On Friday, the UK Information Commissioner ruled against my request for (1) the attachments to the Wahl-Briffa email that contained Wahl’s surreptitious changes to the AR4 Report from the language sent to reviewers to language much more favorable to Mann and Wahl; (2) Wahl and Ammann (2004, submitted), cited in the AR4 First Draft, the archive to which has been destroyed by IPCC.
The ICO accepted the university’s argument that they were not in possession of documents on the back-up server in police possession, a ruling apparently at odds with the Tribunal’s recent overrule in the Keiller case, which was noted up and, in my opinion, implausibly distinguished.
I’ll discuss this aspect of the ruling in another post. In today’s post, I’m going to discuss an important obiter in the ICO decision, an obiter in which the university unsuccessfully attempted to reconcile unequivocal declarations by both Acton and Muir Russell to the Parliamentary Committee that “all” the emails were available with the contradictory statements in their FOI refusals that the university no longer possessed key emails. Unfortunately, the university’s attempt was based on more untrue and unsupported assertions, this time to the ICO.
In my appeal, I had pointed out the inconsistency between assertions in East Anglia’s FOI refusal and Vice Chancellor Acton’s assurances to the Parliamentary Committee. The ICO asked East Anglia to comment on this point, reporting on the exchange as follows:
21. In relation to this information the complainant has suggested that:
“These were attachments to emails from [third named individual- Wahl] to [named individual – Briffa] that were the subject of Jones’ delete-all-emails request. At the hearings of the Science and Technology Committee, MP Stringer asked Vice Chancellor Acton “Are all the emails now available and can be read? Acton said “Yes”. If so, then the University must hold the documents that they had refused on the basis that they did not hold the documents and appeal their refusal on this basis.”
The Commissioner therefore asked the University to respond to this.
22. The University explained that:
“In his testimony in front of the Select Committee, the Vice-Chancellor was merely stating that no emails had been deleted as a result of, or subsequent to, an email form Prof. P. Jones of 28 May 2008 that suggested such an action. The documents at the heart of this present request, and the emails to which they were attached, all date from 2006. It is highly likely, even good records management practice, that such emails and attachments would have been deleted in the normal course of business between 2006 and 2008, well in advance of any request for either the emails or the attached documents.
The Vice-Chancellor was not aware of this request, or these documents, when he made his comments before the Select Committee, nor were his comments directed at these documents. The question and the answer pertained to an entirely different set of documents within a different time frame.”
“An entirely different set of documents within a different time frame”. The mind boggles at the audacity of the misrepresentations by VC Acton and the University of East Anglia.
The Requested Documents
Let’s start with the documents referred to in my FOI request. They were attachments to emails within two Climategate-1 threads (716. 1153470204.txt and 733. 1155402164.txt), in which Wahl, neither an IPCC contributing author nor reviewer, inserted partisan changes to the IPCC final report.
Jones’ notorious delete-all-emails request (891. 1212063122.txt) has been quoted frequently. In an email with a subject line “IPCC & FOI” , Jones had written:
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 [Wahl] and get him to do the same? I don’t have his new email address. We will be getting Caspar [Ammann] to do likewise.
Jones’ request clearly included the Wahl-Briffa emails contained in Climategate threads 716. 1153470204.txt and 733. 1155402164.txt. Mann immediately confirmed his participation in the plan and contacted Wahl, who promptly deleted his email correspondence with Briffa in accordance with Jones’ request. (Wahl was not directly interviewed until early 2011, when Wahl’s participation was confirmed by the NOAA Inspector General.)
The Wahl-Briffa correspondence contains many marks of furtiveness, due, in my opinion, to the fact that the AR4 document was now in its final stages and Wahl, who was not an IPCC contributing author or even reviewer, was now both editing the language of the final AR4 document and the responses to reviewers on an issue in which he was a disputant. The emails were all headed “confidential”, with the word “confidential” recurring in the emails. Briffa asked Wahl to “PLEASE REMEMBER that this is ‘for your eyes only'” and “Please do not pass these on to anyone at all”. Briffa asked reassurance from Wahl that the language that he had “borrowed (stolen)” from Wahl was “OK (and will not later be obvious) hopefully”.
