Magonia 92, June 2006
Until now the contribution of Julian Hennessey to British ufology has been largely unrecognised. As will be shown in this article, we would not have anything like the volume of official documentation that we now enjoy, were it not for his extraordinary efforts. Born in Scotland in 1946, the thought of extraterrestrial life captured his imagination from a very young age. He used to spend time at Calton Hill observatory in Edinburgh, discussing things such as the possibility of life on Mars with the professor who operated the observatory.
His interest in ufology was ignited by a sighting of what was most probably Sputnik I or Sputnik II in 1957/58. He was helping his father (a television engineer) adjust a television antenna when they both noticed a pair of bright objects passing overhead (this makes it more likely to have been Sputnik I, the booster of which also entered orbit). Shortly afterwards, a report appeared in the local press about a party of potato pickers that were terrified by a saucer-shaped object which swooped over them while they were travelling on a coastal road near Musselburgh. This article fuelled his interest even further.
By 1963, Hennessey had moved to London, and was initially employed in the Borough Engineer’s department in the London Borough of Brent. He joined the London UFO research organisation (LUFORO), which was later to be a founding group of the British UFO Research Association (BUFORA). Whilst with LUFORO, he spent many hours in their library at Hampstead reading books, newspaper clippings, and magazines. On one such occasion, he came across an issue of The UFO Investigator, the journal of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), an American UFO research group. He was impressed by the quality of the content in the journal, and subsequently became a subscriber.
The earliest example of UFO-related correspondence to or from him which I have, is a copy of a letter from Richard Hall of NICAP dated 18 June 1963, thanking Hennessey for some material that he had sent, and also for allowing NICAP to quote his name as a member of NICAP.
In 1964 Hennessey established contact with a group of enthusiastic investigators that went under the name of The Fleet Street UFO Study Group, and ventured on a few field investigations with them. He also lived close to Brinsley Le Poer Trench (later to become the Earl of Clancarty) and had access to his extensive personal library. In the same year, Hennessey met Dr. J. Allen Hynek, and exchanged address details with him. What began as a mutual interest in UFOs between Hennessey and Hynek was to develop into a friendship as time went by.
Hennessey decided that there was some potential in writing to official organisations and embarked on what was to become a campaign of letter-writing set to last at least fifteen years! Early examples of his correspondence include letters between him and the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Soviet Embassy, Jodrell Bank, and the (British) Air Ministry. The first example of correspondence between Hennessey and the Air Ministry that I have come across is dated 18 December 1963 and is a response to a letter from him dated 13 December. The letter is in itself innocuous, simply stating that they don’t generally send details of sighting reports to anyone other than the person making the report, that the majority of reports can be explained in mundane terms, and that there was no cover-up in regard to “flying saucers” as far as they were concerned.
By November 1964 at the age of eighteen Hennessey was already creating problems for the British Air Ministry. In an internal memo  from A161 (Air technical intelligence, defensive weapons systems) to S4f (Air)(Air Ministry Secretariat), the author wrote:
Hennessey. We had no official reports on any of this ‘Investigators’ list of sightings. However No. 4 – although we are given no year even, could be the same as an official report to A161 through SRATC [Southern Region Air Traffic Control-JMcG] early in 1963. This latter sighting was in fact window [material ejected from an aircraft to confuse enemy radar-JMcG] being used in a Bomber Command exercise – the Aer Lingus aircraft flew right through it, even though they had been warned to avoid the area. But we do not give Hennessey this information.
Quite why they were not willing to tell him this confounds me. In the formal reply  to Hennessey, dated 1 December 1964, he was informed in respect of this case that “there was no investigation, and no conclusion can be formed” because it was not reported to the Air Ministry – a blatant lie! One of the reports that Hennessey enquired about in the letter related to this memo took place in October 1954. This fact takes on some importance later in this article.
In between writing to the Air Ministry and waiting for their response, Hennessey had not been idle. In a letter dated 28 November 1964 to Richard Hall (who was at that time the assistant director of NICAP), he mentioned that he was enclosing a letter from the Prime Minister’s office (Harold Wilson was the PM at the time) which was sent to him in confidence and therefore was not for publication. He went on to say that he had contacted all of the foreign embassies in London and received encouraging replies from three of them. (In a recent conversation with Hennessey, he told me that the Thai Embassy was the most co-operative at the time). He had also started canvassing members of the House of Lords for their views on the topic, and replies were trickling in, most of them dismissive or non-committal
"This man Hennessey is becoming a nuisance. He now phones me up at the office and on the last occasion asked whether I lived at Gunnersbury Park, which I do, since he might want to contact me at home"
Hennessey used every channel available to him in order to further his investigation into UFOs, much to the chagrin of the staff at the MOD. A flustered clerical officer at S4f (Air) mentions in an internal memo  dated 9 December 1964 that “This man Hennessey is becoming a nuisance. He now phones me up at the office and on the last occasion asked whether I lived at Gunnersbury Park, which I do, since he might want to contact me at home! I denied being in the phone directory.”
