The Boston Stump Incident And The 1996 UK UFO Wave

Marcus Lowth
Published Date
August 3, 2022
Estimated Reading Time
12 min read
Posted in
UFOs, Cover-Ups

In early October 1996 in Skegness, Lincolnshire in the United Kingdom, several reports would come in from the public of strange lights hovering over the sea off the east coast of England. What’s more, these apparent anomalous objects were picked up by military radar. In fact, the sighting received such coverage in the national newspapers that the sighting was brought up in the UK parliament.

A depiction of two UFOs over the beach

Just what was seen over Boston in October 1996?

What also makes the incident even more intriguing is that there were many similar sightings of strange aerial objects in this region of the United Kingdom in late 1996, which also coincided with waves of sightings over Scotland and Ireland. Just what was traversing the skies over the UK during this time, and are these incidents connected?

As we will see, an apparent explanation was put forward for the sighting that would become known as the Boston Stump Incident – an explanation that was embraced in some quarters and rejected as being part of a cover-up in others. However, many of the other sightings that, by and large, received much less coverage in the media, remain unexplained. And sightings of UFOs had been steadily rising in the UK throughout the 1990s, with an apparent surge of incidents reported in the middle of the decade.

Just what was taking place in the skies of the United Kingdom during the middle years of the 1990s remains unexplained. And this surge of activity certainly deserves further investigation and examination. Before we look at some of those other encounters, though, we will return our attention to the east coast of England in the late autumn of 1996.

The Beginnings Of The Boston Stump Incident

In the early hours of 5th October 1996, police in Skegness, Lincolnshire on the east coast of England reported a “strange red and green rotating light” overhead to the Yarmouth coastguard who, in turn, reported the incident to the RAF. [1] The report would state that there were “many people observing it” and that it looked “strange as its stationary”. Even more remarkable, there was “no (aircraft) sound in the area”.

A depiction of a UFO over Boston

There were multiple witnesses to the event in question

From there, the RAF air rescue at Kinloss in Scotland was made aware of the apparently unfolding situation. They would respond that they had no indications of any aircraft in distress in the area. From there, air defense radars at RAF Neatishead were alerted. Following several standard checks, one of the air traffic controllers at the base noticed an anomaly on his radar screen. According to his data, the object was hovering directly over Boston, Lincolnshire, which matched many of the reports now coming in from the public. Of even more concern, because there was no transponder signal, they realized whatever they were dealing with, it wasn’t an aircraft.

Shortly after, the night turned even stranger when further confirmations came in.

Controllers at nearby RAF Waddington discovered another unknown object on their screens. Given that there were three commercial airliners due to pass through the area in question very shortly, all three were asked to report any strange aircraft or objects they might see. None of them, however, witnessed anything unusual.

The night would be a long one.

A Real UFO Or A Case Of A Permanent Echo?

The object remained hovering in the same place for around nine hours, even remaining on the radar screen long after the break of dawn. It was at the point where the suggestion was put forward that what was showing on the radar screens was a “permanent echo” – this was essentially the creation of tall buildings that register on radar – in this case, it was put forward that the spire of St. Botolph’s Church, which stretches just over 270 feet into the air.

In fact, this spire is referred to as the Boston Stump by those local to the area, a moniker that is often applied to the sighting in question – the Boston Stump incident. According to the writings of Dr. David Clarke, it was only because of the UFO reports that had been made to the RAF that this anomalous blip was even picked up in the first place, with it normally being ignored as nothing but a permanent echo. Was this a case of an overeager air traffic controller adding two and two together by picking up on this permanent echo in light of the UFO reports they heard coming in? It is certainly a possibility, but perhaps not as probable as we might at first think.

When we take into account the UFO reports themselves, it was clear that people in the Boston and wider Lincolnshire area were seeing something. And furthermore, the same coastguards who had alerted the military had also alerted any ships or vessels in the North Sea area. And the responses were intriguing, to say the least.

Reports From The Icy Waters Of The North Sea

Following their request for any sightings or information from those already out on the cold October waters of the North Sea off the Eastern English coast, some of the responses were more than intriguing.

One of those who responded was the crew of the tanker, MV Conocast. They would report back to the coastguards that they could see two groups of strange lights that they couldn’t identify, nor explain. What’s more, these lights had appeared at around 2 am and remained overhead until well after daybreak. As the sun took over the sky, the lights became less and less visible until they disappeared completely. They would further describe the lights as flashing, changing colors from red to blue, then to green and white.

