Feb, 22 Feb 2009) calculated that at ground-level atmospheric press­ure an electrically driven plasma of such size and duration would require millions of amps in energy to sustain it, which raises the question of whence that energy could have come: the object Godfrey saw was too small to create an electrical discharge without an external energy source. He also observed that any plasma of such size would have been as bright as an oxyacetylene torch, not a blotchily glowing ‘object’ with tolerably bright light coming only from underneath it, and would be functioning at compar­able temperatures (3200–3500 degrees celsius). The resulting level of radiant heat would have scorched everything for tens of yards around it – a rather more dramatic side-effect than a small dry patch on the tarmac – and would have destroyed nearby vegetation and probably burnt Godfrey’s patrol car 30m away. A plasma could be formed by a release of nuclear radiation but would have a distinctive coloration, wouldn’t form a vortex, and would also require an energy source, which would have left radiation traces. He also concluded that if Godfrey saw what he said he did, it wasn’t a plasma vortex: a plasma would not reflect a car’s headlights, as Godfrey said the ‘UFO’ did, and would show an even distribution of light. The shape was wrong for a vortex, which takes the drawn-out form of a tornado, and would also have a uniform, not blotchy surface. This is not entirely to dismiss the possibility that Godfrey saw an unidentified atmospheric phenomenon of some kind, although the hypo­thesis does involve replacing one unknown with another.
9 A Mr Lionel Smith, school caretaker and special constable, has been cited by Alan Godfrey in corroboration (email to Andy Roberts, 14 Nov 2008). Mr Smith is quoted at legjoints.com as saying: “When I came round the corner to check the grounds, I looked up in the sky and this – UFO – was up in the sky, approximately over the area where, I later learned, Alan Godfrey had his experience – I didn’t know at the time – and the object shot across the valley four times – backwards and forwards – and it vanished over the hills.” It seems highly unlikely he was checking the school grounds at 5:00am on a Saturday. Another version of Mr Smith’s testimony (Jenny Randles: The Pennine UFO Mystery, Granada, 1983, p129) has him seeing this light “about 12 hours” after Godfrey’s encounter: Mr Smith “was opening the boiler room preparing for a club session to be held that evening when he saw a bright light down in the valley below. This moved along the valley and then shot into the sky. The school overlooks the spot where Alan Godfrey had his encounter.”
10 A contributor with a weakness for equines has suggested that the vehicle was a motorised horsebox (some models do sport black windows set high), or at any rate a panelled, rigid (not artic) truck. But the essence of this variation is that the driver was perhaps lost or had overshot his destination, and had stopped – possibly to read a map and/or perform a several-point turn – for long enough to create the dry, patterned patch on the road as well as disturb leaves on the shrubbery with the exhaust.
11 Quotations are from Jenny Randles, pers. comm., 25 July 2008. We might note here that during hypnosis the ‘Yosef’ figure asked if Godfrey remembered him; Godfrey associated the figure with these earlier episodes. While conscious, he also remarked, in surprise: “They have come for me before”, and added, “They will be coming for me again – in 10 years’ time.” As far as we know, they didn’t. 
12 Randles: op. cit. (1983), pp216–7. Godfrey seems to have had a continuing relationship with immaterial dogs. Randles notes (p217): “When he and his wife were courting. she had seen a black labrador in Alan’s house. It had licked her and then ran upstairs. ‘I didn’t know you had a dog,’ she told him later, describing it. He did not have one. The dog concerned had died two years earlier.”
13 One of us knows a long-term sufferer from petit mal who in the early 1990s had a seizure while cycling from home (Boar’s Hill) north toward Headington on the A4142 Oxford Ring Road. She blanked out; when she recovered consciousness some 20 minutes later, she was on foot, pushing her bicycle south, on the other side of this extremely busy artery. She had no memory of anything at all for the intervening period.
14  See epilepsyclassroom.com for a brief overview of the mechanics of the spectrum of epileptic seizures.
15  See, for example, J Francis Thackeray: “Trance, art and literature: testing for hallucin­ogens”, Antiquity 79:303, Mar 2005, citing JD Lewis-Williams & TA Dowson: “The signs of all times: entoptic phenomena in Upper Palæolithic art”, Current Anthropology 29:201–45, 1988.
16 For a survey of relevant research, see CC French: “Fantastic memories: The relevance of research into eyewitness testimony and false memories for reports of anomalous experiences”, Journal of Consciousness Studies 10, 153–174, 2003.