Hennessey was very diligent when it came to keeping records. If something came to his attention from sources other than documentary, he typed a ‘Note of possible interest’ and inserted it in his file system. One such note recorded a Parliamentary Question (PQ) raised by Sir J. Langford-Holt in the House of Commons on 21 June 1966 which was in part related to historical reports. At the end of the summary, Hennessey wrote, “Note: In a recent telephone conversation with the Min. [ministry of Defence] it was stated that they could not find any trace of earlier records”.
In response  to an enquiry from Hennessey on 27 October 1966, the MOD wrote “As indicated in my letter dated 6 September 1966 the figures for reports of UFO sightings prior to 1959 are not available. A recent Parliamentary Question asked for figures covering the last ten years but we were only able to supply those from 1959 onwards. We are therefore unable to elucidate on those sightings prior to 1959.”
Hennessey’s dialogue with Downing Street was starting to raise some anxieties. A memo  dated 23 December 1966 from the Assistant Permanent Secretary to the Minister for the RAF to S4f (Air) sought advice on behalf of the PM’s office as to how they should respond to an enquiry from Hennessey. S4f (Air)’s response  dated 13 January 1967 included a recommendation that any future enquiries by Hennessey to No. 10 should be forwarded to S4f (Air) and they would respond. Interestingly, No. 10 responded to Hennessey’s enquiry directly in a letter  dated 8 March 1967, though there wasn’t much of any real significance in it. They also occasionally responded directly to him after this date, primarily in respect of queries which he raised which were related to the UN.
He was encouraged by responses he had received from the Prime Minister’s office to his suggestions that the UN would be a suitable platform for an international investigation on the subject of UFOs, one of which (dated 25 July 1967) contained the following paragraph: “As the reports of sightings continue to appear from many parts of the world, it is quite understandable that there should be a growing interest in seeing some responsible international effort made to seek explanations of these phenomena”.
This previous correspondence with No. 10 was used by Hennessey to his advantage, implying (though not actually saying) that he was making enquiries on behalf of the PM. Evidence of this is found in a letter dated 14 April 1967 from him to Dr. Edward Condon (head of University of Colorado public investigation of UFOs) “I thank you for your letter of April 6th and shall assume that you will communicate with me at a later date regarding my obtaining two advanced copies of your final report on your UFO study for transmission to the Prime Minister of this country.”
Hennessey’s first major coup appears to have been from the USAF. In The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects by Capt. Edward Ruppelt, Ruppelt described a document which he claimed to have seen known as ‘The Estimate of the Situation’. According to him, this document confirmed that the USAF concluded that UFOs were of extraterrestrial origin. There was much debate as to whether or not Ruppelt did see such a document. Many ufologists had sought confirmation from the USAF and been met with denial. It would seem that Hennessey managed to obtain confirmation in writing from the USAF that this document actually existed. I haven’t seen the documentation to directly support this, but Richard Hall indirectly confirms it in a letter dated 17 April 1967 to Hennessey, in which Hall wrote: “Thank you very much for the carbon of the Air Force letter acknowledging the existence of the 1948 Top Secret Estimate. You are correct that this is a first.”
In a telephone conversation Hennessey confirmed to me that he managed to obtain such acknowledgement after several attempts to do so via correspondence with the USAF. He also mentioned that J. Allen Hynek had told him that he had also seen the document described by Ruppelt.
In the meantime, Hennessey had been stirring things up again back at the MOD. He apparently requested access to MOD UFO files on behalf of the Condon enquiry, offering his services as a “go between”. This is discussed in an internal memo  dated 4 May 1967. The memo indicates that while there were no reservations on the grounds of security, the MOD did not want to set a precedent which could increase their workload and expenses. Consequently, they turned down his offer.
Another direction where Hennessey had been applying gentle pressure was to the United Nations. Not only had he been in touch with members of the UN outer-space affairs group (with some encouraging responses), but he had also written to the Prime Ministers of Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, trying to cajole them to put forward a suggestion via their UN ambassadors that the UN undertake a full scientific investigation of the UFO phenomena. None of them expressed any commitment to do so.
