‘A Needy, Dishonest Ufologist’: Was Rendelsham A UFO Prank?

As 2019 rolled in, I watched with some amusement as my Facebook feed was filled with posts about the latest incident in the saga that is the Rendelsham Forest UFO case. For those who aren’t familiar with the case, it involved a series of strange reports almost forty years ago from US air force personnel based at RAF Woodridge in Suffolk.

Rendelsham is considered the UKs best known UFO legend and an interesting take on the case can be read on the website of Ian Ridpath by clicking here. He concludes that the two-day incident was essentially a ‘misinterpretation of a series of nocturnal lights’. There are many who disagree with this and believe that Rendelsham was genuine alien visitation, and many claim that anybody claiming otherwise may be involved in a cover up of some kind.

The Rendelsham Forest UFO case is often in the news as new information emerges, there’s a UFO conference, a documentary and so on. There’s a movie in the works and much more, but as 2018 became 2019, the Rendelsham case was rocked with the news that the entire thing could have been a prank.  This came to light after an SAS-insider contacted a British UFO researcher with the truth…

…but not all is as it might seem with this apparent explanation.

On his website, Dr David Clarke reveals in detail how this insider- whom he nicknamed Frank -had contacted him initially with the confession, and Clarke had sat on the details after investigating their validity. Clarke wanted to see if Frank would go elsewhere with his story, and he did. Clarke reveals that the details Frank reported suggest that he isn’t telling the truth. It’s a very interesting read and some fantastic investigative work.

What’s interesting, though, is what happened after the tabloid media first ran the story. It was reported in a way which misreported what Clarke had written. The Sun newspaper, for example, quoted Clarke in a way which made it seem as though he was promoting the claim that the prank was a valid explanation, when a quick read of the full article on his website reveals this to not be the case.

Enter Nick Pope. As the tabloids ran with the prank claim, Nick Pope posted a dismissive post on his Facebook page about the story. He wrote ‘[a]nother day, another theory about the Rendlesham Forest UFO incident. This time, it’s a claim from a ufologist who says he was contacted by someone who claimed he was in the SAS, who claimed the whole thing was a prank – i.e. a classic friend of a friend story, with zero evidence.’

Pope is right. There was zero evidence of a prank. However, he continues, ‘The ufologist concerned is a college lecturer who’s previously been accused of plagiarism, so the whole story sounds pretty suspect, and may simply be a case of a needy, dishonest ufologist trying to write himself into the story.’

Formerly a journalist, Dr David Clarke is a lecturer in journalism at Sheffield Hallum University with a PhD in Folklore. There is no credible accusation of plagiarism against him, so this claim from Pope seemed bizarre, to say the least. What surprised me most however is that Pope had apparently not bothered to investigate the tabloid stories any further. As someone who has worked extensively with the media during his career as as a self-styled UFOlogy expert, I’d have thought Pope would know how untrustworthy the tabloids can be. Personally, I have far less input, impact and reach that Pope does, yet even I have experienced their misreporting first hand in not-so-nice ways.

Had he taken a moment to look beyond the sensationalist headline claims, Pope would likely have discovered the article written by Dr Clarke on his website which clearly explains why he doesn’t accept the claim that the Rendelsham Forest incident was a prank. A conclusion Pope also holds. Only, the difference is that Clarke did the leg work to investigate this claim while Pope dismissed it a priori from his perceived position of authority.

Not only this, but Pope’s lack of research resulted in a needless ad hominem attack on Dr David Clarke, which Pope’s large number of followers have mainly accepted at face value. This doesn’t sit well with me at all. It’s an accusation that is quite serious to make against someone in Clarke’s line of work. In the past, on several occasions, people have tried to ruin my own career by contacting my employers with falsehoods about me because I have debunked something they believe to be true. It also reminded me of the insidious nature of the accusation of quote mining that James Randi made towards author and journalist, Will Storr, when Storr wrote about Randi’s belief in Social Darwinism.

Throwing around accusations of quote mining or plagarism against people who work in journalism is very serious indeed and, if unjustified, really does call into question the integrity of the person making the accusation in the first place. This ad hominem attack on Clarke from Pope was surprising to me because although I’m aware that there are rifts in Ufology between different camps of thought, I at least expected Pope to be above this sort of pettiness. A good investigator never allows ego to cloud their judgement.

About Hayley Stevens 448 Articles
Hayley is a ghost geek and started to blog in 2007. She uses scientific scepticism to investigate weird stuff and writes about it here while also speaking publicly about how to hunt ghosts as a skeptic.

1 Comment on ‘A Needy, Dishonest Ufologist’: Was Rendelsham A UFO Prank?

  1. I’ve never been impressed by Nick Pope. I attended one of his talks when he claimed to have been working for the Government; he said he was going to reveal secrets to the audience that the authorities didn’t want us to hear. Every fantastic story ended with him saying that there was absolutely no evidence to support it. The whole talk was a waste of time; he added nothing to the debate. I have no idea why he even bothered turning up. By the way, I’m not a believer in UFO’s etc but would be happy to be proven wrong.

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