Rendlesham: Secret Files
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The Secret Files: Rendlesham
originally published in Fortean Times 204 (December
DAVID CLARKE explains how he toppled the wall of silence to become the first researcher to obtain a copy of the Ministry of Defence file on the Rendlesham incident in May 2001.
Some UFOlogists believe the Rendlesham Forest UFO was one of the most important events in modern history, bigger even than Roswell as the key witnesses are all alive and willing to talk about their experiences. Although Charles Halt’s amazing report to Whitehall was released under the American Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 1983, the British obsession with secrecy kept the lid on what the Ministry of Defence knew about the incident for another two decades.
Until 2001 the official stance was simply that Halt’s report had been scrutinised by air defence staff who had decided it had “no defence significance.” This bland statement reeked of a cover-up and led two retired senior officials, Ralph Noyes and Lord Hill-Norton to openly accuse the Government of lying.
But with Britain’s own FOIA pending, the MoD finally bowed to my requests and agreed to release 150 pages from their file early in 2001. Shortly afterwards the contents of the entire “Rendlesham file” was uploaded onto the Ministry’s FOI Publication Scheme:
The file did not contain the “smoking gun” anticipated by UFOlogists – but did reveal a bungled, half-hearted investigation by disinterested officials. Most astonishing of all, the papers revealed the MoD never interviewed Halt or his men. As a result the investigation was flawed from day one as even the dates for the key incidents provided by Halt in his written memo were wrong. This basic error could have been easily rectified by a telephone call to the USAF or to the local police. The arrival of the FOIA in 2005 saw the release of the Suffolk Police log on the incident which was never seen by the Ministry at the time.
These murky waters have been muddied still further by the activities of Nick Pope, the ubiquitous former UFO desk officer at the MoD, who has made Rendlesham his cause celebre. Pope’s tour of duty was 1991-94 and he played no role in the original investigation. But in 1996 after leaving the post he wrote Open Skies, Closed Minds where he re-emerged as a UFO believer. He claims Rendlesham is the UK’s “best example” of a visit by ET and maintains there was no cover-up by the MoD but rather “a lack of action”.
But his statements fly in the face of new evidence from Simon Weeden who was UFO desk officer when the events took place. It was Weeden who received Col Halt’s report early in January 1981, three weeks after the events. Weeden, interviewed in 2005, maintains the case was discussed carefully with air defence staff who were “curious but sceptical.” But they decided “US nightime military movements”, the Orfordness lighthouse, or lights used by poachers were more likely explanations than an alien landing. Weeden concluded: “I do not recall the ‘Rendlesham Forest’ reports as being regarded at the time as being especially noteworthy.”
RENDLESHAM: The Evidence
MARKS ON TREES
But the most likely trigger for the Rendlesham UFOs may have been something that came from space after all, an object made by the Russians that was in orbit just for a a few hours. Shortly before Christmas 1980 with the Cold War at its height and with a crisis looming in Poland, the Soviets launched a number of satellites into orbit. The rocket body from one, Cosmos 749, re-entered the earth’s atmosphere shortly after 9pm on Christmas Day. The fireball broke into several pieces as it decayed and created a spectacular display in the night sky. Astronomers tracked its course across southeast England and noted how the final fragment disappeared in the vicinity of East Anglia. Headlines in national newspapers on 27 December (the day Halt made his sightings) spoke of “a giant spaceship spurting out similar craft”, “a large fireball crossing the Thames” and “six lights moving in convoy.” New data released from RAF Fylingdales confirms that a total of 12 satellites decayed during the week of the UFO scare. The sky was literally full of them. Six were “large objects such as payloads or rocket bodies and the decays would have been highly visible to any ground observers.” To top it all, during the Christmas holiday period astronomers logged three fireball meteors (lumps of rock burning up in the atmosphere), the largest and brightest at 2.50 a.m. on Boxing Day morning.
Can it be just a coincidence that in their original statements the USAF
airmen describe seeing “lights coming down [into] the woods”
around 3 AM? The rest, as they say, is history – or legend.