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The year was 1980. Margaret Thatcher was in No. 10 and Jimmy Carter was in the White House. The Cold War was bracing and the Iron Curtain frozen shut. The Empire Strikes Back was packing out cinemas.
On a wet road in West Yorkshire, early in the morning of November 28, a policeman, coming to the end of his night shift, received a report from Todmorden, a small market town in the Calder valley, where people were complaining that a herd of cows had escaped from a field and were wandering around their gardens.
The officer in question was PC Alan Godfrey, then a 33-year-old married father of two, based at ‘Tod nick’. He set off to take a look. As he turned his Ford Escort panda car into Burnley Road at about 5.15am, he saw what he thought was a broken-down bus, blocking the road. Only, it wasn’t a bus. ‘As I inched closer, driving at a crawl, I saw a diamond-shaped object, about 20ft wide and 14ft high, literally hanging in the air about 5ft off the road.
‘It was spinning slowly, and the leaves on the road underneath were spinning in the opposite direction. It looked very real; real enough that if I’d got out of my car and thrown a brick at it, it would have made a clang,’ Alan recalls now.
On a wet road in West Yorkshire, early in the morning of November 28, a policeman, coming to the end of his night shift, received a report from Todmorden
Instead of getting out of the car, Alan turned on his blue light and tried to call in the incident. Yet curiously, neither his car radio, nor his personal set, was working.
‘Then my policeman’s instincts kicked in and I decided to make a sketch, just as I would if I’d come across a road traffic accident, to show the positions of the vehicles involved.’ There was then a ‘brilliant, white, blinding flash — a bit like having your photograph taken with the flash gun in your face’, and the next thing he remembers he was driving, stunned, in the opposite direction, back towards the police station, having lost several minutes of time.
The object had vanished but the patch of road surface was bone dry.
Far-fetched claims indeed. Could Alan simply have been overtired? Might he be a fantasist?
When you meet Alan Godfrey, a plain-speaking, affable Yorkshireman with two police commendations, he’s not the swivel-eyed oddball one normally associates with kooky UFO stories. He’s a dyed-in-the-wool beat bobby who has ‘no time for daft buggers’.
‘It was a factual event. It was real,’ he says today, as we revisit the spot — a non-descript, busy main road, with a stream and a park on one side — on a comparable cold, blustery day, 41 years later.
‘Was it an alien craft I saw, or was it of this earth? I don’t know. To be honest, it’s such a long time ago that it doesn’t matter to me whether people believe me or not. It happened.’
The officer in question was PC Alan Godfrey, then a 33-year-old married father of two, based at ‘Tod nick’. He set off to take a look
Whatever ‘it’ was nearly ruined Alan’s life. Ridiculed and hounded out of the job he loved, he slumped into alcoholism and his marriage broke up.
It was the love of his second wife, Kathryn, whom he married in 1995, that made him pick himself up and hold his head high again.
Alan is now something of a local celebrity, having been on the after-dinner speaking circuit for years. He has sat on TV sofas with Selina Scott and Frank Bough and had his story told by TV networks all over the world. His book, Who Or What Were They?, was published in 2017.
And, whatever your take on it, this is a fascinating tale. Which is why it is set to be turned into a Hollywood movie.
Alan has signed a deal with producer and screenwriter Michael Grais, best known as the co-writer of the 1982 film Poltergeist.
Michael is a huge Alan fan. ‘I met Alan and I totally believed him, 110 per cent. I did not feel there was a dishonest word coming out of his mouth,’ he says, speaking from California. ‘I’m not a UFO guy who sees conspiracies everywhere — I’m not part of that crew.
‘I’ll start writing the script in the summer and approach film companies. UFO stuff is very popular in the U.S. because, for the first time, the government has just admitted that they exist.’
What Michael is referring to here is the long-awaited, U.S. government report into UFOs published in June. Although the report did not admit to the existence of little green men, it did reveal that there were objects appearing in the sky that the Pentagon — which controls the U.S. military — could not explain, and the existence of extraterrestrials couldn’t be ruled out.
As he turned his Ford Escort panda car into Burnley Road at about 5.15am, he saw what he thought was a broken-down bus, blocking the road. Only, it wasn’t a bus
Todmorden has its own unique history concerning other-worldly matters. The Pennine region between Yorkshire and Lancashire has been dubbed ‘UFO valley’, as its unique geology and geography have led to thousands of what investigators term UAPs, or ‘Unidentified Atmospheric Phenomena’.
For example, just a week before Alan’s ‘encounter’, three Halifax policemen looking for a stolen motorbike saw bright lights moving around in the sky, something Alan learned about only years later.
But there was another, truly horrific, incident five months before Alan’s UFO sighting — again in Todmorden — that captured the world’s attention. Curiously, PC Alan Godfrey was one of the two officers who investigated that case.
Zigmund ‘Ziggy’ Adamski, a 56-year-old miner of Polish descent, had gone missing from his home near Wakefield in June 1980 after he’d nipped out to the local shop to buy some potatoes.
Five days later, his body was discovered 20 miles away at a coal yard in Todmorden. He was found lying on top of a 15ft coal pile, wearing a suit but no shirt. There were burn marks on the crown of his roughly shorn head and another wound at the back of his neck.
‘The oddest thing was that there was no coal dust or dirt on his body — he looked as though he’d simply lain down and died, on top of that pile of coal, having left no sign of how he got up there,’ says Alan.
‘His clothes, to me, suggested he’d been hastily redressed after death. But it was the look on his face that shocked me the most — I’ll never forget it. He looked like he’d been scared to death.’