Indeed, these sightings by the boat’s crew, as well as those by the police and by members of the public, meant that the military couldn’t simply dismiss the sighting as a permanent echo. Instead, they began to contemplate if some kind of natural phenomena might have been responsible for the visual sightings – although, the flashing lights that changed color would surely at least suggest something more mechanical.

A depiction of UFOs over the sea

There are many sightings over the North Sea

However, one of the police officers who witnessed the aerial anomaly – PC Dave Leyland – managed to capture footage of it hovering stationary above the town after having watched it for almost two hours. It was Leyland’s conclusion that what he and his colleagues had watched and filmed was likely a planet or a particularly bright star. This was also the conclusion of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, which claimed that the planet Venus had been particularly bright in the early hours on the night in question, and was almost certainly what was witnessed.

Astronomer, Ian Ridpath, would also offer further explanations for the other sightings that evening, as well as the apparent “flashing colors” that were reported. He would state that a pair of bright stars on opposite sides of the sky – Sirius and Vega – would explain the apparent objects witnessed by the crew on the waters. As for the changing colors, Ridpath would offer that this was simply an optical illusion caused by the atmosphere distorting the stars and how we see them.

It would appear to be case closed. However, as we might imagine, not everybody was ready or willing to accept these explanations.

Just What Was Hovering Off The East Coast Of England?

Whether because of the intense media coverage the case had received, not least as it appeared to have been confirmed by military radar, many people became convinced that the explanations offered by the military were nothing short of a cover-up.

In fact, as David Clarke points out, so frenzied was the reaction to these headlines that a member of parliament, Martin Redmond, even wrote to the (then) Defense Minister, Michael Portillo, about the incident, asking why “no aircraft were scrambled when an uncorrelated target was picked up so close to the (UK) coast”, even accusing the RAF of having “no idea what is going on”.

When this letter was made public, the RAF announced they would conduct an investigation into the incident. This would result in a 23-page report that was released the following month in November 1996. It would conclude that while the RAF was correct in not scrambling jets on the night in question, not all of the sightings could be explained away as a planet or stars, elaborating that there was “evidence that alarming or extraordinary events were being witnessed” by several people.

This report, in some people’s minds, only strengthened the notion that something out of the ordinary was taking place that evening off the east coast of England.

A Connection To The Sharon Rowlands Footage?

It is also worth mentioning the sighting of Derbyshire housewife, Sharon Rowlands, who not only witnessed a bizarre object moving overhead but managed to capture several minutes of footage of it that would be seen around the world. [2] Rowlands’ encounter unfolded in October 2000 in the small village of Bonsall. She claims she heard a bizarre sound outside and reached for her camcorder before going to see what it was. When she stepped outside, she was amazed at what she saw.

Outside, at an approximate distance of two miles was an object that “resembled a giant disc with a bite taken out of the bottom”. [3] She would continue that “as it hovered over the woods, it seemed to expand and then get smaller again”. Furthermore, the object was “pulsing as it started up”, at one stage coming so close to the witness that she feared “it was going to land in the field” nearby.

Ultimately, Sharon would sell the footage for £20,000 to California-based Kiviat Productions, while none other than NASA asked permission to review it as the object had apparent similarities to a sighting of a strange object during a shuttle launch in 1996 during the STS-75 mission.

Robert Kiviat, an executive producer at Kiviat Productions, discovered the footage while searching the Internet, and would go on to describe it as “one of the top five pieces of video footage of UFOs ever taken”.

It is certainly an intriguing piece of footage and appears to show no signs of tampering and no evidence of a hoax.

What is of further interest, is the village has been regarded as a UFO hotspot since Rowlands footage was captured. [4] According to a recent online article, the small village with a population of around 1000 people, while seemingly quieter in recent years, has been the center of many UFO sightings in the opening decades of the twenty-first century.

In total, there were 19 further UFO sightings over the village following Sharon Rowlands’s sighting. One of these was described as a ball of fire, another as “two big, bright lights” moving through the sky, while another was described as being a “pink glow, vertically shaped like a shoe box”.

