TOP-SECRET records detailing a decade of UFO sightings in Hampshire have been made public for the first time by the Ministry of Defence.

The X-Files, published in response to a Freedom of Information request, show the MoD logged 27 reports of unidentified flying objects in the county between 1998 and 2006.

The biggest year for sightings was 1998, when ten separate reports were recorded.

In the most recent year, 2006, just two sightings were logged. On December 31, in South Gorley, a witness reported that "three orange lights were moving across the sky at the same speed and then another orange light came ten seconds later".

In January 2001, in Farnborough, "bright lights were seen in the sky. Then followed what looked like people climbing down webbing into the house".

In September 2001, in Gosport, a witness reported "a twinkling object in the air, in close proximity to a plane".

The Southampton area has been the subject of two UFO reports over the past decade.

In January 2000, a spotter in the city claimed to have seen "two items, the size of footballs. They had tails that made them look like tadpoles. Were orange and very bright. Rapidly moving".

Just over a week later, a witness in nearby Dibden reported three objects, "the size of airliners", and many others that looked like "large shadows".

The report said: "They were all black and moved in a straight line." Two UFO sightings were recorded in the Winchester area and two on the Isle of Wight.

Each year more than 100 UFO sightings are reported to the MoD, which is required to investigate every sighting to establish whether the UK's air space has been compromised.

An MoD spokesman told the Daily Echo: "The MoD examines reports solely to establish whether UK airspace may have been compromised by hostile or unauthorised military activity.

"If required, sighting reports are examined with the assistance of the department's air defence experts.

"Unless there is evidence of a potential threat, there is no attempt to identify the nature of each sighting reported."

Correspondence between the MoD and members of the public who report sightings of strange objects reveals that Whitehall officials remain "totally open-minded" about the existence of aliens from outer space.

Giving details of the MoD's policy on UFOs, the director of air staff said in a lengthy response to a Freedom of Information request: "The MoD does not have any expertise or role in respect of UFO/flying saucer' matters or to the question of the existence or otherwise of extraterrestrial lifeforms, about which it remains totally open-minded.

"To date the MoD knows of no evidence which substantiates the existence of these alleged phenomena.

He added: "We believe that rational explanations, such as aircraft lights or natural phenomena, could be found for them if resources were diverted for this purpose, but it is not the function of the MoD to provide this kind of aerial identification service.

"It would be an inappropriate use of defence resources if we were to do so."

The decision to release details of UFO sightings by members of the public between 1998 and 2006 comes as the MoD prepares to publish its UFO files dating back to 1967.

The documents due for release are witness reports of apparent UFO sightings, many by civil pilots and military personnel.

A few are thought to have been investigated further by the military, but the details have never been made public.