This latter concern of Briffa’s proved well-founded as his “borrowed (stolen)” language was noticed in a CA post of May 24, 2008 (The Dog That Didn’t Bark), leading me to postulate surreptitious non-open non-transparent contact between Wahl and Ammann and IPCC Lead Author Briffa, a hypothesis that turned out to be correct. David Holland’s supplementary FOI request of May 27, 2008 – the one that triggered Jones’ delete-all-emails request – came a few days later.
But regardless of the reason for the furtiveness between Wahl and Briffa, let there be no doubt on this point: the Wahl-Briffa correspondence and attachments in Climategate-1 threads 716. 1153470204.txt and 733. 1155402164.txt were well within the scope of Jones’ email deletion request. They were not a “different set of documents” from a “different timeframe”.
The Sci Tech Committee First Report, March 2010
Jones’ deletion request attracted attention right from the beginning of Climategate.
On January 28, Ben Webster and Jonathan Leake of the Times reported (see links here) that it was the ICO’s view that East Anglia had violated the FOI act, but they could not be prosecuted since the offence, though just discovered, was now time-barred. Acton immediately issued a statement saying that the ICO’s opinion was of “grave concern” to the university. In that statement, he asserted that the university’s handling of FOI requests was “deliberately” part of the Muir Russell terms of reference:
Sir Muir Russell is currently conducting an Independent Review of the issues surrounding what has become known as ‘Climategate’ and we very deliberately made our handling of FOI requests part of the terms of reference.
On January 29, 2010, the Information Commissioner publicly rebuffed Acton, telling the UEA that it was impossible to contemplate “more cogent” evidence of an offence, but that prosecution was unfortunately time-barred (see CA here):
The prima facie evidence from the published emails indicate an attempt to defeat disclosure by deleting information. It is hard to imagine more cogent prima facie evidence. Given that this was in the public domain and has been discussed in the media and on various websites over a number of weeks, the ICO’s view, as I indicated when we spoke yesterday, is that the University must have understood that the question whether an offence under section 77 had been committed would be looked at. In the event, the matter cannot be taken forward because of the statutory time limit.
In the hearings of the Sci Tech Committee on March 1, 2010, despite Acton’s public statement that controversies over handling of FOI requests were part of Muir Russell’s terms of reference, Muir Russell told the SciTech Committee that his committee was not going to make “investigative judgements” on FOI (this paragraph was cited in response to Stringer’s questions in the fall hearing). Although the ICO had said that they did not plan to investigate the time-barred offence, Muir Russell told the Committee that he did not plan to “get in the way” of the ICO:
Q171 Mr Boswell: You heard the exchanges with the former Information Commissioner earlier and you know that he has tendered evidence suggesting that the Commissioner rather than yourselves should be making rulings on the validity of FOI requests. What is your take on that?
Sir Muir Russell: Obviously, we have talked with the Commissioner’s staff who were looking at the issues arising for CRU. I am very clear that we do not wish to get in their way or to do anything that inhibits their ability to do any statutory work that they need to do. If you look at the letters that were running around at the end of January and which came out in the media over the weekend, they are saying there are still inquiries that need to be pursued. I would want to do nothing to get in the way of those. If, looking at how the University established its own FOI policies and the processes by which it made sure that CRU complied with them or did not—we must not prejudge that—we have things to do that help the Commissioner, then that is what we will do, but I am not going to put the review into the position of making the sort of quasi-judicial, prosecutorial, investigative judgments that Mr Thomas spoke about. That is ICO’s job.
Acton also appeared before the committee on March 1, with his appearance being memorably recorded by Quentin Letts as follows:
Jones was accompanied by his university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Edward Acton, who provided much-needed comic relief. Professor Acton, a younger version of Professor Calculus from the Tintin books, beamed and nodded at everything Professor Jones said. ‘I think that answer was spot-on,’ he cried, after listening to one response from the terror-stricken Jones.