Instead of getting out of the car, Alan turned on his blue light and tried to call in the incident. Yet curiously, neither his car radio, nor his personal set, was working
James Turnbull, the coroner who dealt with Zigmund’s death, commented later that it was the biggest mystery of his career. Why, for example, had he been missing for five days and yet had only one day’s growth of beard? And a corrosive liquid, found around the site of the neck wound couldn’t be identified.
A post-mortem examination concluded that Zigmund had died of heart failure due to ‘ischaemic heart disease’ and emphysema. The coroner recorded an open verdict.
No one was ever arrested or charged over his death. And while few doubt that he was killed, the strange circumstances led many to speculate about who, or what, that killer or killers might have been.
But back to that November incident which, predictably, made Alan the butt of his hard-bitten colleagues’ jokes. ‘When I walked into the station later that evening to begin my next shift, I was greeted with “ey up, it’s Captain Kirk”.’ But things were soon to turn very nasty. This was 1980, three months before the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, was caught.
West Yorkshire Police were under enormous scrutiny for failing to halt his five-year killing spree, and the last thing their public image needed was a local policeman in the news talking about seeing aliens. But, inevitably, the story leaked to the local newspaper, under the jokey headline ‘May The Force Be With You’.
But soon it wasn’t so funny. After the story went national, Alan was stunned to receive a letter from a professor at Moscow University, asking for more information about his ‘encounter’. In the middle of the Cold War, the USSR would have been very interested in unexplained aircraft, looking for military secrets. Alan dutifully handed everything to his superiors.
‘Then one day I was called into the inspector’s office and sitting there was a man in civilian clothing, who simply introduced himself as “the Man from the Ministry”.
‘He had a file on his lap which, when it flipped open, I could see contained my drawing from the night and my sudden-death report on Zigmund Adamski.
When you meet Alan Godfrey, a plain-speaking, affable Yorkshireman with two police commendations, he’s not the swivel-eyed oddball one normally associates with kooky UFO stories
‘They cited the Official Secrets Act and ordered me, in no uncertain terms, not to speak of it to the Press. After that, I felt they were out to get me. I left the job four years later.’
Alan talks about being persecuted, of seeing the ‘Man from the Ministry’ everywhere. He suspects his phone was tapped.
In 1984, he was offered a way out because of an old injury. He left the force with an unblemished, exemplary record.
He worked as a butcher, then for a security agency, but had started drinking heavily — a bottle of whisky a day. His marriage broke up in 1988. Fiercely protective of his ex-wife and family, he refuses to drag them into his story further.
By the early 1990s, he was at rock bottom. ‘I ended up living in a friend’s bedroom; I’d lost everything. I had no money, I’d parted from my first wife. It was Christmas and I couldn’t buy the kids anything. I remember lying face down on the floor, thinking there was no point in carrying on.
‘Then, suddenly, I thought: “Right, enough is enough. Get a grip, you daft bugger!” And that’s what I did. I got myself a flat, met Kath and she sorted me out.’
‘Sorted’ is exactly how you’d describe Alan today. Happily married, with three grandchildren and now retired, he clearly revels in his celebrity status around town. He drives a car with ‘UFO’ on the number plate.
But still the cynics pour scorn on his claims. The key sceptic is Dr David Clarke, associate professor at Sheffield Hallam University, where he is a co-founder of the Contemporary Legend research group and author of the book The UFO files.
He’s been following Alan’s story — and that of Zigmund Adamski — since he worked as a reporter on The Yorkshire Post.
Whatever ‘it’ was nearly ruined Alan’s life. Ridiculed and hounded out of the job he loved, he slumped into alcoholism and his marriage broke up
His take on what happened in June and November of 1980 is very different from the former police officer’s.
‘I don’t dispute Alan saw something that night, but what it was I wouldn’t want to say,’ he says.
‘When people speak of hallucinations, there are bad connotations as they are associated with mental illness, but completely sane people have hallucinations all the time.’
Dr Clarke cites the work of the late groundbreaking neurological anthropologist Oliver Sacks, who described a hallucination as ‘seeing with the brain — something that isn’t under our control, that seems to come from the outside and to mimic perception’, and for which there is always a physical, medical explanation.
‘Alan describes sitting, looking at this thing and then a blast of white light, after which he couldn’t remember anything, until he found himself driving along the road. That sounds exactly like someone describing an epileptic fit.
‘As for Adamski, he was most certainly abducted, tortured and killed — but not by aliens. His death was caused by human beings. And what better way to wipe away traces of evidence from a body than to dump it on top of a coal pile in the pouring rain, to have everything washed away?
‘The case should have been investigated properly, and it wasn’t because of this alien connection.’
When the Ministry of Defence released all its files on UFO sightings to the National Archives back in 2014, Alan’s report was not in there.
Alan has signed a deal with producer and screenwriter Michael Grais, best known as the co-writer of the 1982 film Poltergeist
‘Alan sees this as a cover-up by the MoD, but I think it wasn’t there because West Yorkshire Police didn’t send it to them,’ says Dr Clarke. ‘They never received it; they were embarrassed.
‘As for the “Man from the Ministry” . . . that was clearly a man from Yorkshire Police, trying to get him to shut up.
‘What Alan does make clear is that it was real to him. But what if you’d been driving along the same road, at the same time. Would you have seen what Alan saw, or would you have seen some copper sitting in his car, staring straight ahead?’
Alan bats Dr Clarke’s comments away with affable good humour. No, he isn’t epileptic, and no he hasn’t had any ‘hallucinations’ before or since that episode.
‘But I do often think about that night, and what would have happened if I’d turned right up into the estate, and not carried along Burnley Road. My life would have been very different.
‘Would I have reported the incident, if I’d known what would happen? Probably not.’