An incident occurred on 28 April 1967 at Berry Head, which involved the Coastguard, and an unidentified conventional aircraft which appeared to circle a stationary or slow moving UFO over the English Channel in daylight. There was also a report that the object was detected on radar. The MOD’s initial response was that it might have been “a reflection of car headlights or some sort of meteorological phenomena”.  Hennessey was to take this up directly with the MOD at a later date, though he did query the report in a telephone conversation  with Mr. Allen (desk clerk at S4f (Air)) of the MOD on 6 June 1967. Another topic of discussion on that occasion was the matter of UFO records prior to 1959, during which Hennessey was informed that “they [reports prior to 1959 - JMcG] had all been destroyed including the unsolved cases”.
Mr. Hennessey, is well known as a correspondent to both the Air Force and Condon. He has written in the past to Condon describing himself as having been engaged in confidential work for the Prime Minister on U.F.O’s since 1964
To give some indication of the scope of Hennessey’s activities, it is worth mentioning a letter that he wrote to Richard Hall dated 17 June 1967. This amounted to five full pages and was in effect a status report of his current activities. The headings were; Ministry of Technology (UFO Data); United Nations; Poll of Embassies; Poll of cross-section of members of House of Lords; Poll of cross-section of members of House of Commons; General information. The latter heading encompassed eleven separate activities, mainly related to correspondence with politicians and organisations in the USA. One particular item in the General information section provides an insight into his view of the state of British ufology at the time:
“On a lighter note, BUFORA and other fad groups are getting a lot of publicity here about theircoming June 24 Skywatches. BUFORA is going out armed with Geiger Counters, Cameras, Binoculars, and Magnetic Detecting equipment with ‘lots and lots of hot tea.’ Recently BBC TV Cameras were down at Warminster in Wiltshire, where UFOs and strange happenings are apparently still going on. They filmed a member of BUFORA whilst conducting some serious research into UFO’s – he was sitting in a field at dusk surrounded by candles, waving his hands, and muttering strange unintelligible words in an effort to communicate with the UFO controllers and entice them to land beside him. I think that if they saw him you would never receive another UFO report! They would be on their way back home.” [This is believed to be a reference to BUFORA Chairman, the occultist John Cleary Baker - JR]
In connection with one of Hennessey’s other ‘projects’, he had written to No. 10, stating amongst other things that “Secretary General U-Thant [of the UN - JMcG] approved the outlining of a plan for global investigation into UFOs to be presented to the Outer Space Affairs Group”.  Hennessey had gained the impression from NICAP literature that McDonald’s presentation to the UN was of greater import than it was in reality. In any case, it caused a flurry of signals  between the Foreign Office and the UK [diplomatic] Mission in New York. One of these signals dated 4 August 1967 from the UK Embassy in Washington to the foreign office included the following poignant text:
“We have compared notes with UKMIS New York on Mr. Hennessey, who, in addition, is well known as a correspondent to both the Air Force and Condon. He has written in the past to Condon describing himself as having been Quote engaged in confidential work for the Prime Minister Unquote on U.F.O’s since 1964 and asking for reports Quote for submission to Mr. Wilson Unquote. In answer to a subsequent enquiry by the Department of the Air Force, we have assured them that he enjoys no official status (see Owen’s letter Z/0618 of 10 March from the Cabinet office to Hewson in this Embassy. UKMIS New York tell us that copies of letters from 10 Downing Street to Hennessey are on the files of the Outer Space Affairs Group in the U.N. Secretariat. These have presumably been provided by Hennessey himself. It would seem wise to treat him with some caution.”
Probably through his canvassing of the members of both Houses of Parliament, Hennessey cultivated working relationships with a number of interested politicians, including Airey Neave, Sir Patrick Wall, Sir John Langford-Holt, and Sir Eric Bullus. If he was unsatisfied with responses that he obtained from the MOQ he would write to one of these to put his questions to the MOD on his behalf. One such occasion was a letter to the MOD from Sir Eric Bullus on 5 July 1967. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of this letter, only a response  dated 14 August 1967 from the MOD. The most significant part of the response appears to be:
“There seems to have been some misunderstanding about Ministry of Defence records. We have not lost any files. All Ministry of Defence papers, however, are retained only for a specific period once action is complete. The period relates to the importance of the papers and in the case of unidentified flying objects is five years. Thus, only reports which have been received since 1962 are currently retained.
“Nevertheless, should it ever appear that a report was of special significance, then the papers would, of course be retained for more than five years. This has not yet been found to be necessary.”
Sir Eric and Hennessey would later argue that the destruction of files containing information about cases such as the 1956 Lakenheath-Bentwaters radar/visual case resulted in the loss of material which might have been useful to science.