Professor Acton’s left eyebrow started doing a little jiggle of its own. His eyeballs bulged with admiration for the climate-change supremo. His lips were pulled so wide in wonderment they must nearly have split down the seams like banana skins.
Acton also retained Neil Wallis and Outside Organisation to video the great man exiting the Parliamentary Committee.
In their first report (March 31),the SciTech Committee, apparently concerned by the fact that neither the ICO or Muir Russell appeared to have assumed responsibility for the FOI investigation, stated that determination of the facts in the affair was essential regardless of the time-bar. They stated unequivocally that either the Information Commissioner or Muir Russell should investigate the affair and that it should not fall between stools. This was expressed in the Summary as follows:
The Deputy Information Commissioner has given a clear indication that a breach of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 may have occurred but that a prosecution was time barred; however no investigation has been carried out. In our view it is unsatisfactory to leave the matter unresolved. We conclude that the matter needs to be resolved conclusively—either by the Independent Climate Change Email Review or by the Information Commissioner.
Their determination on this point was stated in the running text as follows:
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. (para 93)
Needless to say, Muir Russell flouted the Sci Tech Committee’s explicit request and the terms of reference supposedly set by the university.
The Muir Russell Report
Amazingly, the Muir Russell panel failed to interview either Jones or Briffa on the deletion of emails (see discussion of the fall hearing below). Despite this neglect, the Muir Russell report stated (incorrectly) that there was “no evidence of any attempt to delete information in respect of a request already made” as follows:
28. Deliberate actions to avoid release. 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.
In September 2010, Fred Pearce wrote sarcastically in September 2010 that Muir Russell must have been the “only person studying the affair not to have known about it”:
One of the most serious charges to emerge from “climategate” was that CRU scientists did back-door deals to include unpublished research in the last IPCC report, published in 2007. This subverted the supposedly open review process of the IPCC. And, when someone asked for the emails that would have exposed it, they hastily deleted them – a potential breach of freedom of information (FoI) law.
The Muir Russell inquiry said it found no evidence that the CRU scientists had done this. Observers were incredulous. The chronology seemed straightforward. British sceptic David Holland submitted an FoI request to the university asking for emails in which CRU scientists discussed their work for the IPCC. Two days later, Jones sent an email to colleagues asking them to delete emails relating to the behind-the-scenes work for IPCC. That email, as Montford points out, carried Holland’s FoI number as its subject line.
How did Sir Muir miss this? In a development not covered by Montford, the university has since admitted, in correspondence with blogger Steve McIntyre, that it omitted the email from its list of FoI requests sent to Sir Muir. So Sir Muir seems to have been about the only person studying the affair not to have known about it.
This is all, we may hope, cock-up rather than conspiracy. But the university did itself no favours in its own response to Sir Muir last week, when it expressed its satisfaction that he had found no evidence of such culpable deletions. Advice to UEA: when in a hole, stop digging.
SciTech Committee Second Hearing, Fall 2010
In October 2010, Muir Russell and Acton were recalled to the Science and Technology Committee. When Graham Stringer’s turn for questioning arrived, he immediately asked Muir Russell about his untrue finding in regard to Jones’ email deletion request:
Q84 Graham Stringer: Thank you. Sir Muir, on page 92 of your report you say, and I paraphrase, that there is no attempt to delete e-mails after there had been a request made, whereas in actual fact the e-mail of 27 May from Jones actually asked for deletion of e-mails, didn’t it?
Sir Muir Russell: It requested them. I think we said that there was incitement to delete. You have quoted half the sentence. The first bit says: “There seemed clear incitement to delete but we had seen no evidence of any attempt to delete in respect of a request already made.” That is quite a tricky area because they do still exist, apart from anything else, but the question that I think you’re getting at is whether we sought to chase that particular question about deletion of requested e-mails through our review.
