The Unmasking of a 'Man in Black'

Jenny Randles
Magonia 6, 1981
One of the curiosities of the UFO phenomenon is that mysterious set of individuals, known for convenience as the NIB – the Men in Black. Speculations about their origin, purpose and existence are rife amongst nuts-and-bolts ufologists, as well as those of a ‘paranormalist’ persuasion. Usually the MIB incidents are of such a nature that misidentifications (as in the more mechanistic UFO cases) is out of the question. However, hoax MIBs are a different matter.

Considering the recent emphasis that has been placed on the need to record and discuss identified UFO experiences, by Hendry (1) and others, I feel that this present case merits presentation here, if for no other reason than its interest as an anecdote.
On February 24th 1979, Northern England was ‘invaded’ by UFOs in the middle of the night. I was woken at 0200 hrs by Mike Sachs, a self-employed tailor living in Stacksteads, near Bacup, in the Pennines. (2) He said he had seen a UFO land, and was going out to photograph it. The result was a complex incident that also involved two police officers who also saw something, and dozens of other witnesses in Greater Manchester and Merseyside who saw something very similar, but probably not the same thing. The Ministry of Defence became involved, and explained the events away as being sightings of a F-111 aircraft. (3)
The story has dragged on since that date and our team of investigators in Manchester (MUFORA) has attempted a detailed analysis of the continued sightings in the northern hills (4)(5). MUFORA is not an open membership body and unlike most UFO groups does not hold open meetings. In fact our membership has remained exactly the same for three years, without additions or losses. Admission to our meetings is by invitation only. In charge of the investigations for this series of events (investigations which have lasted eighteen months and are still proceeding) is Norman Collinson, who is a Detective-Inspector in the Fraud Squad of the Greater Manchester Police Criminal Investigation Department, who is himself a four-times witness to these events.
During the course of these investigations, however, a number of events have occurred which one imagines most ufologists would have interpreted within the UFO context. A situation like this seems to cry out for publicity, but we have so far refused to aim for this. For example, a family have disappeared from the farm following a close encounter experience. Collinson has been unable to find them for months, and the farm remains deserted. It would be quite easy to see this as an abduction, but such a conclusion would be based on inference and prejudicial bias – factors which are vastly underrated in their importance in UFO investigations.
In September 1980 a new situation began to develop when Mike Sachs was visited in his shop by a local man, whom he did not know. He was aged in his late forties, well dressed, and a typical ‘executive type’. Sachs succeeded in switching the conversation around to UFOs – something he is quite adept at, since his personal experiences have rather swept him off his feet in a flood of over-enthusiasm. The visitor displayed an interest, and began to recount, in a matter-of-fact way, that he was Detective Inspector with the CID, and was engaged on the hunt for the notorious ‘Yorkshire Ripper’, responsible for over a dozen murders of women in the industrial towns of Northern England, over a period of five years. He claimed that he had been seconded from the Greater Manchester force to that of Leeds, where most of the murders had taken place, and from where the hunt was being organised. He explained to Sachs that a few years earlier, when working at Todmorden, just over the Yorkshire boundary, he and another officer were ‘buzzed’ in their car by a UFO, which had almost sat on the bonnet. On reporting it to their superiors they were interviewed by the Ministry of Defence, and security officers from the Fylingdales early-warning radar establishment, whilst, according to the visitor, police cars tore all over the moors throughout the night in search of the intruder.
This story sounded plausible to Sachs. He told the man, who said he was called Peter Hargreaves, that Collinson was involved in local investigations, and being another CID officer, Hargreaves might know him. He said he did not, but agreed to relate his story to the fellow officer.
When the man returned some time later to collect his suit, Sachs asked if he could ring Norman Collinson so the two could speak. This they did, and Collinson talked at some length with the visitor. They chatted informally about the local force and procedures, before the investigator went on to quiz him at some length about his reported sighting. Hargreaves described this in great detail, and then suggested that a copy of the original police file might be available. Collinson asked if he could copy this, to send along to me. Hargreaves said that this would be filed at Wakefield – which Collinson knew was perfectly correct police procedure. He agreed to send a copy of this through normal police channels.