Another example of cooperation between Hennessey and sympathetic MPs were Airey Neave’s efforts to persuade the Parliamentary and Scientific committee to undertake an assessment of the UFO phenomena. Quoting Hennessey directly from a letter to me in October 2004, “Although this Committee’s program was full at the time, Mr. Neave had intended to try to get it included in a future program but his life was ended tragically by a bomb in his car.”
Up until this point, Hennessey had been operating as an extension of the NICAP (US) organisation. The earliest reference that I have for any intention to form a UK branch (known as a sub-committee in NICAP terms) is in a letter from him to Gordon Lore (who had replaced Richard Hall as assistant director of NICAP) dated 6 October 1967. It would take some time before he had assembled what he regarded as a suitable Committee.
1967 was a busy year for Hennessey. In addition to the workload described so far, on 29 October 1967 he wrote to Don Berliner (Berliner was active in NICAP at the time and had become a personal friend of Hennessey following a visit to the UK earlier that year) that he had more than forty cases which he was following up. This didn’t seem to prevent him from continuing to harass the MOD at the same time though.
One of the cases which he followed up was that of Mr. Angus Brooks on 26 October 1967. This case elicited another unbelievable response from the MOD, so it is necessary to provide an outline of the case here.
On 26th October 1967 at 11:25 (AM), Brooks was walking his dog at Overmoigne, South Dorset. He first sighted a contrail, then another object approached from the same area of the sky and levelled out about 200-300 feet above the ground and a quarter of a mile away, where it slowed to a stop. It initially appeared as “A central-circular chamber with a leading fuselage at the front and three separate fuselages together at the rear”. Two of the rear sections then rotated around the central chamber to form a cross. The object was translucent. He observed the object for about 22 minutes, before it changed shape again and climbed out of sight “at immense speed”. The MOD response will be covered later in this article.
Another case that Hennessey was investigating occurred on 11 November 1967. A DC6 aircraft piloted by Capt. Underhill encountered a delta or cone shaped object during a flight near Barcelona, Spain. The MOD refused to entertain the case because it occurred outside British controlled airspace.
By the 8th November 1967, Hennessey’s unrelenting pressure on the MOD both directly and through the services of sympathetic MPs caused a major shake-up in the way that the MOD handled UFO reports. In a memo 14 of the same date from s4 (Air) to D155 15 and OPS (GE) 2 (RAF)16 is a summary of actions from a meeting which took place the previous day between the various departments concerned. Paragraph eight of the memo reads as follows:
“I sincerely hope, given a successful outcome to the many letters which this Loose Minute commits me to write, we shall have covered and made arrangements permitting prompt access to all reasonable sources of information about activities which might give rise to UFO reports. If I have overlooked any aspects of this problem, whwich I make.”
In response to another letter from Hennessey, S4f(Air) wrote  to him on 27 December 1967 acceding to a request from him for a meeting, and requesting a summary of the points which he would like to discuss at the meeting. Hennessey replied  on 31 December as follows:
“Dear Mr. Ackhurst, Thank you for your letter of the 27th . Although you drew my attention that we have had long correspondence on the UFO subject, I am still of the opinion that a meeting would be of value providing that the Ministry’s replies are full. As the points that I would raise are comprehensive, I shall define them to a certain extent, they are as follows:
“The seeming lack of coordination between police forces of the U.K. and the Ministry which results in many UFO reports lying uninvestigated in police records; the fact that the Ministry does only appear to have a couple of odd cases where it has sufficient information to positively identify an object but could not; does the Army, Navy, and Air Force have regulations governing the reporting of UFOs made by military personnel to be channelled to the Ministry; why are there no provisions or regulations requiring civilian airline pilots to report any UFOs they observe to the Ministry of Defence; what use is access to European radars to S4(f) when it will not even investigate a case involving a British airliner making a close encounter with a UFO over Europe; how does the Ministry view its role in the face of UFO projects at the Universities of Colorado and Toronto also the Soviet commission; what cooperation if any, is the Ministry giving to these projects; how does the Ministry view the establishment of these projects in the light of its own negative finding over so many years; if scientists on these projects stated that they were convinces that UFOs were real, would the Ministry review it’s policy and look into aspects other than air defence implications; why were British Military Intelligence sources in Russia supplying data on UFO reports to the United States Air Force; what amounts of expenditure is involved in investigating a major case, and how much is spent per year in investigating UFOs.
