Summary: Details of a mysterious "glowing" UFO seen close to an RAF base more than 20 years ago have been released under the Freedom of Information Act.
Details of a mysterious "glowing" UFO seen close to an RAF base more than 20 years ago have been released under the Freedom of Information Act.
Restrictions on the Ministry of Defence'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.
From this Sunday government departments will be required to release information on the internal workings of Whitehall, including minutes of meetings of top civil servants.
But it is the UFO sighting contained in secret files that is most likely to spark the public's imagination.
The "Rendlesham File" concerns a sighting of a "glowing" triangular object by US Air Force police in Rendlesham Forest, near RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk.
The documents have only previously been made available to around 20 people who used the American Freedom of Information Act to gain access to them.
In the early hours of December 27, 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 entitled "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.
Details of the bizarre sighting were revealed under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which will not be fully implemented until 2005.
Ministers say they will repeal or amend up to 100 items of legislation which are currently prohibited from disclosure.
But the government faces anger over its decision not to extend this to ministerial meetings.
Freedom of information minister Yvette Cooper said: "Ministers have to be able to have free and frank discussions in order to make decisions."
Announcing the changes, she stressed: "These first steps mark important progress towards changing the culture of government and extending the public's right to know what is being done in their name.
"We are talking about changes that will have a substantial impact on openness and transparency and the way in which decisions are made across government, improving accountability but also, I think, improving the public debate as well."
Among the measures is an amendment to section 28 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which will order the Health and Safety Commission and Executive to reveal information where there is a clear public interest in doing so.
The Departments of Health and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are considering repealing section 118 of the Medicines Act 1968, which would remove a ban on releasing details concerning clinical trials.
Pending a consultation exercise to be launched next month, the section will be replaced with a measure to disclose information on clinical trials if it is in the public interest.
This would help members of the public to view the reasons for licensing decisions on drugs, for example.
The government has also published its review of 400 items of legislation which prohibit the release of information.
Some 79 statutory bars will remain in place, 97 are to be repealed or amended, while 224 are still under review.
From Sunday, every government department will be expected to promote its "publication schemes" or information which is being made available, mainly via the Internet.