The death of ‘Iron Lady’ Margaret Thatcher has deprived UFOlogists of an answer to an enduring question: what did she really know about Britain’s Roswell incident?
Margaret Thatcher, who was Britain’s Prime Minister during at the time of the Rendlesham incident in 1980 (credit: BBC.co.uk)
Thatcher, who died on 8 April aged 87, was 19 months into her first term as Prime Minister in 1980 when US airmen at the nuclear-armed twin airbase RAF Bentwaters-Woodbridge reported ‘unexplained lights’ (UFOs) hovering above Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk.
The ‘Rendlesham Forest’ incident happened at the height of the Cold War when tensions in Poland – then behind the Iron Curtain -were reaching crisis point. In the years that followed, the Ministry of Defence drew up secret plans to base US cruise missiles at RAF Greenham Common and US airbases in eastern England and was keen to avoid drawing attention to a persistent story about a UFO landing near one of them.
MoD always claimed the UFO incident was ‘of no defence significance’ but until I obtained a copy of their closed file on the case in 2001 – using a precursor to the Freedom of Information Act – the results of their inquiries into the strange sightings remained shrouded in secrecy.
The file revealed their conclusion that ‘it was highly unlikely that any violation of UK airspace would be heralded by such a display of lights…[we] think it equally likely that any [Soviet] reconnaissance or spying activity would be announced in this way.‘
But before these plain facts entered the public domain UFOlogist and internet gossip columnist Georgina Bruni revealed that she had quizzed Thatcher face-to-face about her knowledge of UFOs and Rendlesham.
The bizarre conversation took place in London at a charity cocktail party during 1997, shortly after the former Prime Minister had returned from an engagement in Washington DC. At the time Bruni was working on a book that she hoped would expose ‘the truth’ about Britain’s Roswell.
Seizing the opportunity, Bruni asked her opinion on UFOs and claims that world leaders knew about the existence of alien technology. She received this response:
‘You can’t tell the people’
As Special Branch guards and husband Dennis listened, Bruni asked if she was referring to UFOs. According to her account published in 2001, the following exchange then took place:
‘Determined to pursue the questioning I stood facing her and, almost in a whisper, I said, “UFOs and alien technology, Lady Thatcher.”
“You must get your facts right,” she answered.
“What facts?” I wanted to know. In a worried tone of voice, but with her usual composure, she repeated,
“You must have the facts and you can’t tell the people.”
That was the end of the conversation. Bruni – who died in 2008 – shook Thatcher’s hand, thanked her and the Prime Minister was escorted out of the room, followed by her bodyguards.
Bruni was so impressed by this ‘admission’ that she used the phrase You Can’t Tell the People, despite its ambiguous status, as the title of her 2000 book that publishers Macmillan promoted as ‘the definitive account of the Rendlesham Forest incident’.
As a believer in UFOs and conspiracy theories, Bruni’s gut instinct was Thatcher, like Winston Churchill and other world leaders, had been briefed on the defence threat posed by UFOs and aliens. She mused: ‘If Britain was under threat…Thatcher would want to know all the intricate details…What were the facts she was referring to and, even more importantly, why should she insist that the people should not be told about UFOs?’
In the second edition of the book Bruni revealed she was, as a result of her research into the mystery:
‘…convinced that they [UFOnauts] are time travellers from our future or another dimension…that would account for why there is a reluctance from our governments to reveal the truth about these encounters. How would you tell the people that there is an intelligence far more advanced than we are, who are capable of creating such incredible technology?’ (p406, paperback edition)
Several attempts were made to obtain an explanation of the phrase ‘you can’t tell the people’ from Baroness Thatcher’s office, without success. But a persistent UFOlogist, the late Eric Morris, extracted one plausible explanation from the former PM’s personal assistant Mary Wakeley.
In a letter dated 12 November 2001, that Morris later donated to my archive, Wakeley insisted that the comment ‘you must first get your facts right’ was one ‘that Lady Thatcher regularly uses in almost all circumstances and therefore it would be no surprise that she might have said the same on this occasion.’
Extract from a letter sent by Margaret Thatcher’s PA to UFOlogist Eric Morris in 2001 (author’s collection)
‘However, I do not think one should read too much into it – as the author [Bruni] obviously has done.’
Wakeley reveals she was familiar with the UFO story as she notes that ‘you will not be surprised that this matter has been raised before.’
Although this anecdote appears to have impressed Bruni’s publishers, like many UFO-related yarns, it does not stand up to critical scrutiny.
It could, for instance, be argued the ‘facts’ referred to by Thatcher were those contained in the MoD’s policy assessment – used to justify the closure of their UFO desk in 2009 – that UFOs as alien craft did not exist but those who believed in them would never accept that disappointing conclusion.
So this was more a case of ‘don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story’ rather than a clue to the puzzle of Britain’s Roswell incident.
Postcript: A number of readers have asked for my opinion of Georgina Bruni’s reliability as an investigator of the Rendlesham incident. Interested visitors should read my August 2009 blogpost, ‘Why Can’t You Tell the People?‘ for background information.