Essay Index

Unwarranted Conclusions and Dubious Data

The references to the Warminster UFO sightings that I discovered in my research for In Alien Heat sometimes left me puzzled. In some cases, it seemed that data had been garbled between leaving Shuttlewood and ending up in another author's hands; or that data had been used, perhaps second-hand, without another thought or further research; also, possibly, there were indications that Shuttlewood had "gilded the lily" subsequent to his initial press reports.

I'll start with a simple descriptive book, Brad Steiger's Strangers From the Skies. Steiger describes how a lorry driver called Terry Simpson was driving along the road into Warminster with a load of fruit at 5.25 am when a UFO "suddenly" appeared. Mr "Simpson" says that:

all of a sudden there was a close, blinding light just to my left. It lit up my cab and blinded me for a split second. I had to jam on my brakes tight and skidded off the highway. I jumped out and got a good look at the light. It seemed to be a thing of substance. It was overhead and shaped like a ball. It was dancing about […] I kept looking until it suddenly went out - blew out like a candle - with funny frizzling noises. It shook me up all right. I got the hell out of there.(1)

Steiger had received his report through UPI; I assume that the report has been originally written for media or wire services by Shuttlewood. But in The Warminster Mystery, as well as in Rogers's Warminster Triangle, Terry Simpson becomes Terry Pell. The time at which the incident happened is also different by over an hour; according to Shuttlewood, it occured at 4.36 am. Now, it is irrelevant who has made a mistake here; Shuttlewood in his initial wire story, or Steiger in re-writing the story. However, Steiger's book wasn't published until 1966, while the incident occured in 1965. Steiger had time to check his sources. Whoever is to "blame", the result is that, in one of the early books on the UFO subject, one item of data is wrong. While this seems likes no big deal, we'll look at some other evidence in a moment. For now, I want to draw your attention to another facet of this particular piece of evidence; Shuttlewood's purple prose. For, whatever the errors in Steiger's retelling of this story there is no doubt that this was a first and early version of the story. In The Warminster Mystery Shuttlewood describes the sighting thus:

No warning came with the ball of flaming crimson light. It flew with bullet force from the hillside to his left. In a glowing arc which lit the treetops with diffused halos of fire, it sped across the sky, hovered fifty yards in fornt of him - and then flashed down to his cab in a head-on motion. Its speed and and change of direction were almost unbelievable. Mr Pell braked sharply and shielded his eyes from the dazzling glare as the orb virtually fastened on to his woindscreen without shattering the glass. As though it was fixed to the front of the lorry, the Thing went backwards as the vehicel roard forward at 30 mph. . Superb control must have been exercised over its motivation mechanism in those few seconds before the fruit-carrier ground to a halt.
After the lorry had halted, the UFO flew over a nearby clump of trees,where it hovered, turning pale gold and silver. Mr Pell described the UFO as "an outsize car headlight in the sky, to start, but red. Then it resembled a human eye as it came closer, every featiue clearly outlined in a brilliant crimson ball."(2)

In fact, the description in Shuttlewood's book is almost nothing like that in Steiger's book - except that the driver was called Terry. Did two incidents happen to two lorry drivers called Terry? Well, while it is possible, it is unlikely that Shuttlewood would have missed reporting such a fascinating coincidence of sightings. So I have to believe that Terry Simpson and Terry Pell are the same. And that somewhere; either in Shuttlewood's rewriting of the story, or in Mr Pell's later recollections - recollections that might well have been coloured by subsequent occurences in Warminster - something changed. Remember too, that just because Shuttlewood has quoted text, it might not necessarily be reported speech. For example, in one UFO sighting reported by Shuttlewood, the wirness is quoted as saying 'When the hideous humming grew less, the starry Thing flicked feebly.' Is it likely that the witness gave testimony in such an ostentatiously alliterative way? Or is it possible that Shuttlewood was indulging in some simple beautification; simply practicing the journalistic art?

Michael Persinger's and Gyslaine Lafreniere's Space Time Transients and Unusual Events is an attempt to use the methods and techniques of modern science to bring order to a mass of fortean data. The chapter UFLO: Unidentified Flying and Landed Objects describes the data and sources of data they have for UFOs. They state that 1242 reports were included in their analysis; these reports were broken down into various categories, and examples of the data in these categories were given. In the category "Small Glowing Spheres/Exploding UFOs" the following is shown as sample data:

05 May, 1965/Warminster, England/explosion of 200 foot diameter, orange, mushroom like object.(3)

This differs in details from the explosion as reported by Shuttlewood. To adumbrate: an explosion described variously as 'a huge blast', 'one hell of a bang' and 'the biggest explosion I have ever heard,' occured at 1.55 am on the 17th August 1965. One witness describes 'a monstrous orange flame in the sky ... it was shaped like an electric bulb... by its light I clearly saw ...[the] hills.' When the light faded, a great ball of smoke with 'a funny yellow core' floated down from the hills, crackling and hissing whenever it touched grass or trees. Another said that this ball of smoke was shining at its 'heart'. The puffball settled in the road and 'gradually dispersed in straggling wisps, the fiery centre burning out as it did so.' Two houses had some broken windows, but this was the only damage caused by the explosion.(4)

In The Warminster Mystery, Shuttlewood tells us what the witnesses to this explosion reported. None of the witnesses describe the explosion of a 200-feet diameter, orange, mushroom like object. In fact, it was the explosion that was heard first. The 'orange mushroom' appears to have been the consequence of the explosion. No witness describes a 'mushroom'; that is an invention of Shuttlewood's. One witness describes 'a monstrous orange flame in the sky...shaped like an electric light-bulb, round and broad at one end, thinner at the other.' No estimate is made of the size of this 'light-bulb' or, if you prefer, 'mushroom'. However, witnesses did report that some time after the explosion and 'orange flame', a 'great ball of smoke came...floating towards the estate road.' It was this ball of smoke that was estimated to be 150 feet high and 50 feet wide. Interestingly, this ball of smoke seems to have had some kind of interor illumination: one witness reports that it had a 'golden heart' and that it was 'very large and shining'.

None of the elements cited by Persinger and Lafreniere match what Shuttlewood describes in 1967. The Warminster Mystery is not mentioned in their bibliography, so it must be assumed that this data item was obtained elsewhere. In the introducton to their book, Persinger and Lafreniere describe their data sources as the books of Fort, scientific journals, newspaper clippings, and Fate magazine. They go onto say that detailed accounts of many of these events can be found in W R Corliss's Project Sourcebook series. It is impossible, therefore, to know whether the errors in the Warminster data were introduced by Persinger and Lafreniere, or at some earlier stage in the data item's "life". I suspect, however, that it was at an earlier stage in the data's life. Again, by returning to Steiger's Strangers From the Skies, we can obtain a very early report of this explosion. Steiger reports yet another date, just to add further confusion:

At 1.55 am on September 5th [occured] a "tremendous explosion". About 30 people, most of them men, described a 200-foot, orange-colored "mushroom" of smoke, with a glowing orange center. An orange light flooded the city, which in some sections changed "night into day." The explosion shattered many Warminster windows […](5)

So at this early stage of the data's life, things are beginning to change. The date is wrong; although this could have been, for example, the dateline of the wire report; but the date quoted by Persinger and Lafreniere is also wrong. The size of the mushroom is undescribed, but the later ball of smoke is 150 feet by 50 feet. Who is introducing these discrepancies? Steiger in writing his book? A wire-service reporter re-writing a story of Shuttlewood's? Or is Shuttlewood changing the stories at a later date, when he is writing up his news stories for his book? Whatever the situation, it is unlikely that Shuttlewood is getting times and dates wrong, as they really are the kind of information on which Shuttlewood always prided himself as a reporter. And Shuttlewood is unlikely to describe the explosion as lighting up "the city" (even Steiger at first refers to Warminster as a "village").

You would think that would be all the mismatches between the data in books on Warminster and Steiger's book. But no! Despite being a mere four and half pages long, and containing but six of the reports from Warminster, yet another minor discrepancy can be found. A UFO reported as having six lights by Steiger(5) is reported as having eight by Ken Rogers.(6)

As I said at the beginning of this essay, few fortean books mention Warminster; yet it can pop up in unexpected places. One such place is Mysteries by Colin Wilson. Here, he talks about John Michell's interest in earth-sciences and, in particular, his interest in ley-lines and feng-shui.(7) Wilson reports some comments of Michell's, from The Flying Saucer Vision, about the connection between ley-lines and UFO sightings, that 'there have been an unusual number of sightings above Cley Hill, near Warminster, where several ley-lines intersect.' This perplexed me. Firstly the sentence is ambiguous; does Wilson mean that several ley-lines intersect near Warminster, or near Cley Hill? Secondly, although UFOs have been sighted near Cley Hill, and from Cley Hill, the hill was never really the centre of the phenomena around Warminster. In fact, if one hill can be said to be the temple of ufology, it is Cradle Hill. And what was the big deal anyway? While four ley-lines skirt Cley Hill, as many as 12, according to Arthur Shuttlewood in The Warminster Mystery, cross to the east of Warminster.