Two days later Collinson’s superior officer commented “I believe you have been speaking to a friend of one of my friends”. Collinson did not at first realise who was being spoken about when the senior officer said that Peter Hargreaves was the managing director of a chemical company in Ripon, North Yorkshire. Collinson denied that this could be the same person, until the senior officer insisted that Hargreaves had indeed told his friend that he had spoken to Norman Collinson. When Collinson realised just who was being discussed he said “You mean detective Inspector Peter Hargreaves?” The senior officer laughed, and repeated that the person they were discussing was the director of a chemical company. Collinson then related the full story.
Perturbed by this sequence of events, he rang Hargreaves at the home number he had been given, and asked if the report he had promised was on its way from Wakefield. He was told that it would be with him in the next day or so, Collinson then put it to Hargreaves directly that he was not a detective, but a company director, but Hargreaves denied this flatly, and was so adamant that Collinson (who had previously not doubted Hargreaves bona-fides because of his knowledge of police procedure began to think that there had been a huge mix-up, and there were two Peter Hargreaves: He even threatened Hargreaves with prosecution for impersonating a police officer, but was told “Well, you can come here and arrest me if you like, but you will look silly when the truth comes out that I am in the CID!”.
Collinson, by now very unsure or his footing, took one last stab, and said “Alright then, I will ring up — Chemicals and speak to this Peter Hargreaves who is Managing Director there”. At this there was a silence, then a stuttered “No… don’t do that.” “Why not?” “Well, it’s me, isn’t it” came the reply.
After discussing the matter with his superior officer and discovering that the claimant apparently had no history of mental illness, they decided to bring him to the police station for questioning. He was brought to Manchester from Ripon, and given a full ‘grilling’. Because he was so convincing he was given what has become known as the ‘Ripper treatment’ afforded to anyone questioned in the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ hunt, with fingerprints, handwriting samples and so forth accompanying the interrogation. It had all been a joke, Hargreaves insisted before being released with a good fright behind him as a suitable warning.
A number of puzzling elements remain in this case. The sheer coincidences seem incredible. (6) Why did the hoaxer risk so much by getting deeply involved with a fraud within the police? Why did he not back down when threatened with arrest? On the other hand, why did he break down when a telephone call to the chemical works was threatened? On past form that would seem to have been something he could have dealt with easily. These are questions we cannot answer here, but one thing is certain. This episode was a complete hoax, and a convincing one, which might easily have been extended and fooled the whole CID. It was only uncovered by a combination of persistence and incredible chance, which in most cases simply would not have happened. In that event we might now be considering a classic case study in the UFO literature, and not the apparent fantasy of an obscurely motivated individual.
The probability that this has happened before without being discovered is a very sobering thought. The reason why it happened in this instance is perhaps just as thought provoking.
  1. Hendry, Allen. The UFO Handbook, Sphere London, 1980.
  2. See: A Classic UAP Event, Randles, J. in UFO Insight, September 1980, based on a lecture by the author to a NUFON conference in Liverpool.
  3. The F-111 theory fitted the sightings in the West Pennines, but the Stackstead sightings were not publicised, and left out of the data on which this evaluation was produced.
  4. The whole investigation was full of coincidences. Stackstead, the home of the incidents, is a tiny hamlet, hardly on the maps, yet it is where I was born, although I now live 30 miles away. My uncle was a close associate of Mike Sachs before he became self-employed, and Norman Collison’s immediate superior officer is Sach’s brother-in-law. And there are several more to add to a very long list.
  5. A detailed report on the MUFORA investigation is to be featured in Flying Saucer Review under the title The Rossendale Anomaly. This recounts the observations and our attempts to identify the source.
  6. Even more incredible, one might add, when one remembers that Manchester is 20 miles south of Stackstead, which is 40 miles south-west of Ripon. The expectation of a link between Collinson’s colleague in Manchester and Hargreaves in Ripon is slim. Why would Hargreaves tell his friend he had spoken to Collinson in the first place? I think any ufologist who can work out this case should be in the CID themselves!