“Cases to which I would be referring to are the Stoney Cross sighting by G.N. Pestridge and P.C. Holloway; the Hindley sighting by two police constables on August 10; the Berry Head sighting by coastguards on April 28; the Wing Commander Cox sighting on October 24; the Barcelona DC6 sighting on September 11; the Robinson sighting of October 27 which involved two Lightning aircraft; the Fordingbridge sighting by Mr. Farlow on November 6 involving E-M effects; the Aer Lingus sighting of November 21 over the Firth of Clyde; and, finally, the two BEA sightings one on November 15, over Florence and the BEA Vanguard sighting near Sydenham on November 17 which involved radar and visual trackings by RAF Aldergrove and Bishop’s Court.
“If you would write and let me know at least two days in advance of when the meeting can be arranged, I shall confirm my ability to attend, Yours faithfully, [signed] J.J.A. Hennessey”
It would appear that 1968 was about to get off to a flying start! Indeed it did – whilst waiting for the details of meeting arrangements from S4(f), Hennessey was hatching yet another cunning plan for a worthwhile project. In the US, NICAP had started a project to have major airlines channel UFO reports to them. This project was known as VFON (Volunteer Flight Officers Network), and was pioneered by NICAP member Herb Roth. Hennessey want to do the same in the UK, and in a letter  dated 15 January 1968 to Freddie Underhill (a pilot involved in one of the sightings that Hennessey was following up, and who Hennessey considered as a suitable candidate for a proposed UK NICAP Subcommittee) he wrote:
“Recently I have taken up a new task, my aim is to establish a network whereby reports of UFOs made by airline pilots will be channelled to me. At present I am corresponding with BEA on this matter through a Captain Owens the manager of the Comet flight. If I am successful with BEA, I then hope to branch out to BUA, PAN AM, BOAC, Eagle, TWA, Lufthansa, etc. If you know anyone in BUA whom I should contact, please let me know.”
Hennessey finally got his British sub-committee officially endorsed by NICAP in a letter from Gordon Lore dated 15 February 1968. Initially it was called ‘NICAP European Unit #1′, but this was later changed to ‘NICAP European sub-committee number 1′. The inaugural members of the sub-committee were Julian Hennessey (Chairman), B.A.A Smye-Rumsby, Capt. Freddie Underhill, Bryan Winder and Prof. Jean Schlusselberg. These would later be joined by John Myers. John Henderson, Geoff A. Jones and Sharon Lesure.
Your comments about continental women didn’t simplify my search for a spouse. I had always been under the impression that European women make ideal wives, and that American women are the bossy ones. It is things like this that keep me a bachelor
The meeting between the MOD and Hennessey took place at 15:00 on 21 February 1968 at Whitehall. Hennessey complained in a letter to Don Berliner that he was not allowed to record the interview, but he made notes about it immediately afterwards. He was accompanied by John Myers, and the MOD fielded Messrs. Ackhurst, Dickenson, and Cassell. Although the MOD addressed each of the points raised by Hennessey, Hennessey was dissatisfied with many of the responses.
In a few letters, Hennessey had mentioned to Don Berliner that his wife sometimes complained about the amount of time which he spent on UFOs. In a letter dated 4 March 1968, Berliner ends his letter with the following comment: “Your comments about continental women didn’t simplify my search for a spouse. I had always been under the impression that European women make ideal wives, and that American women are the bossy ones. It is things like this that keep me a bachelor.”
Yet another potential source of information that Hennessey was attempting to cultivate was the newspapers. In a letter  dated 19 March 1968 inviting Sharon Lesure on to the subcommittee, he mentioned that he intended to send standard letters out to around eighty local newspaper publishers, asking for their cooperation.
By now, the MOD was becoming irritated by Hennessey. This is apparent in a letter  to him dated 20 March 1968 from S4f in which in which the final paragraph reads: “I am sorry that I have been unable to reply earlier. But, I am sure you will understand that whilst we try to reply as quickly as possible to people who send in reports direct to the Ministry of Defence, we cannot justify spending a great deal of time and according a high priority to the provision of a general answering service on this subject.”
In April 1968, Angus Brooks received the results of the MOD’s ‘investigation’ of his case. The letter , dated 5 April 1968, suggested that Brooks had observed a ‘vitreous floater’ (Musca Volant, which they described as a dead cell floating in the fluid of his eyeball) was the stimulus, and to explain the long duration (22 minutes), the MOD suggested that he must have had a quick nap! During this unscheduled sleep, he also dreamed some of the detail which couldn’t be explained by the floater. This scenario is reminiscent of a plot from the blockbuster television series Dallas in which one of the cast dreamt the murder of the starring actor. Curiously, Brooks wasn’t convinced by this explanation, and wrote a point-by-point rebuttal to the MOD.