I went to Wilson's source, The Flying Saucer Vision to see exactly what Michell had said. Talking about leys, he says:

Others intersect at Cley Hill, one of the meeting places between men and gods, which stands above Warminster and has recently been the centre of a great wave of flying saucer observations.(8)

This, at least, resolves the ambiguity; it is Cley Hill, not Warminster itself, at which the leys intersect. However, Michell states that Cley Hill is the "centre" of the wave of UFO sightings. Michell was probably not able to refer to The Warminster Mystery, which was published in 1967, the same year as the The Flying Saucer Vision. Michell as probably unaware, therefore, of what a small part Cley Hill actually played in the Warminster phenomena. As Michel's book is not heavily annotated, it is difficult to work out where Michell got his information about about Warminster and its leys.

Shuttlewood's The Warminster Mystery has a postscript which describes the number of leys around Warminster. The postscript was written by Jimmy Goddard. At that time, Goddard was a member of the International Sky Scouts, and was editor of both Saucer Forum and The Ley-Hunter. As editor of the Ley Hunter, and, as described by Shuttlewood, a "young archeologist", Goddard was presumably one of the foremost experts at that time on ley-lines. It was he who noted that four ley-lines skirted Cley Hill. Note: "skirt", according to Goddard; they do not intersect there. There is, however, a centre where twelve leys-lines intersect, at Boreham, a hamlet to the south and east of Warminster. Goddard says, of what he calls the Warminster Centre, 'It is just a muddy back-water of the small River Wylye, with no prehistoric site of any kind.' He does note though that many UFOs have been seen there. It is perhaps Goddard's breathless description of Cley Hill that subsequently affected Michell. Goddard calls Cley Hill the 'most important ley site of the trip', a 'remarkable structure', dotted with 'weirdly shaped earthworks which look so unearthly one cannot wonder at the hill being a centre for "Thing" activity.' Note, however, that Goddard only says that Cley Hill is a centre for UFO activity; not 'the' centre.

Wilson simply recounts Michell's description of one aspect of the Warminster phenomena. From reading Wilson you would think that Cley Hill was the centre of local UFO phenomenon, and you would wrongly suppose Cley Hill to be the most important ley centre locally. Wilson was using Michell's research as part of a particular thesis that Wilson is putting forward in that section of Mysteries. Wilson had the benefit of being able to check The Warminster Mystery, so why didn't he? It might seem like a small matter, but Wilson is wrong in every aspect of this description of the Warminster phenomena. Ley lines skirt Cley Hill, they do no intersect. Most of the UFO activity took place at Cradle Hill. More leys cross at the unremarkable Boreham than at Cley Hill. So ultimately, there is nothing remarkable about Cley Hill; or perhaps about ley-lines. Yet all this unremarkableness is one of the "data items" that supports Wilson's thesis.

Another book that uses Warminster data is F W Holiday's The Dragon and the Disc. As the title implies, the book discusses both dragon/worm/Nessie-type apparitions and UFOs, and argues that they are linked symbols of man's earliest religion. What strikes us as interesting in Holiday's case is not that the data is inaccurate - the data is directly taken from The Warminster Mystery. It is more how the data is assessed, and how it is used.

In the chapter The Disc Culture Holiday describes how he thinks the sky-gods such as Zeus all seem to be names for one thing: UFO phenomena. He goes on to note that the sky-god of the ancient Scandinavians was Odin, the god with only one eye. Holiday states that most disc barrows are marked with a central eye, and gives further archeological evidence of "eye" symbols. He then says: 'But what sort of phenomena could have given rise to this extraordinary lore? To find the answer we will have to leave the sterile theories of the archeologists and study contemporary news-reports.'(9) Holiday then goes on to describe two UFO sightings that he thought provided evidence for eye-type UFOs. Both of these examples are from Warminster. Both are interesting.

The first UFO sighting described is that of Gordon Faulkner. As we have seen, Faulkner took the first photograph of a daylight UFO over Warminster. Holiday reports Faulkner's apparent altruism in relation to this photograph, and then goes onto say: 'UFO pictures are easy to fake. However, the fakes do tend to conform to a pattern, and none, so far as I am aware, has ever included an eye.' Faulkner's UFO had never struck me as resembling an eye, but in the blown-up, grainy version that is usually reproduced, Faulkner's picture resembles most accurately, perhaps, a Rorschach onto which you can project whatever UFO fantasy you wish.

Holiday then quotes Terry Pell's UFO sighting, descibed above, which occurred a couple of weeks before Faulkner took his photograph. In this sighting, a UFO is reported to have flown down in front of a lorry, and then hovered stationary relative to the lorry, while the lorry continued along the road for a while. Holiday says: 'At close quarters, said Terry Pell, the thing resembled an enormous human eye.' Although according to Shuttlewood, Pell simply said 'it resembled a human eye as it came closer.'(10)

It is Pell's own interpretation of his sighting as being like an eye that impresses Holiday. Yet it should be noted that it is Arthur Shuttlewood who first notes that the UFO in Faulkner's photo resembles an eye. And then, it is only noted in relation to Terry Pell's sighting. In fact, Shuttlewood says, after his description of Pell's sighting: 'Like a human eye... That recurring description is relevant I feel intuitively... Look again at Gordon Faulkner's imposing all-seeing eye in the sky.'(11)

It is, in fact, Shuttlewood who in the first place creates a favourable comparison between the two sightings. The two sightings are in fact, very different. One is at night, the other during the day. The night-time object is red/crimson, the day-time object is silver. The night-time object contains 'every feature outlined in a brilliant crimson ball.' The Faulkner picture simply looks like a traditional 1960s UFO, except that the picture is blurred enough to enable viewers to interpret the picture howsoever they want.

