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Chance Encounters in the Valley of Lights
Photography Rik MoranCourtesy of Centre Centre

The sleepy Yorkshire town that’s home to unexplained UFO abductions

Chance Encounters in the Valley of Lights is a compendium that traces extraterrestrial sightings in the place dubbed the UK’s answer to Roswell

On June 11, 1980, something quite strange happened in West Yorkshire. The body of a Polish miner was found resting on a ten feet high coal pile, with no visible injuries bar a strange mark – possibly a burn – on the back of his head. The coroner ruled the case the “most mysterious death I have investigated in 12 years”. The policeman assigned to the investigation, however, would experience something even stranger six months later. Coming off a shift, PC Alan Godfrey described seeing a diamond-shaped object hanging in the air, spinning slowly. He saw a brilliant white, blinding flash, when suddenly he was driving in the opposite direction towards the police station, having lost 20 minutes of time. His left boot was split and there was an itchy red mark on his foot.

The market town in which this happened, Todmorden, is a folkloric place that’s no stranger to mysterious goings-on and paranormal activity, from UFO claims to ghost sightings (and is the place where Harold Shipman first took up his GP position). It’s the focus of a new book by photographer Rik Moran, Chance Encounters of the Valley of the Lights, which documents PC Godfrey’s strange case alongside shots of small town England and the rolling Pennine hills.

Unidentified flying object enthusiasts, long maligned by mainstream discourse, are increasingly being given credibility. Last year, the Pentagon confirmed the legitimacy of newly-leaked photos and videos of a UFO. The US military labelled UFOs as a cause for concern and, while proof of alien visits to Earth have not been verified, neither have they been ruled out. It’s becoming increasingly hard to argue that humans are alone in the universe. At the time, PC Godfrey was discredited and ridiculed for his beliefs, losing his job in the force before becoming an alcoholic, which eventually led to the breakup of his marriage. Todmorden still plays host to an active UFO spotting community, who want to believe.

Moran’s photography shows rural England portrayed through a mythical, otherworldly lens, alongside archival imagery and documents from the case, including death certificates, newspaper clippings, transcripts of interviews and hypnosis sessions – where Godfrey described being taken on board the spacecraft. Below, Dazed spoke to Rik Moran about the town’s continued fascination with alien activity, his own research into UFO sightings, and why the book is dedicated to Andrew Weatherall.

Although now New York-based, you grew up near Todmorden – when did you first hear about the abduction story?

Rik Moran: When I was a young lad, my Dad brought home a national newspaper that had a feature about Godfrey’s encounter. I remember it blew my mind – UFOs abducting a policeman just down the road from my house! Years later I started looking into it on the internet and found out there was so much more to the story beyond his encounter.

How would you describe the area, and why do you think it’s a place that has seen such a high amount of unusual goings-on?

Rik Moran: ‘Tod’, as it’s locally known, has alway been an interesting place to me. My Dad always claimed he could tell someone was from there as soon as he saw them. It was once in both Lancashire and Yorkshire – in fact the border followed the river that runs under the town hall – they used to say you could ballroom dance across both counties. It has a long history of the mythical and mysterious, from witches to ghosts and mysterious monolithic stones on the moors said to be ancient druid sites. There’s definitely something compelling about the area. It can’t be a coincidence that so much has happened there. Some put it down to the geography, being uniquely situated at the meeting point of three Pennine valleys.

How extensive was your research? Was there anything that particularly surprised you when putting the book together?

Rik Moran: The overall project took about five years on and off. I started my research by submitting a freedom of information request to the West Yorkshire police for more info. They sent over some press clippings (which I’d already seen) and then refused to give any more information, saying it was classified. This sparked my interest even more, and is in line with some of Godfrey’s claims that the police tried to cover up his sighting. I spent time in Todmorden both to research and shoot, I scoured microfiches in the library and spoke to locals about the story. I did further research at the British Library and went through UFO files in the National Archives. The latter was interesting as there was no mention of his encounter in there, despite him reporting it at the time. I also spoke to a lot of people from the UFO community who’d written books that featured his encounter and got some great material from them.

I also found out lots of interesting things by speaking to locals. Godfrey’s son had an encounter earlier in the year to his Dad’s and I spoke to one of the other people who were there at the time with his son. I found a 1969 BFI film filmed in Todmorden that mirrored elements of Godfrey’s encounter, and there was the Polish miner found dead six months earlier on a coal pile with mysterious burns to the back of his neck – PC Alan Godfrey was the first one on the scene.

What are some of your favourite images or archival material in the book?

Rik Moran: Tough question. I like the shot of the toys in the window of a building by his encounter site, there’s a feeling that they know more than they’re letting on. And the shot through the trees above the encounter site – when I was shooting there, one camera I had secured on a tripod spookily fell over a low wall into a stream – make of that what you will! Archive-wise, I love the stills from the hypnosis videos and the shots of the Futuro house being driven through the streets – there are many people that think that may be connected to what Godfrey saw.

You dedicated the book to Andrew Weatherall, describing him as a ‘friend of Todmorden’. Why is that?

Rik Moran: Weatherall regularly DJed at the Golden Lion pub in Todmorden and was a big fan of the town. He was a huge inspiration to me, and I hope the book would have been of interest to him, so it felt right dedicating it to him as well as my wife and family.

Why do you think there’s been such a surge of interest in UFOs recently? Do you pay much attention to other sighting claims now?

Rik Moran: A lot of this is down to the recent release of UFO reports both in the UK and US. I keep an eye on things, but that’s tapering off now the book is finished. I always think it’s interesting that despite the ubiquity of camera phones, there’s very few, if any, decent photos or videos of sightings.

Does Todmorden continue to have an active UFO research community?

Rik Moran: Most definitely. Colin Lyall from the local bookstore hosts a monthly UFO meeting upstairs at the Golden Lion. I went to one during my research, and he was a big help with background info. There’s quite an active Facebook page as well, with a lot of new sightings and happenings.

Rik Moran’s Chance Encounters in the Valley of Lights is out now via Centre Centre and available for purchase here