I NORMALLY follow Sir Walter Scott’s definition of history and rarely write about anything that happened less than 50 years ago but today I am making an exception for this latest part in my series about Scottish mysteries.

That’s because the Dechmont Woods Incident, or Robert Taylor or Livingston Incident, occurred as recently as 1978.

It is one of the greatest of all Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) mysteries, constantly revisited because of its status as one of the few such “Close Encounters” to be the subject of a criminal investigation by the police.

You really could not do a series on Scottish mysteries and leave out the events of November 9, 1979, at Dechmont Law in West Lothian.

Again I remind you that in this series I am laying out the facts as they are known and leaving it to the readers to draw their own conclusions, and that is very much the case with this mysterious event that is being mulled over to this day.

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Robert Taylor, always known as Bob, was a forestry worker with Livingston Development Corporation and was 60 when he had his encounter. He was a respected member of the community in and was known as an honest man whose only vice was smoking.

At about 10.30am on the day in question, he was out with his dog, a red setter called Lara, inspecting a relatively new patch of planted woodland near the promontory known as Deer Hill close to Dechmont Law just south of the M8 motorway.

His job that day was to keep the woodland clear of stray sheep

According to his later testimony, Taylor parked his pick-up at the edge of the wood and started walking up a path into the forested area.

After about 500 yards he came to a clearing where his dog seemed to be spooked by something not far away. Taylor was astonished to see a metallic dome-shaped object coming down to hover over the clearing and noticed a smell like burning brakes.

He would later describe the UFO as being about 20ft (6.4m) in diameter and grey in colour with its surface resembling sandpaper. The object had a flange with a propellor attached. Suddenly, two more much smaller objects appeared from the large UFO.

Thoroughly alarmed, Lara the dog barked furiously at these objects which began to roll towards Taylor who was himself now fearful.

Taylor described them as “two robots that were shaped like land mines, but with longer spikes that they used for walking, making a suction-like noise”.

They got close to Taylor and grabbed him by the legs, hauling him towards the bigger UFO. He suddenly lost consciousness, the last things he was aware of being a hissing noise and an acrid smell emanating from the UFOs.

When he awoke some time later, the objects had disappeared

His thick trousers were torn and he was covered in cuts and grazes as if somebody had tried to haul him upwards. His legs were aching and he was unable to shout for help.

By now very frightened, Taylor hurriedly made his way back to his vehicle but found it would not start. His instincts told him to head home a mile away and when he got there he all but collapsed in the door.

His wife Mary, seeing his dishevelled state, and with her husband unable to talk any sense – he said he had been attacked by a “spaceship thing” – called the doctor and the police.

West Lothian Council’s website on the incident describes what happened next: “Initially, the police suspected Taylor had been assaulted by someone unknown.

“However, upon visiting and carefully checking the crime scene, the police discovered two ‘ladder’ indentations on the ground where the craft had allegedly stood and 40 small, circular holes that followed the path of the mine-like objects.

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“This baffled the police because there were no other tracks leading in or out of the clearing and none of the corporation-owned vehicles had dimensions that matched the tracks. As the incident was a suspected assault, his clothes were sent for forensic analysis; the results being consistent with a ‘sharp upward pull’.”

Lacking any other explanation, the police classed the event as a common assault, although Taylor himself did not think had been targeted for an assault.

He would later tell the press: “I do not think they were out to do me any harm, but I was very frightened. I am a countryman and I have never seen anything like this before. I was mesmerised by that thing that was sitting about 12ft away from me.”

As we shall see, several explanations were put forward for what happened to Taylor, mostly stating that had suffered some sort of hallucination.

No-one has ever properly explained how the other evidence of metallic indentations in the ground came to happen. Some time later, the BBC reported that the senior investigating officer for the incident, a detective constable named Ian Wark, had said the unusual marks on the ground were only to be found in the clearing.

Wark said: “These marks just arrived. They did not come from anywhere or go anywhere. They just arrived as though a helicopter or something had landed from the sky.”

The police report from the time said the marks on the ground indicated an “object of several tons had stood there but there was nothing to show that it had been driven or towed away”.

In his report on the incident, PC William Douglas wrote: “There appeared to be no rational explanation for these marks.”

The marks were closely examined and did not correspond to those made by any other vehicle in the area at that time.