The volume of letters that Hennessey generated was enough to draw comment from Berliner in a letter to Hennessey dated 6 May 1968, when he wrote “The U.S. postal service has thrown up a picket line outside the NICAP offices – thanks to one J.J.A.H. who dumped a record quantity of letters upon us today!!!”
Whilst enquiring with the Board of Trade in relation to a sighting on 17 November 1967 near Sydenham, Northern Ireland, Hennessey received a letter from them dated 6 May 1968 in which it was stated in paragraph 4: “You may be interested to know that air traffic service units have, since February, 1968, instructions to report details of UFOs to the Military Aeronautical Information Service at Uxbridge, and these details will be recorded.”
As a result of this comment, Hennessey wrote to the MAIS requesting access to their records. They in turn forwarded his request on to S4f at the MOD, who replied to him on 17th June saying “Any reports received by MAIS Uxbridge are passed on to the Ministry of Defence. You are, of course, aware of our position on the release of or access to documents.”
In August 1968, Hennessey sent a status report to NICAP Head Office. One notable item from this includes a listing of airlines which were cooperating with his Euronet project: Aer Lingus, Air Ferry Ltd., Britannia Airways Ltd, British European Airways, British Overseas Airways Corporation, British United Airways, British United Air Ferries, British United Channel Airways, British Eagle International Airways, Cambrian Airways Ltd, Dan-Air Services Ltd, Invicta Airways Ltd and Skyways Continental Coach Air Services. Negotiations were also ongoing with Alitalia, Lufthansa, and Scandinavian Airlines System.
Hennessey wrote to Gordon Lore (Assistant Director at NICAP at the time) on 22 September 1968, to tender his resignation as Chairman of the European Sub-committee. This was due to the imminent birth of his daughter. He handed over the Chairmanship to John Myers, but remained a member of the sub-committee and director of the Euronet project. This was not to last for long – although there is no explanation as to the fate of Myers, there are letters from NICAP to Hennessey complaining that they have never heard from him. Eventually, Hennessey wrote on 30 March 1969 that he would resume the Chairmanship of the subcommittee. Very little appears to have been done during the Chairmanship of Myers. Indeed, even after Hennessey resumed the chair, there isn’t much activity until a crisis developed at the NICAP Head Office in December 1969.
The problems within NICAP were essentially financial, but the manner in which some of the senior members of NICAP had been treated by the board seemed to Hennessey to be very unreasonable. In January 1970, he expressed privately  to Gordon Lore that he felt that his own resignation was now inevitable, but that he would continue to run the Euronet project outside NICAP. He went on to say: “Despite my own decisions, I have every respect for the work that NICAP has done and will continue to support it as a mere member too [sic] watch further developments. If it does go under, then the world will have lost its most respected UFO research group which would be a sad thing.”
During the political upheaval at NICAP, Hennessey continued to serve as Chairman of the subcommittee, and it appears that it was ‘business as usual’ from his point of view while NICAP tried to salvage the organisation. His activity level appears to have increased in comparison to 1969, but was nowhere near the levels he sustained in 1967/68. Horizon, the BOAC corporate magazine had asked him to write a three-part series about UFOs; The MOD had informed Sir Langford-Holt that since the closure of Blue Book in the US, they were in the process of reviewing their UFO-related policies; Euronet, while channels to the airlines concerned were open, was not producing any significant reports.
The next noteworthy item from the MOD was contained in a letter  from them to Sir John Langford-Holt dated 26 March 1970. This was in response to questions raised by Langford-Holt at Hennessey’s suggestion. In it, they inform him that the review of their UFO policy has now been completed, and that effectively, there would be no change “…the Ministry of Defence has not operated a special unit for dealing with these reports. These are dealt with in the course of our normal operations and the extra effort necessary is quite small. Much of the information drawn upon in looking into UFO report, e.g. air traffic movements and satellite orbits, is collected for other purposes and these functions would continue even if the Department no longer took an interest in reports of UFOs.”
A far more important comment occurs later in the same letter:
“The Ministry of Defence hold UFO records from 1962 onwards. These records will not be destroyed, but, I am afraid, we cannot make them available to outside bodies at this stage because of the effort that would be involved in editing reports to preserve the anonymity of the reporters or, alternatively, obtaining the reporters’ permission to release the information. It would also be necessary to scrutinise all records before release to any organisation outside the public service to ensure that no classified information used in the course of investigating reports was inadvertently included.
“In the normal course of events UFO records would remain closed to public scrutiny until they became available under the usual rules at the end of 30 years. If, however, a major scientific orgaisation of high standing had strong reasons for obtaining access to our records then its application would be considered on its merits.”