Whatever the truth might be about the Boston Stump incident, there were many other sightings of strange objects throughout the United Kingdom during this time. And it is to those that we will turn our attention to next. Before we do, though, you can see video footage of what Sharon Rowlands witnessed below.

The Wave Of UFO Sightings Around The UK In The Mid-1990s

In the mid-1990s, UFO sightings appeared to increase dramatically, with reports coming from all over the United Kingdom.

For example, the previous month on 16th September 1996 in Manchester, England, a witness was on the Metro-Link tram traveling between Manchester and Altringham at around 8:30 pm when they happened to glance out of the window and noticed a “large metallic diamond shape gliding through (the) lower cloud base”. [5] As the sky was blue on this particular morning, the cloud – and, in turn, the object – stood out clearly to the witness. They further recalled that they were traveling near Old Trafford Cricket ground when they first noticed the strange craft. In fact, so clearly could he see the craft that he recalled seeing the “shadow of the clouds casting” across it.

The witness further recalled that they had the impression that the object was attempting to “stay in the clouds”, possibly so as not to be visible to those below. As they stared at it more, they noticed how it had a “translucent appearance” that the witness compared to the “holographic image” that is often on credit cards.

A depiction of a UFO over the coast

There was a wave of UFO sightings in the UK in late 1996

At this point, the witness glanced quickly around the tram carriage to see if any of the other commuters had seen the object. None of them, however, were looking outward and it seemed he was the only person who had noticed it. The witness lost sight of the object temporarily, but by the time they had arrived at Stretford Station, the object was visible in the sky above once more, suggesting to the witness that the object was moving at an approximate speed of between 40 to 50 miles per hour.

At this point, the witness also realized how close the object was to the general flight path of incoming and outgoing planes to Manchester Airport. In fact, only moments later, a 737 airliner flew past, which the witness could see was only slightly bigger than the anomalous aerial vehicle.

When the witness eventually got off the tram at Altringham station, he remained on the platform hoping to see the object once more. It didn’t, however, reappear. Much to their surprise, there was no mention of the object in any of the local news or newspapers.

Further Reports Of Strange Objects Throughout September

Only three nights later, at around 10 pm on 19th September along the A647 between Queensbury and Halifax in West Yorkshire, four friends were returning home from the cinema when they noticed something strange in the late evening sky. [6] According to the witness who later made a report, they were unable to determine how large the craft was and at what altitude it was. They could, though, see that it was a triangular shape and that it was of a jet-black exterior that clearly stood out in the sky. As there were no navigation lights, it was clear to all of them that it wasn’t a plane.

After several moments, they brought the car a stop at the roadside and got out so as to see the object more clearly. They remained outside of the car, watching as the object passed directly over them and eventually disappeared behind one of the nearby hills. As it headed off into the distance, the group realized that it was not making any sound, which was strange given its apparent size.

The object was in view for around 10 minutes and each of them was in agreement that it was something they had never witnessed before. And while they considered that it could have been a secret stealth military aircraft, they all agreed that possibility was unlikely. They further agreed to keep the incident to themselves, something that was reinforced when they realized there were no reports of any unidentified objects in any of the local newspapers in the days and weeks that followed.

Two days later, at around 11 pm on 21st September in Norwich, a husband and wife witnessed a similar triangular-shaped craft. [7] They would state in their report that they were looking up at the stars when a “dark object” caught their attention as it moved swiftly across the sky.

They could immediately see that it was a triangular shape and that it “had lights down the two leading edges”. What they also noticed was that it didn’t make a sound. As it moved across the stars, it “blotted out the stars”. However, it was moving at such a pace that in less than 10 seconds it had disappeared from sight.

At around 10 pm on 25th September in Oxford, an even more bizarre encounter unfolded. [8] The witness claimed they were at home in bed reading when a “massive bright light” suddenly shone through their window. As it did so, they “felt some kind of scan pass over me”. At the same time, they could hear “a whirr and a gibbering sound”. The light and sounds remained for around 10 minutes before disappearing as suddenly and as quickly as they had arrived.

A Decline Toward The End Of The Year

Just over a month after the Boston Stump incident, at around 11 pm on 11th November in York, a witness was driving from York toward Thirsk in Yorkshire when they noticed they appeared to be being followed by two lights. [9] The witness estimated they were traveling at around 60 miles per hour at the time of the sighting, and that the lights appeared to keep pace with him for approximately five miles. Then, out of nowhere, the lights suddenly shot directly upwards and disappeared.