Holiday finds only two stories to support his eye hypothesis; both are from Warminster. The Faulkner photograph was at the time seen as being weak evidence for UFOs. The Pell sighting, if its original incarnation, as seen in Steiger's Strangers From the Skies, is believed to be accurate, was not originally even descibed as resembling an eye. It was Shuttlewood who had been the first to suggest a link between these disparate sightings in his own desparate attempts to find order in an overwhelming mass of data. Again, this might all seem like minor quibbling yet, as with Wilson, the data, as dubious and amorphous as it is, is being used to support a thesis.

Even the ufologists involved in the Warminster phenomenon can sometimes find it hard to agree on the data. Shuttlewood reports in The Warminster Mystery the deaths of a flock of pigeons, supposedly killed by the sounds of a Thing, in February 1965(12). Ken Rogers quotes(13) a letter by David Holton to The Warminster Journal, in which it is claimed that a flock of pigeons was killed on April 11th, 1964. Gordon Creighton and Charles Bowen, in an article in the Flying Saucer Review (Volume 2, Number 4) report this event as being in April after the noises had started; that is, in 1965. In all three descriptions of the events David Holton is on hand to examine the dead pigeons, and the deaths occur near Five Ash Lane. So there is at least some consistency...

You might think that what I am showing here is how unreliable the data was that was being recorded and transmitted in Warminster. But I think it is much worse than that. I think this shows how unreliable much fortean data might be; particularly that first written or at some point rewritten by journalists. And if so much can be changed - even simple elements like dates, times and numbers - when crossing the Atlantic, think how much more damage can be done when data crosses the language barrier. One such example of a mangled data item, from outside the Warminster dataset, came to my attention by accident. I have already discussed the RAF Topcliffe incident in the chapter The British Context. In summary, during a NATO exercise on the 19th September 1952, two RAF officers and three aircrew at RAF Topcliffe observed a strange object that appeared to be following a Meteor jet. The sighting of the object took place for some 15 to 20 seconds. The object appeared to be about the size of a small fighter aircraft if it were at a similar height. The object was silver and circular in shape, about 10,000 feet up, and some five miles behind the aircraft. Jaques Vallee refers to this incident, but dates it as the 24th September:

A [Meteor] from Topcliffe Air Force Base in Great Britain took off and came close to the UFO, described as a whitish-silvery sphere that revolved around it's axis and flew away before further observations could be made.(14)

I notice these mutations in descriptions of the Warminster data because I am at the moment so deeply immersed in the data. Were I not so immersed then errors, glosses, re-interpretations, or whatever, would, perhaps, pass me by.


1 Strangers From the Skies, Brad Steiger, p.78.
2 The Warminster Mystery, Arthur Shuttlewood, p.59.
3 Space-Time Transients and Unusual Events, Michael Persinger and Gyslaine Lafreniere, p.56.
4 The Warminster Mystery, p.66.
5 Strangers From the Skies, p.78.
6 Ibid., p.77.
7 The Warminster Triangle, Ken Rogers, p.23.
8 Mysteries, Colin Wilson, p.126.
9 The Flying Saucer Vision, John Michell, p.139.
10 The Dragon and the Disc, F W Holiday, p.134.
11 The Warminster Mystery, p.61.
12 Ibid., p.61.
13 Ibid., p.31
14 The Warminster Triangle, p.3
15 Anatomy of a Phenomenon, Jacques Vallee, p.62.


Holiday, F W, The Dragon and The Disc (London: Futura, 1974)
Michell, John, The Flying Saucer Vision (London: Sphere, 1974)
Persinger, Michael and Gyslaine Lafreniere, Space-Time Transients and Unusual Events (Chicago: Nelson Hall, 1977)
Rogers, Ken. The Warminster Triangle (Warminster, Wilts: Coates and Parker: 1994)
Shuttlewood, Arthur, The Warminster Mystery (London: Tandem, 1973; repr. 1976)
Steiger, Brad Strangers From the Skies (London: Tandem, 1966; repr. 1975)
Vallee, Jacques, Anatomy of a Phenomenon (London: Tandem, 1974)
Wilson, Colin, Mysteries (London: Granada, 1979)