From this letter, it is clear that Hennessey’s efforts both directly and via Sir Eric Bullus to secure access to UFO reports prior to 1959 had caused the MOD to alter its policy of destroying reports that were more than five years old. Without this change in policy, much of the documentation that is relied on for this article and other research activities would not be available.
In 1954, there was a report of UFOs filmed from an aircraft on which a group of astronomers observing a total eclipse were present. Hennessey had obtained a copy of this film, and in the early part of 1970 was engaged in dialogue with Scandinavian scientists who had been involved with the case. This would lead to an article by Charles Bowen in Flying Saucer Review (FSR) Vol. 18 No. l (1972) entitled ‘Doubts about the Lifjell film
"There is very little to be said for incurring any expense which does not give some benefit at MOD. Of course it might save the cost of dealing with all this Hennessey correspondence."
In August 1970, Hennessey received an invitation from Bryan Winder (who, as well as being a member of his Subcommittee, was also a director of and consultant to FSR) to a meeting in London with J. Allen Hynek on 28 August. Hennessey replied  to Winder on 6 August, including in his letter an itinerary for part of Hynek’s visit. The itinerary included a visit to Angus Brookes (the witness to the strange object at Owermoigne on the 26 October 1967) on the 15/16 August, and a visit to Tony Pace (Director of Research for BUFORA at the time) in Stoke-on-Trent afterwards.
The main activities that Hennessey was spending time on towards the end of 1970 were investigation of a group calling itself ‘NICAP-GB’, being run by Derek Samson based in the Manchester area; the investigation of claimed credentials of UFO contactee Daniel Fry from ‘The Free Protestant Episcopal Church’ which had been prosecuted by the Board of Trade for some form of malpractice in 1954; and preparations for providing a stand on behalf of NICAP at an exhibition organised by the Institute of Contemporary Arts on the topic of ‘Unlikely Photography’.
He was also contacting members of his subcommittee to find out if they were still able to commit their efforts to it, and restructuring the committee, as well as undertaking effort to establish support in Government for a scientific review of the MOD UFO records. He had enlisted the help of Julian Ridsdale MP, and past Secretary of State for Air, and Airey Neave MP amongst others.
In fact, these are the only significant activities up until 10 September 1971, when Hennessey wrote 21, to NICAP once again tendering his resignation, and dissolving the European Sub-committee, citing a lack of effective practical support from the other members of the Subcommittee. In the same letter, he expressed support for NICAP and advised that he would continue to submit material to them which he thought may be of interest.
Just a few days after his resignation, Hennessey received a letter from Group Captain (Retd) W.P. Whitworth in relation to a case from 1957 at West Freugh involving radar that Hennessey had been trying to follow-up. Whitworth had written to the MOD to ask their permission to discuss the case with Hennessey. This had caused a minor panic, since their earlier policy regarding destruction of documents after five years meant that they had no idea what Whitworth was going to discuss! Eventually they agreed to allow him to discuss it, much to the delight of Hennessey.
At some point in September 1971. Hynek was in the UK and joined Hennessey in a field investigation of a case which occurred on 16 August 1971 at Aldridge, Staffordshire. The case involved police officers and a photograph. They identified the primary cause of the report as Mars, and the object in the photograph as a street lamp which the officer that took the photograph didn’t notice was in the frame at the time. The details of this case were published in Flying Saucer Review Case Histories Supplement 9, pages 1-2, February 1972.
The next sequence of events is a little mystifying. Hennessey told me in a telephone conversation that he obtained a list of internal military telephone numbers from somewhere, and called the London Air Traffic Control Centre (Military) (LATCC). Because he knew the telephone number, they assumed that he was authorised to have access to the records, and set up an appointment for him to view them on 8 September 1971, which he attended. Hennessey said that he was nervous that they would discover that he wasn’t authorised to see the records, and that LATCC had allocated a female officer to assist him! He copied a few documents related to cases that he was investigating and left, breathing a sigh of relief.
Pushing his luck, it seems that Hennessey wrote to the LATCC on 20 September, requesting access to their UFO records again. LATCC replied  on 25 October 1971, this time directing Hennessey to request access via S4f (Air). On 22 December, the MOD wrote to him, mentioning “I know of your visit to the LATCC (military) on 8 September but I must confess that I am at a loss to know how on that visit you managed to see UFO reports received on 26/27 October 1977 “.
I am also not clear as to how this came about, but it would not be surprising if Hennessey had been somewhat “economical with the truth” regarding how he came to obtain the sighting reports. On the other hand, the dates could just have been a typographical error.