These brief summaries of entities reported in a selection of early abduct­ion cases show how varied ‘the aliens’ then were, according to their victims. Against this background, Alan Godfrey’s prophet-like figure ‘Yosef’ and his robotic helpers appear neither weirder nor more ‘typical’ than any of the others.

Antonio Villas Boas (1957)
Striking blonde, short, fair-skinned humanoid female with slanted blue eyes, triangular face and famously bright red pubic hair; features of male aliens not seen (uniformed, helmeted; wore breathing apparatus); barking speech.

Betty & Barney Hill (1961)
Uniformed, short (approx 1.5m tall), grey-skinned with wraparound eyes but ‘normal’ iris & pupils. Initially described as big-nosed; description later changed to nearer Grey configuration, but entities had human-like hair; at least one wore hat and scarf.

Herb Schirmer (1967)
Grey/white-skinned humanoids 1.4–1.5m tall; close-fitting silver-grey one-piece uniforms with emblem of winged serpent on the right breast; suit came up over the head to form a helmet; left side had an earpiece with a short antenna. Thin heads with high foreheads; long flat noses, unblinking, oriental, sunken, cat-like – but not especially large – eyes; thin, unmoving lips.

José António da Silva (1969)
Hairy (waist-length), thick-legged, long-red-bearded dwarves, 1.2m tall; uniformed (“shining, light-coloured garment”), initially helmeted (“masked” – with tube leading to small cylinder on the back); deep guttural language; leader “had wide-set eyebrows, two fingers thick, running right across almost the whole forehead. His skin was light-coloured, very pale. His eyes were round, larger than is the norm with us, and of a green shade like… green leaves beginn­ing to wither.” Long pointed noses, wide mouths: “They looked like fishes’ mouths. I didn’t see a tooth in any of them.” He had a vision of a ‘Nordic’ entity (not noticed by ‘aliens’) with long fair hair and beard, 1.7m tall, “pink and white” skin, bare feet, robe “like a friar’s cassock”.

Hodges & Rodriguez (1971)
Brain-like entities, one with red patch on side; plus tall grey-skinned humanoids with yellow “very thin” eyes, lipless mouths & flat noses, and webbed hands with six fingers and a thumb.

Hickson & Parker (1973)
1.5m-tall grey creatures with bizarre cephalic features – “small cone-shaped protrusions on either side of their heads, a small sharp protrusion where a nose would be, and a small slit-like hole below that”; no neck, only one leg with a “pedestal-like found­ation” (or legs fused together – they floated rather than walked); two-digit hands like lobster claws, wrinkly grey, elephant-like skin.

Carl Higdon (1974)
Tall (1.9m, about 82kg) humanoid, in black suit and shoes; belt “with a star in the middle of it and a yellow emblem below it”; bow-legged; “slanted head and no chin”, thin hair “stood straight up on his head”; called himself “Ausso”.

David Stephens (1975)
‘Mushroom’-like creatures: hands with three webbed digits & thumb, extremely pale skin, no mouths, 1.4m tall; wore “robelike” garments; “large, slanted, tear-drop-shaped eyes… two dots for a nose, no hair or eyebrows, no wrinkles”.

Travis Walton (1975)
Small Grey-like creat­ures approx 1.5m tall; in “tannish-orange” one-piece overalls; “round, domed head, large eyes, and tiny noses, mouths and ears”; no fingernails. In later phase, 1.8m-tall humanoids (one female) in blue jumpsuits; unusual gold/brown eyes; one male had “good teeth and a normal haircut” and wore a transparent helmet.

Sandy Larson (1975)
1.8m tall, mummy-like entities (“not like a face. It’s like a Band-Aid over a head or wrapping”); metallic arms; “a glow about the head and shoulders”; at one point the back of ‘his’ head lit up. Later description: “glaring”, “staring”, unblinking eyes that “could control my brain”. Aliens apparently removed her brain and replaced or rewired it.

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Herb Schirmer alien

The alien seen by Herb Schirmer (1967)

  Hickson Parker alien

The alien seen by Hickson and Parker (1973)

  David Stephens alien

The alien seen by David Stephens (1975)

Godfrey illo 2

Illustration by Florent Calvez


The West Yorkshire village of Todmorden

Todmorden junction

The Burnley Road-Ferney Lee Road junction


The Futuro
Getty Images/Keystone

Author Biography
Peter Brookesmith, David Clarke and Andy Roberts have all contributed regularly to FT on ufology and other topics for many years. Peter is currently involved in publishing and re-issuing quality fiction. David is head of the journalism department at Sheffield Hallam University and a consultant to the National Archives. Andy is a senior manager for a Housing Association.


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