Winston Churchill ordered a cover up of a reported close encounter between an RAF aircraft and a UFO during the Second World War because it would create “mass panic”, accordingly to newly-released files.

The claim that the then Prime Minister ordered details of the unexplained incident over the East Coast be kept secret was made by a scientist who said his grandfather was one of Churchill’s bodyguards.

The tale is told in newly declassified Ministry of Defence UFO files put online by the National Archives.

Allegations of the cover-up emerged when the man, from Leicester, wrote to the Government in 1999 trying to find out more about the incident.

He described how his grandfather, who served with the RAF in the war, was present when Churchill and US General Dwight Eisenhower discussed how to deal with the UFO encounter.

The man, who is not named in the files, said Churchill exclaimed: “This event should be immediately classified since it would create mass panic amongst the general population and destroy one’s belief in the church.”

The incident allegedly involved an RAF reconnaissance plane returning from a mission in France or Germany towards the end of the war.

“Although this story was told by the man to his wife who told the man’s grandson, there may be a grain of truth in it,” Dr David Clarke, author of the UFO files told Sky News Online, “because we know Churchill had an interest in UFOs.”

The wartime leader was in fact the first person to answer a question on the subject in Parliament when, as First Lord of the Admiralty, he was quizzed about an unusual sighting off Sheerness.

“It was in 1912 and everyone was getting nervous about the Germans,” said Dr Clarke.

“The question was about an unusual sighting off the coast and MPs wanted to know if it was a German zeppelin. The answer was ‘Apparently not’. The mystery remains.”

Dr Clarke added that many people want to believe in UFOs and, even when the Government discloses what it knows about them, the chances are someone will be crying “conspiracy theory”.

“We want to believe in them and that’s why people remain fascinated,” he continued.

“And, while undoubtedly, most strange sightings can be explained, there are still strange events that cannot be accounted for.”

In the Second World War, for instance, pilots from all sides reported unusual sightings, telling of unaccountable flashes of light and being followed by strange airborne objects.

“The Americans used to refer to them as ‘foo fighters’,” he says, “I think after a famous cartoon character and from where, I imagine, the rock band took their name.

“The US pilots used to talk about objects that circled them around during their flights, with flashing lights and changes of direction that did not fit in with possible enemy patterns. The British and the Germans also reported such sightings.

“It’s hard not to wonder if something’s out there.”

Thanks to Sky News and The Truth Behind the Scenes.