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.”
Howard Miles of the British Astronomical Association (BAA) looked into this case
but never published any results, so I have sought his recollections to put on
the record. When I contacted him 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, in 2000 August Howard emailed me with
the following information on his involvement with the case (apologies to those
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
“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, 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.
● 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.
Content last updated 2008 June