Muir Russell’s assertion that the emails subject to Jones’ delete-all-emails request “still existed” was subsequently relied upon by the Sci Tech Committee. However, according to the university’s recent evidence to the ICO, the university unsuccessfully searched for these emails and now says that it was “highly likely” that the emails (and attachments) were deleted prior to May 2008 (without offering any evidence for such an early deletion date). Nor was Muir Russell’s answer responsive to Stringer’s actual challenge to the Muir Russell incorrect finding satirized by Fred Pearce.
Muir Russell then told a surprised audience that his committee never had any intention of investigating the deletion of emails:
Q85 Graham Stringer: I suppose we are haggling about the word “attempt”, aren’t we?
Sir Muir Russell: Yes.
Graham Stringer: That’s the real issue.
Sir Muir Russell: I don’t want to play with semantics because the real challenge that is in behind here is that the Russell Review—we will call it that—didn’t come to a conclusion on deliberate deletion of e-mails that had been requested. The reason we didn’t do that was something that I think I made clear to Mr Boswell when this came up in question 171 in March. I said I wasn’t going to put the review into the position of making the sort of quasi-judicial prosecutorial, investigative judgments that Mr Thomas—you will remember he spoke at the beginning of that session— had spoken about. That was an ICO’s job. That was the position that we took. So, had we been going to get into this, we would have had to start asking questions under caution. We would have been doing the sort of investigative stuff, because you’re getting to the point where you’re alleging that there might have been an offence, and that really wasn’t the thing that my inquiry was set up to do, especially when there is a parallel entity called ICO that has the investigative skills, the training and the background with its personnel.
So that, in short order, was why we didn’t go down the road of saying, “And did you delete things that had been requested?”, because we felt that that would take us into an area where we would have had to operate under caution, and it wasn’t actually relevant to where we had got to on the issue that all this is about, which is what was the end product of the influence that this process had on what was said in the IPCC report. We can talk about that at some length But what I said to Mr Williams about going after the big issues is really referable to the fact that we moved in that direction rather than chasing the words in the individual e-mails.
Stringer resisted Muir Russell’s attempt to divert discussion to the impact on IPCC and double-checked Muir Russell’s amazing admission that his panel had failed to ask Jones (and Briffa) about the deletion of emails:
Q86 Graham Stringer: I find it a bit surprising, that you didn’t ask directly when a lot of the controversy had been about the request to delete e-mails. You didn’t personally ask Professor Jones—it was the 29th, not the 27th; I apologise for that—directly whether he had deleted those emails?
Sir Muir Russell: That would have been saying, “Did you commit a crime?”, and we would have had to go into a completely different area of the relationship and formal role for the inquiry. Remember, what this chain of logic is all about is a process that is leading up to what did or didn’t get admitted as evidence in an IPCC chapter. That’s the issue that matters.
Q87 Graham Stringer: Well, I think it does matter.
Sir Muir Russell: It is not that it is immaterial. We had lots to say about FOI and Professor Acton can say quite a bit about what the university has done about that.
It’s interesting to watch Muir Russell offering up “what did or didn’t get admitted in an IPCC chapter” as what the “chain of logic” was all about, given that this was not on their terms of reference and was sketchily handled in the report itself. Stringer then asked Muir Russell whether he had already planned not to ask Jones about the deleted emails when he testified before them in March, with Muir Russell (prepared for the question) citing paragraph 171 (see above) of his evidence.
Q89 Graham Stringer: When you came to this Committee in March, were you aware that you weren’t going to ask Professor Jones or anybody else whether they deleted e-mails?
Sir Muir Russell: In the terms in which it related to the thing that might have been alleged to be a criminal offence, I have referred you. It is question 171 of the proceedings, which I have brought with me, because I knew from reading the Mr Holland material that this is one of the chains of the logic that he brings out.
Q90 Graham Stringer: That’s right. He put a Freedom of Information request in on the 27th.
