Nick Pope reviews the Rendlesham Forest Incident of 26 December 2005, as it saw the 25th anniversary of Britain’s most famous UFO sighting ever, of what has become known as the Rendlesham Forest incident. Since then there has been significant media interest in this event and I have even given a number of interviews that appeared on TV, radio and in the newspapers. The Forestry Commission even held a commemorative event on the 26th of December and UFOlogists by holding a ‘skywatch’ on 27 December, 2005.

When I ran the British Government’s UFO Project at the Ministry of Defence, this was universally regarded as the most convincing case that the Department had on its files.

I was originally commissioned by The Daily Express to write about this case, to which it was to appear as a major feature. The article is not available online, but differs only in very minor points from the original text that was submitted to the Daily Express.

On 21 May 1997 a former Prime Minister made an enigmatic comment that appeared to confirm the reality of Britain’s most famous UFO incident. The casual remark hinted at darker secrets and led to much debate among conspiracy theorists. The politician concerned was Baroness Thatcher and the implications of what she said are extraordinary.

The remark was made at a charity function. London based socialite and author Georgina Bruni had for some time been researching the Rendlesham Forest UFO incident, intrigued by hints dropped by various diplomatic, military and political friends. She had been skeptical about the whole UFO mystery and had initially thought that the subject was awash with cultists and crackpots. But Rendlesham was different and so, when she met Baroness Thatcher at the dinner, Bruni took the opportunity to put the former PM on the spot. Was there any truth to the extraordinary rumours concerning what happened in Rendlesham Forest? What did the government really know about UFOs? Was it a serious issue or just pie in the sky? Bruni was expecting a bland dismissal of the story. The official position of the Ministry of Defence, after all, was that no evidence existed to suggest that UFOs were extraterrestrial in origin. Then the former PM dropped her bombshell. “UFOs?” she said. “You can’t tell the people.” Bruni was astounded and pressed her point. What did she mean? Baroness Thatcher calmly repeated her remark, before departing.

I wasn’t at the dinner, but heard about the conversation very shortly afterwards. The reason I heard about it so quickly was that Georgina Bruni decided to call me at 2am to tell me what had happened. She called me because I used to run the British States Air Force personnel based at RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk. Rendlesham Forest lies between the twin bases and as the Cold War was still decidedly frosty, a UFO sighting at two of the nation’s most sensitive military sites was most decidedly of interest. In the early hours of 26 December, duty personnel reported lights so bright, they feared an aircraft had crashed. They sought and obtained permission to go off-base and investigate. They didn’t find a crashed aircraft – they found a UFO.

The three man patrol from the 81st Security Police Squadron – Jim Penniston, John Burroughs and Ed Cabansag – saw a small metallic craft, moving through the trees. At one point it appeared to land in a small clearing. They approached cautiously and Penniston got close enough to see strange markings on the side of the craft, which he likened to Egyptian hieroglyphs. He made some rapid sketches in his police notebook. Later on, because of the complicated legal and jurisdictional position of United States Air Force bases in the UK, police from Suffolk Constabulary were called out to the site where the object had apparently landed. They conducted a brief but inconclusive examination and then left. But three indentations were vis ible in the clearing and when mapped, they formed the shape of an equilateral triangle. A Geiger counter was used to check the site and the readings peaked markedly in the depressions where the object – possibly on legs of some sort – had briefly come to earth.

News of the UFO encounter spread quickly around the bases and came to the attention of the Deputy Base Commander,

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Halt. He was skeptical, but had the witnesses write up official reports, including sketches of what they had seen. The following evening Halt was at a social function when a young airman burst in and ran up to the colonel. “Sir,” he stammered, “It’s back.” Halt looked confused. “What?” he retorted, “What’s back?.” “The UFO, Sir – the UFO’s back.” Halt remained skeptical but gathered together a small team and went out into the forest to investigate. He subsequently stated that he went out with no expectation of seeing anything. In his own words, he said that his intention was to “debunk” the whole affair. But he didn’t debunk it because he too encountered the UFO, becoming one of the highest ranking military officers ever to go on the record about a UFO sighting. As he and his men tracked the UFO, their radios began to malfunction and powerful mobile ‘light-alls’, taken to illuminate the forest, mysteriously began to cut out.