Friday, 3 April 2015

FOI State of Play: The BM and a Discussion of Portable Antiquities and Treasure Issues

The BM Headmaster
I have received a response from Christopher Yates [deputy director of the BM] in my ongoing FOI procedure from the British Museum's PAS, which is "most revealing about the commitment of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure Unit to transparency". This confirms that, apart from the cases mentioned below, there is no other information referring to myself or PACHI anywhere else in documentation surviving in the entire PAS archives. He explains:

1) The unassociated and undated document (pdf page 18) from Michael Lewis [ML] addressed to the head of the British Museum Legal Department in Jan 2009 (well beyond my lower cut-off date) was included by "error". Let's hope the PAS database is compiled with more care. Sloppiness.

2) I ask about a mail (sent by [Redacted] to ML, IR and VD at 12:08, 24th September 2015 - on page 8 of the original pdf) in the thread about "the millionth find". Here a new person joins the conversation replying to a mail forwarded earlier which I stated was not included in the BM's response. The BM says it was, pointing us to a post by the [redacted person] who is going to "work with Dan" to see if they can make the database "number of objects" counter work in a different way to prevent it being used as I did when examining their "million objects' claim. 

Likewise I make reference to missing post (DW replying to Richard) on page twenty of their original pdf which continues a thread about Surrey searchers. The BM sends me now an updated version of its page nineteen, and we are still none the wiser what had been cut off from the discussion on page 20 in the original document. Sloppiness.

3) The BM did not exactly exert itself in searching the PAS's archives for information under the "variety of pejorative terms" used by its staff to refer to myself and others, including the one used in a public address on May 20th 2012. They restricted the search to: „Warsaw”, „Poland”, „Moaner”. Notably, given the free use of the term both amongst themselves and with people outside the Scheme, the term "Troll" was reportedly not searched for. Sloppiness.

 4) No comment was made on my observation that the information in the original FOI response could have been collected from just three people. Suddenly however they were able to find material referring to three other cases (discussed in separate posts below) which their original "careful search" had failed to reveal (even though all of them use the word "Barford"). There is more missed material however. In my request for a review I mentioned several specifically:
a)   the controversy – still unresolved – of the coin of Proculus (November 2012, Rebecca Griffiths). Nothing revealed.
b)  the Hollingbourne Anglo-Saxon grave/hoard site (J. Jackson) falling within the scope of the request. Nothing revealed.
c) The public statement by BM employee (Dan Pett) at a public session (on film) on 21st May 2012 and which was later edited out of the video of the proceedings. Nothing revealed about the background to that.
d) There will be more on the Lenborough hoard (Dec 2014 and January2015 Ros Tyrrell et al.) which although it falls into the scope of my FOI request, is simply omitted en bloc from the material the BM released.
e) The analogous case of the Holt hoard excavated by a metal detectorist with a JCB (C. Trevarthen Jan 2015), nothing released.
f) A seminar at USC in April 2014 was attended by a number of members of PAS staff, including one who said she'd been asked to attend. Yet none of them shared a single reflection, observation, piece of information with colleagues. Or at least the PAS is sitting on any such communications.
g) A commercial rally was held on a site in Essex adjacent to (and of significance to) fieldwork I had done in Essex, a request for information to the FLO about her attendance should have been reflected in the results (whether or not that FLO is still in PAS employ).
This means, since it is a crime to delete information when an FOI request has been made, that before my request was submitted, the PAS archives contain an incomplete record of public interaction about the sites and objects it archives information on and its own activities. It would seem that there are considerable holes in the archives of the dealings of the PAS with public enquiries, ones which distort the picture of the nature and range of the responses PAS activities are having. One wonders first of all what else is missing. The lack of anything related to the accusation that a fake coin of 'Proculus' was sold by a major numismatic dealer as an authentic find (and thus potentially a crime was being committed) is particularly thought-provoking. What is being deleted from the PAS records? What about the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet, is the archive of internal correspondence on this now partially deleted for example, and if so, why? Where are any such deletions in the public interest? Is there a published policy document for the use of researchers using the PAS archives in the future when present staff are no longer around to describe PAS procedure, explaining the selection criteria adopted in the deletion of information? "A Guide to the PAS Memory Hole" if you like.

My FOI request had the aim of enquiry, despite what Bloomsbury infer, my aim is not to deliberately cause problems, so I asked for one block of correspondence which falls into the FOI request to be redacted out. This seemed reasonable, the FLO had said a few candid things which I feel it would do nobody any good to have in the public domain, and since he'd been open enough to share them with privately me as a colleague, I saw no point in bringing them out in the open. I therefore asked the BM Information officer to redact out the entire content of this block of correspondence: "replies of David Williams to me and my responses to him between 13/11/2013 to 11/9/14 inclusive". The answer given in the review was a surprise: "I am unable to redact the correspondence because it has already been released",. Well, no, it had not. There is none of the correspondence referred to in that FOI response. What on earth does Mr Yates think I was asking about it for? Sloppiness.

Mr Yates says he was "concerned" about the unprofessional language use he found in the Scheme and assures us that "although it falls outside the scope of this review, I have asked for this matter to be investigated further". This only reinforces the impression we got from the original FOI response of the PAS operating like some dystopic public school, we expect to learn that the name-callers  have been given detention. Pathetic. Far more important would be to discuss the fact that the name-calling is part of a consistent campaign of ignoring outside discussion of the aims and effects of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, that is far more damaging than childish and petulant name-calling.

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