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The Rendlesham File: Analysis of the documents released by the Ministry of Defence in 2001.
Text by Dr David Clarke
Did the MOD investigate the incredible account of events in Rendlesham forest over the Christmas holiday period of 1980 reported by Lt Col Charles Halt in his famous memo? If so, did they interview the USAF personnel who witnessed the phenomena? Were the UFOs tracked by radar? And what conclusions did the MOD reach? None of these questions could be answered definitively in 1980 given the stifling influence of the UK’s draconian Official Secrets Act. All inquiries at Whitehall came up against a wall of secrecy.
Initially, Defence Secretariat 8 (or DS8 - replaced in 1984 by Air Staff 2A) who were responsible for MOD UFO investigations, denied any knowledge of the incident when challenged by researchers Jenny Randles, Dot Street and Brenda Butler in 1981-2. But in April 1983 Robert Todd of Citizens Against UFO Secrecy (CAUS) filed an application for documents relating to the incident under the US Freedom of Information Act. As a result the original memo reporting the UFO incidents to the British MOD, dated 13 January 1981, by Lt Colonel Charles Halt, the Bentwaters deputy base commander, was released via the USA.
The MOD - accepting they now had no choice but to confirm an incident had taken place - wrote to Jenny Randles on 13 April 1983 saying they could “confirm that USAF personnel did see unusual lights outside the boundary fence early in the morning of 27 December 1980 but no explanation was ever forthcoming.” They added that there was “no question of the account being a cover-up for a crashed aircraft or testing of secret devices as you suggest, nor was there any contact with ‘alien beings’”
Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s the MOD continued to maintain that the only document they had on file relating to the Rendlesham Forest incident was Halt's memo. In fact, as it later emerged, the memo was accompanied by a covering letter from the RAF Commander at Woodbridge, Squadron Leader Donald Moreland (who acted as a liasion officer between the USAF and the MOD). The cover letter, dated 15 January 1981 was effectively the first notification the British authorities received of the incident. That fact has been confirmed both by Squadron Leader Moreland and by the civil servant at DS8 who received it, Simon Weeden.
Since 1983 the MOD, when questioned by MPs and in replies to letters, continued to hide behind a defensive public line that Halt's report was “passed to staff concerned with air defence matters who were satisfied that there was nothing of defence interest in the alleged sightings.”
As Britain did not have a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) such as exists
in the USA, no further progress could be made with the Ministry of Defence.
But in 1997 a Labour Government came to power with a draft Freedom of
Information Act on the statute books. Soon all Government departments
were obliged to comply with the spirit of the FOIA prior to its implementation
on 1 January 2005 – and that included the release of UFO material
such as the “Rendlesham file.”