Sir Muir Russell: Yes.
Q91 Graham Stringer: So there is the e-mail from Jones on the 29th requesting deletion. So it’s quite a fundamental part.
Sir Muir Russell: Yes, but it is covered in the 7 July statement by ICO, and it was covered in your exchanges with the Vice Chancellor. It does take you into the area of interviewing under caution and so on, but that is the judgment we made. It’s a fact. We didn’t ask these questions.
Q92 Graham Stringer: No. You have been very clear, honest and straightforward about that. You didn’t ask the questions. So what I am asking you now is, were you aware of that when you came before the Committee in March?
Sir Muir Russell: That’s what I said to Mr. Boswell. Yes.
Q93 Graham Stringer: Yes. I don’t recall you telling us that.
Sir Muir Russell: We can play with words, but that is what 171 was about, in my understanding.
Looking back at this exchange, Stringer would have been better off focusing on why Muir Russell and the ICO had jointly neglected to investigate an issue that the Parliamentary Committee had directly asked them to coordinate on to ensure that it was investigated – a request that was made subsequent to Muir Russell’s testimony, but this is easier to see with the benefit of the written record than it would have been in the committee room.
Stringer then asked Acton about Muir Russell’s failure to investigate the time-barred FOI offences (an investigation that Acton’s Janurary statement had set out as one of the central mandates of the Muir Russell panel.) Acton’s response was totally unexpected: Acton claimed that he himself had carried out the investigation that Muir Russell had failed to carry out, that he had personally “asked” the questions that Muir Russell had failed to ask (again an assertion that was relied upon in the Sci Tech Committee’s report):
Q94 Graham Stringer: Right. I shall look at that. Professor Acton, are you satisfied that these questions weren’t asked, that people in your university were sending out e-mails suggesting that e-mails should be deleted and that hasn’t been investigated?
Professor Edward Acton: It has been investigated. I have asked them and they have assured me that they have never knowingly deleted e-mails subject to a request.
Stringer was undoubtedly taken by total surprise at this astonishing information and (unsuccessfully) sought further details about the form of Acton’s investigation:
Q95 Graham Stringer: Did you ask them under caution?
Professor Edward Acton: The relationship that I have with them is rather different. It is absolutely part of my duty to address that kind of spirit and make sure I drive it out of the university and establish the facts. Can those e-mails be produced? Yes, they can. Did those who might have deleted them say they deleted them? No. They say they did not. I wanted to be absolutely sure of those two, and I have established that to my satisfaction.
Typically, Acton did not directly answer the question. I have no doubt that his relationship with Jones and Briffa is “rather different”, but this does not shed much light on the nature of his investigation or whether he had asked Jones and Briffa “under caution”. (It seems entirely possible to me that Acton never directly asked Briffa about his deletion of emails.
This statement was even more categorical than his opening statement – that the emails can be “produced” and that Jones and Briffa did not delete the emails. Acton wanted to be “absolutely sure” on these points and says that he “established” these facts to his satisfaction. Acton’s assurances to the committee are impossible to reconcile with Jonathan Colam-French assertions in August 2010 (only two months prior to the hearing) that the university did not possess the Wahl-Briffa emails and attachments, assertions re-iterated in the university’s recent evidence to the ICO.
Stringer continued to try to pin down the evasive Acton on particulars of his supposed meetings with Jones and Briffa:
Q96 Graham Stringer: And you recorded those meetings with Professor Jones and his team?
Again, Acton did not answer the asked question (leading me to wonder whether there were any relevant meetings). Instead Acton provided an unresponsive (and untruthful as it turns out) reply that “these statements” had been at the UEA website “for some time”:
Professor Edward Acton: If you examine our website you will find that these statements have been there for some time.
Stringer didn’t follow this up. Re-reading the exchange, one can see why Stringer got wrongfooted here. Stringer would undoubtedly have presumed that Acton was telling the truth and that he (Stringer) had not been briefed on the Acton investigation, the details of which were supposedly in plain view at the UEA website. I would have also been blindsided by this testimony as I too was at the time unaware of any particulars of the Acton “investigation” on the UEA website.
