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News Article

The official who wants to believe

13 Mar 06

MOD civil servant Nick Pope, who has written books on the subject gives a personal view of the UFO phenomenon.

Sketches of the strange symbols seen on the Rendlesham Forest craft's hull.. Opens in a new window.

Sketches of the strange symbols security police officers saw on the hull of a craft during the Rendlesham Forest incident.

FROM 1991 to 1994 I worked in the department responsible for this bizarre subject. It was among the most fascinating of my postings in 20 years in the Department.

In 1950 the MOD's Chief Scientific Adviser, the great radar scientist Sir Henry Tizard commissioned a study to scientifically assess UFO sightings. This led to the setting up of the marvellously-named Flying Saucer Working Party.

Their conclusions were sceptical; UFO sightings were misidentifications of ordinary objects, or hoaxes. They recommended no further action. But in 1952 a series of high-profile events in which UFOs were tracked on radar and seen by RAF pilots, forced a MOD rethink.

UFO sightings were sent to the department for investigation to see if they had any defence significance. Since then, over 10,000 UFO reports have been received.

Nick Pope . Opens in a new window.

MOD's Mulder: Nick Pope.

Most UFO sightings had prosaic explanations: aircraft lights, weather balloons, airships, and so on. But occasionally some looked more interesting – especially the Rendlesham Forest incident, deemed Britain’s most famous UFO sighting. It still attracts interest today.
Rendlesham Forest lies between the twin bases of RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk.

In 1980 both were operated by the United States Air Force. In the early hours of 26 December 1980 military personnel saw strange lights in the forest. At first they thought an aircraft might have crashed, so they went out to investigate. What they found could only be categorised as a UFO. Nearby farm animals were going into a frenzy. One of the security police officers got close enough to touch the side of the object. He and another of the airmen present attached sketches of the craft and the strange symbols on the craft's hull, to their official USAF witness statements.

Two nights later the UFO returned and this time the Deputy Base Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Halt saw it too. At one point it fired down beams of light.

"Here I am, a senior official who routinely denies this sort of thing and diligently works to debunk them, and I’m involved in the middle of something I can’t explain," he subsequently commented.

Sketch of UFO seen in Rendlesham Forest.. Opens in a new window.

Sketch of UFO seen in Rendlesham Forest.

The MOD's investigation was inconclusive. Of far more interest, however, was an assessment of radiation readings that had been taken from the landing site with a Geiger counter. The readings had peaked in three holes in the ground which formed the shape of an equilateral triangle, as if the UFO had landed on a tripod of some sort. The Defence Intelligence Staff stated that the readings seemed "significantly higher than the average background". Their report suggested that the radiation level was around seven times what would have been expected for the area concerned.

Ralph Noyes, a former MOD Under Secretary who took a close interest in the case after his retirement wasn't convinced.

"Lighthouses don’t fly," he said.

Many UFO researchers believe that information is being covered up, which isn't true. UFO requests are among the most frequently submitted under FOI, and the MOD makes a big effort to be helpful.