Ian Ridpath’s UFO skeptic pages
Devon ‘flying cross’ of 1967 revisited
Above: The sighting was reported on the front page of The Times on 1967 October 25. The Daily Mirror’s science correspondent Arthur Smith knew it was Venus (right). Click on images for enlargements.
British UFOlogists still recall the famous Devon ‘flying cross’ case of 1967 October 24 in which two police constables, Roger Willey and Clifford Waycott, chased an apparent UFO in their police car along country lanes at up to 90 mile/h in the early hours of the morning. ‘It looked like a star-spangled cross radiating points of light from all angles,’ Constable Willey told the press. ‘It was travelling about tree-top height over wooded countryside near Holsworthy, Devon. We drove towards it and it moved away. It then led us on a chase as if it was playing a game with us.’
Explaining the sighting
Howard Miles of the British Astronomical Association (BAA) looked into this case but never published any results, so I sought his recollections to put on the record. When I contacted him in 2000 he was retired and living in Cornwall, but at the time of the event he taught at a technical college in Coventry. He ran the BAA’s artificial satellite section and UFO cases sometimes came his way. In this case it wasn’t difficult for him (and others, including the science correspondent of the Daily Mirror, Arthur Smith – see cutting above right) to recognize that the ‘flying cross’ was a classic sighting of Venus, which was particularly bright in the dawn sky at the time. In response to my request, Howard emailed me with the following information on his involvement with the case (apologies to any UFO believers whom it may offend):
I did not carry out any astronomical observations on this event as it was purely in [the] field of the nutters. I became involved because the TV station at Plymouth phoned me up when I was living in Coventry and asked me to appear on a programme that particular evening. I was late in arriving at Plymouth and the producer met me at the Station. On the way to the studio he outlined what was involved and said that I would interview a UFO supporter who was described as a bit weird and then two policemen who had witnessed the event from their patrol car.
The UFO chap was a prize nutter and knew no astronomy. He was completely confused about the positions of the planets and I came out with a sentence which is frequently quoted to me ‘For God’s sake talk a bit of ruddy sense’. The camera crew roared their heads off and after the programme the producer congratulated me in the way I handled him.
The two pcs were completely different and accepted completely my explanation of the apparent motions of Venus as being due to travelling along a bending road. [Ian’s note: This was also the conclusion of MoD investigators.]
I explained all the usual optical illusions that arise when a very bright object is seen in the sky and the idea that it must be near if it is very bright. They seemed quite satisfied.
That was my sole contribution to the episode. I did not wish to become involved with the UFO organisations as I had enough to do with the satellite work. These organisations were a pain throughout my years as satellite director. In the end I used to say that UFOs were outside the terms of reference of the BAA and hence could not comment. It usually shut them up.
The case attracted a fair bit of publicity at the time because of the two policemen involved but even those familiar with the case may not have known of Howard Miles’s involvement.
In early 2004 BBC Devon reinterviewed constables Waycott and Willey, by then both retired, about the events of that October night. ‘Nobody can explain exactly what it was,’ said Willey. ‘No explanation has been given to us by anybody,’ agreed Waycott. Evidently the policemen, and BBC Devon, had forgotten that they had been given the answer in the BBC’s own Plymouth studios back in 1967.
Other sightings in 1967 October
The Devon police case was the most high-profile sighting in a countrywide UFO flap that occurred during 1967 October. Among other cases in that month was the sighting of another bright, cross-shaped object by PCs in Cheshire three days after the Devon report. Click for more on the October 1967 UFO flap.
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Content last revised 2021 March
Clifford Waycott (above) and Roger Willey, who reported the Devon ‘flying cross’ UFO of 1967, photographed by BBC Devon in 2004.
Click here for archive footage of an ITN interview with the policemen.
The two policemen were interviewed by an investigator from the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Intelligence branch DI55. The MoD’s conclusion, withheld for over 30 years, was released publicly at The National Archives in 1998.
The report noted: ‘It was apparent that the policemen had rehearsed their story several times as a result of interviews with the Press … By this time they had drawn certain conclusions from their observations, eg that they had seen a spaceship, which were quite unsupported by their factual account of events. Venus is still a plausible explanation for what they saw.’
The file reference is AIR 20/11612.