The Muir Russell panel blatantly misrepresented the facts surrounding Jones’ notorious request to “delete all emails”, a misrepresentation that, in my opinion, was done, at a minimum, either recklessly or out of gross negligence.
The Muir Russell Report
Muir Russell’s findings on the “delete any emails” incident are contained in chapter 10 paragraph 28. Obviously the issuing of an FOI request affects the right of Jones or anyone else to delete documents. Muir Russell purported to exonerate CRU on this count on the empirical basis that the “delete any emails” request had not occurred in the context of a prior FOI request – a claim that is totally untrue.
There seems clear incitement to delete emails, although we have seen no evidence of any attempt to delete information in respect of a request already made. Two e-mails from Jones to Mann on 2nd February 2005 (1107454306.txt) and 29th May 2008 (in 1212063122.txt) relate to deletion:
2nd February 2005: ―The two MMs have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone”.
29th May 2008: ―Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4? Keith will do likewise. He’s not in at the moment – minor family crisis. Can you also email Gene and get him to do the same? I don’t have his new email address. We will be getting Caspar to do likewise”.
As hundreds, if not thousands of people, know, David Holland had submitted an FOI request (denoted by UEA as 08-31) on May 27, 2008, only two days prior to the “delete any emails” request, a request which covered the correspondence between Eugene Wahl and Keith Briffa that Fred Pearce described as “back-channel communications that were a direct subversion” of IPCC policies of openness and transparency.
Holland’s request initiated a flurry of activity by Climategate participants. The next day (888. 1212009215.txt), Jones emailed FOI officers Palmer and McGarvie and Briffa and Osborn stating that “Keith [Briffa] should say” that the back-channel Wahl-Briffa correspondence didn’t exist. The following day (May 29), Jones sent the notorious email (1212063122.txt) to Mann and Briffa famously asking them to “delete any emails” with Briffa regarding AR4, saying that they planned to also ask Ammann, and asking Mann to contact Wahl to delete his emails.
Holland’s prior email request is hardly something that the Muir Russell could or should be unaware of. The UK Information Commissioner was aware of Holland’s request, commenting that it would be “impossible” to contemplate “more cogent prima facie evidence” of a section 77 offence than Jones’ email (while also regretting that poor wording of the legislation meant that the prosecution was time barred under the statute of limitations before the incident had been brought to light.)
The incident had also drawn the attention of the Parliamentary Committee, who stated that the importance of a “conclusive resolution” of the resolution meant that the incident should be “thoroughly investigated” regardless of the time bar:
93… There is prima facie evidence that CRU has breached the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It would, however, be premature, without a thorough investigation affording each party the opportunity to make representations, to conclude that UEA was in breach of the Act. In our view, it is unsatisfactory to leave the matter unresolved simply because of the operation of the six month time limit on the initiation of prosecutions. Much of the reputation of CRU hangs on the issue. We conclude that the matter needs to be resolved conclusively— either by the Independent Climate Change Email Review or by the Information Commissioner.
Muir Russell’s blatant misrepresentation of the undisputed factual record on this point meant that the conclusive resolution requested by the Parliamentary Committee obviously didn’t occur.
Nor is there any evidence that Muir Russell carried out the “thorough investigation” of the matter that the Parliamentary Committee requested. The supplementary information on the inquiry website does not contain any answers, oral or written, on the “delete all emails” incident. Geoffrey Boulton and Muir Russell not only appear not to have investigated the incident “thoroughly”; they don’t appear to have investigated it at all.
The March 4 interview with Jones and Briffa by Clarke and Norton (Muir Russell not bothering to attend) was primarily about CRUTEM, but the topic of “suggestions that emails be deleted” was mentioned passim, with Jones saying that “he had not received any specific training:
Suggestions that e-mails should be deleted
17. Prof Jones, in response to questioning, noted that he had not received any specific training on DPA/FoIA/EIR issues from the UEA.
The only other interview with Jones et al came on April 9, (09 April Jones and Briffa.pdf) this time by Geoffrey Boulton (a vigorous climate campaigner who worked for 18 years at UEA) and Peter Clarke, Muir Russell once again not bothering to attend. There is no transcript of the April 9 meeting. There are partial minutes (“Salient points”), which evidence that FOI had been raised in connection with CRU’s obstruction of Willis Eschenbach’s September 2007 request for CRUTEM data, but “time ran out”. There is no mention of the “delete all emails” request. Boulton sent some follow-up written questions to Jones and Briffa, but none touched on FOI or the notorious “delete all emails” request.
Subsequent to Jones’ March 4 claim that “he had not received any specific training on DPA/FoIA/EIR issues from the UEA”, there was a March 30 interview with FOI officials Palmer and Colam-French, who described FOI training programs for UEA staff. The minutes do not record whether Palmer and Colam-French were asked whether they agreed with Jones’ assertion that he had never been “trained” in FOI (not that a supposed lack of training would justify the “delete all emails” request.)
Rather than the Muir Russell panel “thoroughly investigating” an issue highlighted by the Parliamentary Committee, there is no record of Jones’ answering a single question about the request to “delete all emails” or the equally damning instruction that Briffa “should say” (untruthfully) that there had been no such correspondence between him and Wahl.
The UK Research Councils have a code of conduct here which includes misrepresentation under its code of conduct, including the following:
misrepresentation of data, for example suppression of relevant findings and/or data, or knowingly, recklessly or by gross negligence, presenting a flawed interpretation of data;
Note that misconduct arises here (as it does in society in tort law) not just from dishonesty, but through recklessness or gross negligence.
The Muir Russell panel misrepresented the fact that the “delete any emails” request came after an FOI request, leading to a “flawed” interpretation. It was an important issue – one that the Parliamentary Committee had asked them to attend to; the facts were easy to ascertain and known to thousands. If the Muir Russell panel or its members were subject to this code of conduct of the UK Research Councils or an equivalent code of conduct, in my opinion, there is convincing prima facie evidence that their misrepresentation of the facts surrounding Jones’ “delete any emails” request was done “knowingly, recklessly or by gross negligence” and would thus warrant investigation.
It is, of course, possible that the Muir Russell panel is not subject to any code of conduct and can blatantly misrepresent the facts surrounding the “delete any emails” request with impunity.
The most logical way to clear the air would be for the Parliamentary Committee to invite Muir Russell (and Oxburgh) to testify to them about their findings. They had asked Muir Russell to thoroughly investigate the ‘delete any emails’ request and to “conclusively resolve” the matter. They should invite Muir Russell (and obviously Geoffrey Boulton as well) to explain the basis of their findings on the “delete any emails” request, as well as other incongruous findings that I will report on in other posts.