by Richard Norton-Taylor
A report by the deputy commander of a US nuclear base in East Anglia of an unidentified flying object provoked panic in the Ministry of Defence, newly-released documents have revealed.
In what was claimed to be Britain's first UFO landing, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Halt, commander of the US Bentwaters base near Woodbridge in Suffolk, reported that two of his security patrolmen had seen "unusual lights" early in the morning of December 27, 1980.
Thinking that an aircraft had crashed, they reported seeing "a strange glowing object in the Rendlesham forest". The object was described as being "metallic in appearance and triangular in shape".
It had a "pulsing red light on top and bank of blue lights underneath".
Animals on a nearby farm were said to have gone into a " frenzy". The following day three depressions were found as well as traces of radiation, Col Halt reported.
His report was released under the US freedom of information act two years later. What has not been disclosed until now is the MoD's response to it.
British papers on the incident have been discovered by David Clarke, a researcher at Sheffield University who is writing a book on UFOs.
The Halt report was sent to the MoD with a covering letter by Squadron Leader Donald Moreland, an RAF liaison officer, who referred to "some mysterious sightings".
The ministry's scientists said they could offer "no explanation for the phenomena", or the radiation. Radar tapes from the night in question were impounded from nearby RAF bases to see if there was any evidence that British airspace had been invaded.
The papers make clear the MoD was concerned more about protecting the base from unwelcome publicity than about the alleged UFO sightings.
The ministry was worried about rumours being spread suggesting that the "alien landing" was a clever cover story for an accident involving nuclear weapons, the crash of a prototype Stealth aircraft, or even the secret recovery of part of a Soviet satellite.
It was also worried that anti-nuclear campaigners would be alerted to the presence of nuclear bombs at Bentwaters.
Yet it had something else to hide. Five documents are being withheld on the grounds that they contain confidential briefings to ministers, relate to national security, or affect Britain's relations with the US.
Dr Clarke, of Sheffeld University's centre for English cultural tradition, and whose book is due to be published by Piatkus next year, has asked the MoD to release them.
He said: "Here we had USAF servicemen at a highly sensitive Nato base chasing UFOs around a forest in the middle of the night."
He added: "The files raise questions about how easily our defences could be fooled."
Read the transcript of Lt. Col. Charles Halt audio recording of UFO chase through Rendlesham forest!