As so often happens, it was the local newspapers who broke the story

The Livingston Post gained a full interview with Taylor, who by then had been interviewed three times by Wark, never changing his account once. The Post ran with the headline My Brush With The Aliens and Taylor posed for a front-page photograph.

The West Lothian Courier reported that Malcolm Drummond, the manager of Livingston Development Corporation’s forestry division at Rosebank, and for whom Taylor had worked for 16 years, was at first sceptical but said there was evidence of heavy machinery at the site and added that there was no reason to doubt his employee.

He told the newspaper: “At first I didn’t take Bob’s claim too seriously, but he leapt to his feet and insisted that he take me to the spot. I must admit I had been very sceptical, but I was astonished to find very pronounced indentations at the place. They looked as though a bulldozer had been placed and then lifted from the spot, without any tracks leading to or from the marks.”

After these initial reports and with Bob Taylor standing his ground resolutely, the national and international press and broadcasting media seized on the story, not least because it had the status of a criminal investigation – the first such claimed encounter to be so treated.

The National: Robert Taylor with a drawing of what he sawRobert Taylor with a drawing of what he saw (Image: Web)

Two years previously, Steven Spielberg’s brilliant sci-fi blockbuster movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind had dealt with the whole subject of alien abduction so here now was an ordinary Scot claiming to have had just such an experience. Bob Taylor was headline news everywhere and, had the internet existed back then, we would have said the story had “gone viral”.

Reporters, photographers and camera crews descended on West Lothian and it is striking to note how those people who knew Bob Taylor backed him.

Many alternative explanations have been offered for what happened on that November day in 1979. The most persistent claim is that Taylor had suffered some sort of hallucination, linked to his previous history of meningitis, but that had happened 14 years previously and although he had been treated for headaches, there was no evidence of a mini-stroke. He was advised by his doctor to go to Bangour Hospital but he didn’t take up an appointment.

In any case, there was the evidence on the very ground at Dechmont to strongly suggest Taylor had not been hallucinating.

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Bob Taylor died in 2007 at the age of 88. In all the many times he told his story over the years, he never deviated from the basic facts he first stated in 1979.

UFO investigator Malcolm Robinson, originally from Clackmannanshire, wrote a book about the events of 1979 entitled The Dechmont Woods Incident – An Ordinary Day, An Extraordinary Story.

He said when it was published: “As a man who has spoken to hundreds of UFO witnesses over many years, none has convinced me so much as Bob Taylor. His demeanour, his character and his overall persona came across as honest as the day is long.

“People often think the paranormal is a big joke but the number of sightings in recent years has certainly increased.

“The Dechmont Woods incident case is certainly not closed. It remains open until such times as something new comes along; a new theory perhaps that may shed some important new light on a mystery that has held a fascination not only for me, but for countless others as well.

“While Robert Taylor passed away in 2007, his story will live long into the future. One day, we might find an answer, but until then we’ll keep searching. The evidence stacks up to there being something ‘out there’. We just don’t know what it is just yet.”

Aware that people would visit the site anyway, Livingston Development Corporation did try and make a tourist attraction out of Taylor’s encounter. Its successor body, West Lothian Council, is now the guardian of Dechmont Law.

It says on the council website: “The area is perhaps most well-known for a UFO incident in 1979 where a forestry worker was apparently assaulted by unexplained spherical objects within a woodland clearing.

“In spite of wide-ranging official investigations, the ‘Livingston Incident’, remains a mystery to this day. It’s unlikely that you will witness an extra-terrestrial encounter on your visit to Dechmont Law but it will offer a scenic walking area featuring a variety of environments where you can wander along intriguing footpaths set in open grassland and explore the adjoining woodland.”

The area is open to the public and the countryside section of the council website even provides a map showing Bob Taylor’s path to his encounter, with the spot marked with an X.

West Lothian has long had the reputation of being a UFO destination, although it is further west at Bonnybridge near Falkirk that the most sightings are claimed.

A VisitScotland official once said the many reported sightings made this country the Costa del Sol for UFOs. And why not... ?

I have not visited Dechmont recently but the woods are much more mature than in Taylor’s day. I recall there was a cairn with a plaque stating: “This is the site referred to in Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World, which describes an encounter between a forestry worker out walking and what appeared to him as an unidentified flying object.”

Why not visit Dechmont yourself and follow in Bob Taylor’s footsteps. You never know where you might end up…