In fact,there was no information on the Acton “investigation” at the UEA website on the day of the hearing let alone for “some time”. A few days after the hearing (on or about Nov 4, 2010), the UEA placed their submission to the Sci Tech Committee online – see here. Appendix F to this submission contained “Extracts from statements by Phil Jones and Keith Briffa concerning email deletion”. Briffa’s statement merely said that he had never “knowingly deleted emails or files that were at the time subject to a request under FOIA or EIR” and that he would be a good boy in the future:
For my part I wish to assure you that I have not knowingly deleted emails or files that were at the time subject to a request under FOIA or EIR, and will not do so in the future.
I also assure you that I will not suggest to anyone that they should delete emails or files subject to similar requests under FOIA or EIR. I will use whatever means at my disposal to encourage greater openness and proactive compliance with FOIA and EIR within the CRU and the wider University.
The statement contained no details on Acton’s “investigation” or whether Acton had even interviewed Briffa on the matter. (Jones’ statement is similar.) There is nothing in Briffa’s statement that indicates that Acton (or anyone else) had actually asked Briffa whether and when he had deleted the Wahl-Briffa correspondence. Nor do Briffa’s words in this statement support Acton’s assertions to the Sci Tech Committee that “all” the emails can be “produced” or that Briffa had not deleted the emails in question. Briffa’s claim was narrower: that he had not “knowingly” deleted emails or files that were at the time subject to a request under FOIA or EIR, not that the emails and files were present and accounted for. However, Stringer was not in a position to challenge Acton’s (untrue) claims at the time and did not do so.
The published record of the hearings (January 2011) included a postscript in which Acton conceded one untrue aspect to his evidence. The published record includes the following note to Acton’s evidence above:
3. Note by witness: Please replace “our website” with “your website”. Professor Acton was referring to the submission made to the Committee on 2 September [Ev 20].
The document placed online at the UEA website on Nov 4 does indeed match the document in the published record at page Ev 20. (I don’t know at present whether this had been placed on the website of the Sci Tech Committee when it was submitted or not and will endeavor to find out.) However, nothing turns on this small fact in respect to Acton’s assertions that “all” the emails could be produced and that nothing had been deleted.
Stringer then probed a related issue, first identified by Andrew Montford. Muir Russell meeting minutes of a December 18, 2009 meeting between Muir Russell and the IT staff (released after publication of the Muir Russell report) included the surprising statement from Jonathan Colam-French that Briffa had taken home “emails that were subject to FOI” to “ensure their safekeeping”, yet another issue not investigated by Muir Russell:
JCF – For example Keith Briffa took home emails that were subject to FOI to ensure their safekeeping.
Stringer asked Acton whether he had asked Briffa why he had taken emails home, resulting in Acton’s admission that he hadn’t (along with more of Acton’s unsupported speculation):
Q97 Graham Stringer: Did you ask Professor Briffa why he thought it necessary to take e-mails home?
Professor Edward Acton: I didn’t. I can, if it is appropriate, tell you an element that I think may bear upon it, which was that at the time he was gravely ill and rather frequently not in the university. So to take a copy home does not seem to me very extraordinary, but I haven’t asked him.
Stringer asked the same question of Muir Russell, who, needless to say, hadn’t asked this salient question either:
Q98 Graham Stringer: You haven’t. Did you, Sir Muir?
Sir Muir Russell: No.
Stringer’s next question led to Acton asserting a third time, unequivocally, that the emails are “produced and producible”, that they are “there”, that they are “available” and “can be read” and that his “colleagues” did not “do what is in question” (delete the emails covered in Jones’ request) :
Q99 Graham Stringer: So you don’t think there was any question about security of the e-mails? It was entirely about the health of Professor Briffa?