A depiction of a UFO over a town

UFO sightings slowed toward the end of the year

Four nights later, at around 10:30 pm on 15th November in the Thornton Cleveleys region of Lancashire, several different reports of dark, black triangles were made. [10] Interestingly, many of these sightings were often accompanied by “flashes of bright white or blue lights” which would often light up local residents’ rooms. Perhaps adding weight to these reports was the fact that several of the witnesses were active police officers. Yet another sighting of a triangular object, this time with three lights at each point, was reported in the Liverpool area at around 7 pm on 20th November. The witness claimed the object moved slowly across the sky and remained in sight for around five minutes before it had disappeared into the distance.

On Christmas Day, at around 7 pm over London, three round white lights in a distinct triangular shape were witnessed moving over London. [11] The witness and his wife just happened to be looking skyward when they noticed the aerial anomaly. Even stranger, as they watched, these lights “turned together – around a central point between the three of them”. They did this one way and then back again, the entire process taking around six or seven seconds. They then all moved so they were facing inward and formed “one circle of light”. Then, moments later, the light disappeared. The witness stated he couldn’t find “any rational explanation” for what they had witnessed.

A Need For Caution On All Sides

As we can see then, the Boston Stump incident and many of the other sightings on record around the same time, at least to some, remain without explanation and require further investigation. As we examined above, it is a tough situation for UFO researchers to be in. On the one hand, the explanation offered would appear to be sound. On the other, it wouldn’t be the first time that such explanations were indeed used to cover over something that was of more interest.

And we might throw into the mix, the questions surrounding the Royal Air Force and their perceived lack of action. While this is pure speculation on our part, given this criticism, it would certainly put the air force in an even worse light if it became known that what was witnessed off the east coast of the United Kingdom was something more than just stars or planets.

Whether that is the case or not, the fact that many other UFOs were reported around the same time (and, of course, continue to be reported today almost three decades later) shows that there is most certainly something (or someone) who has maintained a discreet presence in the skies over the United Kingdom.

Indeed, there is a need for caution all sides, and the Boston Stump case perhaps highlights that more than anything. There are understandable reasons that people are cautious of the official explanations offered to them by authority and officialdom. With that in mind, to believe every account unreservedly and to place them all as proof of extraterrestrial visitation only muddies the waters further.

The video below features footage of the Boston Stump incident.


1 Boston  Stump Incident, Dr. David Clarke
2 Derbyshire Dales UFO Footage (Sharon Rowlands) 2000, UFO Casebook
3 UFO Video Goes To Hollywood, BBC News
4 The ‘Sleepy’ Derbyshire village which is a UFO hotspot, Derby Telegraph
5 Unknown object being chased by aircraft, National UFO Reporting Center
6 Triangle Over West Yorkshire, England, National UFO Reporting Center
7 Triangular UFO, Norwich, National UFO Reporting Center
8 Scanned By Something, National UFO Reporting Center
9 Fast Traveling Formation, York, National UFO Reporting Center
10 Black Triangle Sightings, National UFO Reporting Center
11 Three Round White Light Over London, National UFO Reporting Center

Marcus Lowth

Marcus Lowth is a writer with a love for UFOs, aliens, and the Ancient Astronaut Theory, to the paranormal, general conspiracies, and unsolved mysteries. He has been writing and researching with over 20 years of experience.

Marcus has been Editor-in-Chief for several years due to his excellent knowledge in these fields. Marcus also regularly appears as an expert on radio talk shows including Troubled Minds and Unexplained Radio discussing these topics.

Read Marcus' full bio.

You can contact Marcus via email.

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1 Comment

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  • Mike Belshaw says:

    I had a UFO in counter on the 10th March 1996 at tong moor Bolton . I had been watching F1 live from Australia iwent out side for Sig at about 3.30am and saw a large white/ with a bit of pink colour ball 3 of them one large the size of a house 2 bed at the front of it was small ball the size of a car and one at the back the size large van the ball at the front and rear looked to me as if they were garding the Lange ball in the middle . I was only 15 feet from them they was only moving at slow walking speed and height of the lamp post totally without any sound. I had a very bad feeling that who or what was in the craft were evil . they wanted to be seen i have never forgotten this incident.

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