Published: 06:00, 24 June 2021
On this day 74 years ago, American aviator Kenneth Arnold reported what is regarded as the first sighting of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO) in modern times.
He spotted nine unusual objects flying in tandem near Mount Rainier, Washington.
Since 1947 there have been countless UFO sightings reported across the globe - some quickly debunked as forgeries, and others remaining unexplained to this day.
And in a new book published today to mark World UFO Day, Maidstone author Neil Nixon looks at many of them.
Among his top 10 are The Dechmont Woods Incident in Scotland from 1979. On November 9 that year, forestry worker Robert Taylor encountered a hovering craft and two robotic beings before experiencing a loss of consciousness and missing time.
Mr Taylor was seen soon afterwards by a doctor and the local police treated his bizarre report as an assault which resulted in forensic investigations being carried out, which discovered unusual markings on the ground and tears in Mr Taylor's clothing.
Various explanations have been put forward including that Mr Taylor suffered an epileptic fit. But the site has now become a mecca for UFO tourists and is even marked with an information board.
Another incident is the Solway Firth Spaceman Photo of 1964. On May 23 that year, Carlisle fireman Jim Templeton took five photographs of his five-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.
The middle picture was returned with a blurry figure, apparently wearing a helmet and an all-over body suit, in the background. Mr Templeton took the photograph to the police and his local paper. He insisted no-one else had been around on the Solway marshes that day.
His story provoked an angry reaction from sceptics, but he stuck to it until his death in 2011.
The Rendlesham Forest Incident of 1980 is known among ufologists as “Britain’s Roswell.”
Strange lights were seen across fields in the early hours of Boxing Day. Residents called the police and rumours soon abounded that a UFO had landed in a nearby forest close to an American airbase.
Later a memo emerged from the base, credited to Lt Col Charles Halt, describing a decision to dispatch staff to investigate. By late 1983, The News of the World was reporting a UFO landing in Suffolk “and That’s Official!”
Numerous books, documentaries and sometimes conflicting "eye-witness" accounts have emerged.
Among the explanations is one that US service personnel who claimed to have seen the lights were in fact being given hallucinogenic drugs by their own commanders as part of a mind-control experiment - which sounds like a whole new conspiracy theory. Whatever the truth the area has now also become a UFO tourist destination.
Mr Nixon, who is the author 28 books, has written for the Viz Comic, the New Musical Express and the Guardian. He founded and ran the UK's first university course in Professional Writing for the University of Greenwich and currently works in PR where he is campaigns manager for Maidstone-based Pennies Day Nurseries.
Although clearly intrigued by the whole UFO concept, Mr Nixon writes as a hard-nosed journalist rather than a fanatical believer.
His book is entitled UFOs, Aliens and the Battle for the Truth.
He said: "It's a mystery that has fascinated me my entire life. But I’ve learned not to trust anyone offering a simple explanation. I’ve come to realise there are lots of right answers, explaining small parts of what people report, but at the same time there are many more questions still currently without answers."
Part of his scepticism stems from his own experience chasing down a UFO incident in Kent, when both he and the then news editor of the Kent Messenger Justin Williams, allowed themselves to be carried away.
Mr Nixon explained: "I got a call from Mr Williams, who was researching material for a series in the Kent Messenger called Kent’s X-Files.
"I went to see him and one event he raised with me was the Dargle Cottage case.
"It revolved around an elderly couple, Mr and Mrs Anthony Verney, who lived in a semi-remote cottage in Biddenden in the late 1970s and claimed their lives were being ruined by strange phenomena from a secret bunker nearby.
Mr Verney even wrote to the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher about it.
"One explanation doing the rounds was that it was a military bunker being used for experiments on low frequency radiation."
"The terse response Mr Verney received from the authorities led those with a belief in conspiracies to become even more suspicious.
"Driving home from the KM office, it struck me that I’d never written anything about the Dargle Cottage case myself.
"So the following Saturday, April 13, with my wife away at her annual psychotherapy conference, I took my three-year-old son Thom to see Thomas the Tank Engine at the Kent and East Sussex Railway at Tenterden.
"We had a brilliant afternoon and Thom fell into a contented doze as we started the drive home.
"Dargle Cottage is located on a quiet road near that steam railway. I wanted a photo of the sign on the gate of the property, and the cottage isn’t visible from the road."
"The site of the alleged experiments is underground on farm land, which by 1996 had been turned into a pitch-and-putt golf course. I could get pictures of both locations inside 15 minutes and still be home in good time.
"I was just getting the second shot when a car came round a corner and pulled into the side of the road.
"When I drove away, it pulled out to follow me. The couple inside, a man and a woman, were young, smartly dressed and wearing shades, looking all the world like Mulder and Scully. Not exactly normal for the Kent countryside on a Saturday afternoon.
"I drove to the main road, picked a lay-by and dived in at the last minute leaving them no time to follow me and no room to stop.
"I took their number, dropped back and followed them.
"A few miles later after a rapid reversal out of a farm road they were on my tail again.
"This was for real. My young son was fast asleep on the back seat and, if M15 were going to make me pay for stumbling onto a biggie, I didn’t want him in the firing line.
"We got to Maidstone and I lost them by turning late into a series of small back roads which I knew well.
The following Monday I rang Justin Williams, but before I could speak he butted in. "I really want to speak to you,’ he said, "There’s still something happening at Dargle Cottage."
"Yeah, tell me about it," I said, launching into my experience.
After a pause, Mr Williams swore. The rest fell into place in seconds.
It had been him driving the other car with his assistant Beth Mullins as they did their research for Kent’s X-Files.
Three days before we’d been no more than six feet apart for about half an hour, both agreeing we had an interest in the subject but had a sceptical and pragmatic approach.
But that Saturday afternoon neither of us had recognised the other one.
'For a couple of clear-thinking, intelligent sceptics we were a disgrace that afternoon.'
Mr Nixon said: "I'd leapt to the conclusion they were some security operation linked to Dargle Cottage.
"Mr Williams had seen two security passes in my windscreen (my wife's KCC pass and my academic pass) and together with the fact that he finally lost me near the county police head-quarters on Sutton Road had convinced himself he had also stumbled onto something big.
"For a couple of clear-thinking, intelligent sceptics we were a disgrace that afternoon.
"However, it taught me a valuable lesson - your mindset at these moments is everything.
"Put yourself in a UFO-related location, suspect that the place might be under surveillance and you only need a couple of hydro-geologists in the area, dressed in coveralls and taking a soil sample to a Land Rover, to prove you were right about that UFO crash all along."
UFOs, Aliens And The Battle For The Truth is published by Oldcastle Books, priced £9.15 and can be ordered online here.
For more information about the author Neil Nixon, visit www.neilnixon.com