Professor Edward Acton: I’ve told you that it seems to me, in speculating on why he might have done that, that does seem an extraordinarily plausible explanation. My concern is to be sure that they are produced and producible, that they are there and that both colleagues firmly assert that they did not do what is in question.
Q100 Graham Stringer: Are all those e-mails now available and can they be read?
Professor Edward Acton: Yes.
The second report of the Sci Tech Committee oozes with frustration at Muir Russell’s failure to investigate the deletion of emails and that they were left with nothing more than Acton’s “verbal reassurance”, stating in their summary (and para 89):
We are concerned that it did not fully investigate the serious allegation relating to the deletion of e-mails. We find it unsatisfactory that we are left with a verbal reassurance from the Vice-Chancellor that the e-mails still exist.
In their running text, they directly cited statements by Muir Russell and Acton that were inconsistent with the university’s FOI refusals (and with their recent evidence to the ICO). They noted their lack of success in getting a coherent explanation from Muir Russell on the (untrue) finding of his panel on email deletion:
85. The ICCER also stated “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.” 113 We questioned Sir Muir Russell about what this statement meant. He explained that the e-mails “do still exist”; (114 -Q84) then went on to explain why the ICCER did not come to a conclusion on deliberate deletion of e-mails that had been requested…
They also reported Acton’s claim that he had questioned CRU scientists about the deletion of emails and Acton’s unequivocal assertions that the emails can be produced and that the scientists had not deleted them:
86. Professor Acton had no such qualms questioning the scientists at CRU about whether or not they had deleted e-mails subject to FoI requests. He told us “Can those e-mails be produced? Yes, they can. Did those who might have deleted them say they deleted them? No. They say they did not”.116
A Tangled Web
At this point, the web is so tangled that it’s very hard for Acton and the University of East Anglia to keep their various stories straight.
As noted above, in August 2010, the university had said that they were not in possession of the attachments to the Wahl-Briffa emails. However, two months later, they unequivocally told the Parliamentary Committee that they could produce “all” the emails and that Jones and Briffa had deleted nothing. But in their submissions to the ICO in 2011, they said that they were not able to produce the Wahl-Briffa documents, arguing that:
It is highly likely, even good records management practice, that such emails and attachments would have been deleted in the normal course of business between 2006 and 2008, well in advance of any request for either the emails or the attached documents.
I do not believe for a minute that Briffa deleted the emails and attachments either in the normal course of business between 2006 and 2008, or that such deletions were done in accordance with “good records management practice” or that the deletions were “well in advance” of any FOI request. I am also skeptical about whether Acton’s “investigation” included relevant questioning of Briffa (and Jones). It’s too bad that Acton evaded Stringer’s questions on details: when did Acton meet with Briffa (and Jones) to “ask” the salient questions? Are there minutes of the alleged meeting? Were there any witnesses? If so, who?
Nor do I give any credence to the evidence by either Acton or Muir Russell to the Sci Tech Committee on the deletion of emails. Neither Acton or Muir Russell was in a position to responsibly affirm to the Committee that “all” the emails were “available” or that Jones and Briffa hadn’t deleted anything. Their evidence to the Committee on this point was not only untrue, but was apparently made without any apparent basis.
Nor is there any validity to East Anglia’s evidence to the ICO that Stringer’s question and Acton’s answer pertained to an “an entirely different set of documents within a different time frame.” Both Stringer’s question and my FOI request pertained to the 2006 Wahl-Briffa correspondence concerning AR4. But East Anglia says that Stringer’s question and Acton’s answer pertained to a “different set of documents” and “different time frame”? This invites the obvious question: what was the “different set of documents”? And what was the “different time frame”?
As noted above, the discussion of Acton’s evidence to the Sci Tech Committee was obiter to the ICO ruling. I.e. the ICO’s ruling was based on their assessment of the university’s search for the missing documents. It is not their job to determine the validity of Acton’s evidence to the Sci Tech Committee or, in the event that Acton’s evidence to the Sci Tech was untrue, whether Acton had a reasonable basis for making the untrue claims.