There are a few more letters up to May 1972, mainly relating to a sighting on 16 October 1971 in Oxfordshire which was explained by the MOD as an F-111 fighter aircraft dumping fuel. After that date, the next example of correspondence from him that has been found is about the same case, but nearly four years later (25 February 1976). There are a few more letters in Hennessey’s files, the latest of which is dated 3 March 1977, most of them copies of correspondence between the MOD and Sir John Langford-Holt. Two items worth mentioning are:
A reply from the MOD to Sir John Langford-Holt dated 29/3/76 which included the following paragraph: “There is no inconsistency between Merlyn Rees’ letter of 14 August 1967 and Lord Winterbottom’s letter dated 26 March 1970. The decision to retain UFO records indefinitely was taken between these two dates. It was not necessary to go into that when Lord Winterbottom wrote to you in 1970.”
The second item was a statistical summary of UFO reports relating to the period between January 1968 and December 1973, the last such summary produced according to the MOD at the time.
From Hennessey’s personal files, it appears that his last active foray into ufology was an attempt together with J. Allen Hynek to persuade the MOD to allow the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) access to their files. The basis of this request was the MOD response dated 26 March 1970 referred to earlier in this article which included the statement: “In the normal course of events UFO records would remain closed to public scrutiny until they became available under the usual rules at the end of 30 years. If, however, a major scientific organisation of high standing had strong reasons for obtaining access to our records then its application would be considered on its merits.”
The request was put forward by Sir John Langford-Holt, and was replied to in a letter 21 from the MOD dated 3 March 1977. Yet again, the answer was a disappointment. The Ministry declined to allow access to the files citing the workload which it would incur on the staff at the MOD.
On the 29 August 2003, Tracie Wayling (ufologyinuk list member) and I interviewed Hennessey at his home. He told us that he didn’t consciously drop his involvement in ufology, but that he gradually found that growing family and employment commitments took precedence. He still retains a passive interest in the topic, and was delighted to see the internal MOD documents which related to him. Euronet appears to have petered out mainly due to a dearth of UFO sightings by pilots. NICAP unfortunately folded due to several factors, including financial strife. Hennessey has fond memories of J. Allen Hynek, Don Berliner, Sir Eric Bullus, Sir John Langford-Holt, and other people who he had the pleasure to work with over the years.
He is still of the opinion that a small proportion of UFOs represent technology beyond current human capability. Amongst the sightings which he regards as the most convincing are those of Capt. Underhill, the McMinnville-Trent photographic case, the Socorro-Zamora case, and the 1956 Lakenheath-Bentwaters Radar-visual case. He no longer believes as he used to be that the military are covering up positive knowledge about UFOs, and is inclined towards the view that they simply took no interest in UFOs from the scientific aspect, focusing very narrowly on the Air Defence implications.
The reader may remember that in the opening paragraph of this article, I wrote “we would not have anything like the volume of official documentation that we now enjoy, were it not for him.”
I trust that this has been borne out by this article – not only the fact that through his efforts, MOD policy regarding the routine destruction of UFO material every five years has been changed, but also the sheer volume of his own correspondence has contributed to the written record which is now available to us. Note that I have not attempted to itemise every letter that was sent to or from Hennessey, or every case that he played a part in – such an article would be sufficiently large to write as a book. The MoD were certainly impressed with his voluminous correspondence, the following unattributable comment is taken from a handwritten (and barely legible) note in the MoD files:
“… But with our very tight Defence budget (according to today’s paper 50 Phantom have been chopped off the American contract) there is very little to be said for incurring any expense which does not give some benefit at MOD. Of course it might save the cost of dealing with all this Hennessey correspondence.”
The research behind the production of this article was very much a collaborative effort. All of those listed below have made valuable contributions, but I particularly want to thank Jan Aldrich of the Project 1947 team. At considerable personal expense he has provided copies of key material, mainly from NICAP sources. My appreciation also goes to the following (in alphabetical order): Gary Anthony, Dr. David Clarke, Richard Hall, Julian Hennessey, Dr. David Jacobs and Tracie Wayling
Hennessey’s personal files
Hennessey’s personal files
Sunday Express, 21st May 1967
Hennessey’s personal files
PRO, DEFE31/119, direct quote from signal from the Foreign office to UKMIS
The intelligence department at the MOD which dealt with space technology, e g. satellites & ICBMs
The department which managed the tracking of aircraft using ground-based radar
Hennessey’s personal files
Hennessey’s personal files
Hennessey’s personal files
Hennessey’s personal files
Hennessey’s personal files
Hennessey’s personal files
Hennessey’s personal files
Hennessey’s personal files
Hennessey’s personal files
Hennessey’s personal files
Hennessey’s personal files