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 Tuesday, 3 December, 2002, 15:04 GMT
UFO case blocked by MoD
UFO graphic
The MoD's "culture of secrecy" has been criticised
Details of one of Britain's most famous UFO scares was among information repeatedly suppressed by government defence chiefs, according to a Westminster watchdog.

Parliamentary Ombudsman Ann Abraham said the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had broken open government rules three times in recent months over cases including the Rendlesham Forest UFO scare.

Details of the alleged sighting at an RAF base more than 20 years ago were released last week after the Ombudsman ruled the MoD were wrongly suppressing them.

The so-called 'Rendlesham File' details the sighting of a "glowing" triangular object by US Air Force police in Rendlesham Forest, near RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk.

Pulsating lights

The documents had only previously been made available to about 20 people who used the American Freedom of Information Act to gain access to them.

In the early hours of 27 December 1980, a number of US Air Force men witnessed the object hover in the darkness, transmitting blue pulsating lights and sending nearby farm animals into a "frenzy".

In a report titled "Unexplained Lights", USAF Lt Col Charles I Halt, Deputy Base Commander at RAF Bentwaters, adjacent to Woodbridge, told how he witnessed an object emitting a "red sun-like light" moving through the trees.

The Ministry of Defence is bedevilled by a culture of secrecy

Peter Kilfoyle, Former defence minister
Sceptics say the witnesses were fooled by the beam from a lighthouse on the nearby coast.

While the actual documents had not been released, the details were widely known, the Ombudsman said in her report.

"Given their age and the fact that these documents contained no information not already in the public domain, the Ombudsman saw no reason why they could not be disclosed," the report said.

Complaints about the MoD's refusal to list countries prioritised for arms sales or reveal details of an armed services survey were also upheld.

Former defence minister Peter Kilfoyle said the examples outlined in the report on the Ombudsman's work between May and October were symptomatic of a "culture of secrecy" in the MoD.

Veil of secrecy

"It is one of those departments that have always opposed freedom of information and are not very attuned to what is required in a modern, open and accountable government," he said.

"Other departments and Whitehall as a whole have a problem with openness but the MoD is one of the more incorrigible cases of government by secrecy," he said.

The Ombudsman also partially upheld complaints against the Cabinet Office, DVLA, Driving Standards Agency and the Department for Work and Pensions, the report revealed.

Restrictions on the MoD's "Rendlesham File" were dropped as part of an opening-up of the inner workings of Whitehall.

Ministers are attempting to lift the official veil of secrecy by repealing or amending a raft of legislation banning access to information.

Government departments will now be required to release information on the internal workings of Whitehall, including minutes of meetings of top civil servants.

Ministers say they will repeal or amend up to 100 items of legislation which are currently prohibited from disclosure.

Should restrictions on access to information be lifted? Do UFOs really exist? Tell us what you think.

I am not surprised that the MoD wanted to suppress this information. It demonstrates precisely how helpless and incompetent they are in the face of such phenomena.
Alan Kalak, UK

We can't have the population panicked

Cyril Parsons, England
We can't have the population panicked by probably UFO hoaxes and if we do meet life from other planets it will need to be dealt with very carefully not as some public freak show. I support disclosures about arms sales though, we need to see which murderous regimes our taxes are helping to support.
Cyril Parsons, England

I bet they won't release the video footage!!!
Ken Hall, UK

If the governments and the MoD are constantly saying that UFOs don't exist then WHY do they keep it under wraps? There are thousand of witnesses to the contrary and stories of MoD cover ups. Release the un-edited information now.
Kevin Hunt, Scotland

UFOs do not exist. It is just the army or a secret mission of spy or army personnel doing something illegal and wanting to hide from people. Easy access to information is the basic right of every human being. I am wondering how come in this civilised world, access to information is still restricted.
Anon, UK

The MoD has a "culture of secrecy"? What a joke! Next they'll be saying that MI5 has a culture of eavesdropping. Sure, some vital information of great public interest and importance should be open but defence is vital to the nation's security and a level of secrecy is a part of that. The Rendlesham UFO information is largely irrelevant to the public and to make such a fuss about it is ridiculous.
Andy, UK

Grrr... of course UFOs exist. UFO = "unidentified flying object", doesn't have to be alien-flying-saucer related.
Jake, England

It's better we don't know

Michael East, UK
Do we really think that the human race could deal with the fact that, out there is a far stronger, more intelligent life force than our own? I certainly don't think so, just imagine the panic. It's better we don't know.
Michael East, UK

Rumours abound in that part of Suffolk. From the radar tests in WWII to the rumours about nuclear testing in Orford Ness, East Anglia has always had a reputation for being a little odd. What I really want to know though, is after the Rendlesham sighting, did the US Air Force really remove one square mile of topsoil around the area where the UFO was seen? This was the other part of the Rendlesham rumour I heard...
Jamie, Chiswick

  The BBC's Anthony Birchley
"Details of the UFO scare were released after the ombudsman...ruled that the MoD was wrongly suppressing them"
See also:

28 Nov 02 | Politics
28 Jul 02 | Scotland
03 Jan 02 | UK
25 Jan 01 | Politics
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