Was the Rendlesham Forest sighting due to a prank that got out of hand?

Kevin Conde, an ex USAF military policeman, claimed the Rendlesham Forest UFO sighting was caused by coloured lights on his police car.

Kevin Conde, a USAF military policeman, claimed the Rendlesham Forest UFO sighting was caused by coloured lights on his police car

The claim

In the summer of 2003 a former USAF military policeman at Woodbridge, Kevin Conde, claimed on television and in the press that the Rendlesham Forest UFO case was sparked by a practical joke he staged in his police car to frighten the guard at East Gate. ‘It was fertile ground for a practical joke, and practical jokes are a tradition in the security police,’ Conde explained.

He made his claims in interviews with BBC TV and the Daily Mail, a newspaper ironically better known for promoting UFO sightings than questioning them.

‘There was this one guy at the back gate, and he was known as a bit of a problem – he was always seeing things,’ Conde told the Daily Mail. ‘It always turned out that it was a star or something. So I decided to play a practical joke.

‘I drove down the taxiway in my car. I stuck the spotlight on, after sticking red and green lenses on it. I then drove round in circles, in the fog, with the PA loudspeaker going, flashing my lights.

‘It wasn’t a UFO, it was a 1979 Plymouth Volare [a standard-issue American police car].’

Conde returned to the US shortly after the incident and never heard about the famous UFO case until many years later.

As Conde’s claim has been widely repeated I shall discuss it briefly here, although it does not form part of my explanation.

Examining the claim

Firstly, although there is no reason to doubt that Conde pulled the stunt he describes, there is considerable doubt over when it occurred. Conde himself cannot remember the exact date, but from his description of the circumstances, including the weather conditions, it seems that it did not coincide with the Rendlesham UFO sighting. Neither is it established that the guard he was trying to scare was one of those on duty at the time of the UFO sighting.

Conde says that he drove along the Woodbridge runway, whereas the lights reported by the security guards were in the forest. Additionally, Conde was evidently not aware when he made his claim that the sightings stretched over two nights and involved lights that were nowhere near the air base.

However, Conde did provide one significant clue when he noted: ‘It was a good stunt. Someone else could have repeated it. In fact, most good cop practical jokes did get repeated.’

Hence, although it is unlikely that Kevin Conde’s hoax was directly responsible for the Rendlesham Forest UFO, it remains possible that someone else repeated the stunt, this time outside the base, which could account for some of the unusual coloured lights seen in the forest by the guards at East Gate on the first night. But unless the real (presumed) culprit comes forward, this must remain speculation.

  Conde originally contacted James Easton and myself in April 2001, over two years before his claim was reported in the press. You can read the statement he sent us here.

Conde speaks out against the UFO witnesses

In 2010 November Conde left a series of public postings on the Justice for the Bentwaters 81st Facebook page run by Jim Penniston and John Burroughs in which he openly criticized the Rendlesham witnesses for their ever-developing stories.

Conde wrote:‘I was almost certainly the Woodbridge patrol or the LE flight chief the night of Halt’s expedition. All I remember was the laughing about the people seeing UFOs. It was not treated seriously at all. It was a non-event when it happened, and the stories of the believers are the ones that have morphed over time. If the USAF did not make a big deal about it, it was because they were appalled that a Light Colonel [sic] would be so nutty as to take a bunch of security troops and some guys from disaster prep on an extended walk through the woods in a foreign country. The higher command carefully ignored it in the hope that it and LtCol Halt would just fade away.’

For the full original exchange, including contributions by the equally skeptical officer in charge on the night in question, Lt Skip Buran, see here.

The SAS ‘revenge’ hoax

A hoax story of a different kind began circulating in 2018. Three years earlier, researcher Dr David Clarke received a letter purporting to come from an anonymous SAS insider who claimed that the Rendlesham incident was a prank by UK special forces (the SAS and SBS) in retaliation for having been caught and roughly treated during an exercise to test security at Bentwaters the previous summer.

This of course comes nowhere near to explaining what happened over the course of those two nights of UFO sightings in December 1980. The story was evidently concocted by someone who either did not know the full facts of the case or was trying to catch Clarke out.

Clarke, an experienced journalist, checked out the story with his military contacts, and concluded that the story was implausible. The fact that the letter was timed to arrive on April 1 was a fairly obvious clue that it was a spoof, which Clarke made clear when he wrote up the story for Fortean Times and on his own blog.

I mention it here only because some in the media took the story seriously, even though Clarke made clear it was an attempted hoax.

Content last revised: 2021 April

© Ian Ridpath. All rights reserved