Thursday, 26 February 2015

PACHI PAS FOI Request: Internal Emails (1) - A FOI Threat?

Topic A: The Planted Coin;

This document falls well out of the range 21st May 2014 to January 2015 of my FOI request. Why is it included here? Is this due to extreme carelessness, or are the BM trying to signal something?  Readers may remember that my discussion of what I read in a newspaper article about heritage happenings in Surrey elicited a threat from Roger Bland that he was going to try to have the BM legal team on me for saying what issues I thought (and think) this raised. Needless to say, the legal team was not brought into play and I doubt anyone much remembers the case now.

But it turns up again in the form of an undated piece of text looking like an internal memorandum from Michael Lewis to Tony Doubleday (who is Head of Legal Services in the BM ) and says "find attached the blog-posting by Paul Barford in which he states PAS launders stolen coin (see also para 5) which is a serious allegation that deserves a public apology". Now, why is this here? Is including this document outside the chronological scope of my FOI request a thinly-veiled threat? It certainly looks like it and if so, that in itself deserves comment. Note it is the only document connected with this matter included.

Associated by juxtaposition in the pdf is a floating "Discourse" logo, it is unclear whether this belongs to the text as received. and its relationship to the adjacent text is unclear. In any case, this is pretty ironic because the text is witness to something far less than any kind of discourse from the PAS about heritage policy.

Just to remind readers what this is about, take a look at the newspaper article  to which my original text refers. It says that a coin was handed to the PAS for recording then - according to the text I was using - that coin was given back by the PAS to the finder and was only recovered when the police visited him at home. The anonymous tip-off was to the Museum bookshop, who then - the article says - contacted the PAS and found out what had happened to their coin. Dr Bland never explained how this is in any way a contradiction of what I wrote.

The point I was making was, and is, that PAS FLOs get objects handed to them and they do not require of the finder any kind of documentation that the finder has title to the individual objects. Before allowing such objects onto their premises, they do not routinely ask to see search and take permissions from the landowner of the reported findspot, they do not ask to see any kind of transfer-of-title documentation as many museums now routinely require from donors. Farmer Brown and I have been saying for a long while now that they should. The Nighthawking Report recommended such a course of action to clean up illicit sales. The PAS refused to discuss it in January 2009 and the "accidental" inclusion of this document in my FOI packet suggests they are not at all happy to discuss it even now.

I am certainly not going to "apologise" for having an opinion on how it should be ensured that a public body is collecting data only from verifiably licitly-obtained material. Such notions are fundamental in my mind to cleaning up the whole global illicit antiquities mess and I think the place to start it is the Portable Antiquities Scheme. I am prepared to discuss this. Who else is?

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