More news on Acton’s supposed “investigation” of the deletion of emails. New documents show that Acton did not even meet with Briffa or Jones in his supposed “investigation” of the deletion of emails. Acton sent Briffa a letter asking him whether he had “knowingly” deleted emails subject to FOI. Briffa wrote back that he hadn’t. That appears to be the entire extent of Acton’s “investigation”. Sort of like Penn State.
Also see Bishop Hill on this story here.
Acton’s “investigation” came up at David Holland’s FOI hearing on January 15, 2013. Acton was asked about the statements from Briffa and Jones, which had been cited in Acton’s evidence to the SciTech Committee. Acton reportedly told the Tribunal that the statements had been “lost”. Andrew Montford describes the incident as follows:
Acton waxed lyrical about the written statements he had received from Jones and Briffa confirming that they had not deleted emails subject to FOI. These statements, he assured the Tribunal, had been signed in good old-fashioned blue ink. Unfortunately, he went on to explain, they had subsequently been lost.
Previously, in response to David Holland’s FOI for supporting documents (see CA here and whatdotheyknow here), UEA had stated that they held “no recorded information that confirms the exact dates that the statements were prepared by the Professors”, that they did not hold a copy of the full statement of either Professor Briffa or Professor Jones” and that they held “no recorded information that would indicate whether either statement was signed by either Professor Briffa or Professor Jones”.
Apparently there was some derision from the Tribunal about the statements being “lost”, prompting UEA to actually look for the documents that they had been unable to locate in response to Holland’s request.
In a letter to the Tribunal today, the UEA reported that, subsequent to the hearing, on January 17, 2013, Briffa had located an unsigned copy of his statement in a directory which “had not been examined during the course of the University’s previous reasonable search of its systems.” The UEA have now provided a copy of that document, together with a copy of a prior letter from Acton to Briffa, that had prompted Briffa’s letter.
The new information sheds a great deal of light on Acton’s non-existent “investigation”, showing just how misleading Acton’s evidence to the Sci Tech COmmitteee had been.
Acton to Briffa, 26 July 2010
On 26 July 2010, Acton wrote to Briffa as follows:
… The University takes very seriously the parts of the ICCE report concerning the FOIA, and how individuals, CRU, and the University as a whole, behaved with respect to it. The tone and the content of some of the leaked e-mails have given rise to grave concern, and exposed the University to significant reputational risk.
Following your meeting with Trevor Davies earlier today, I would therefore like your written reassurance on some of the concerns that have been thrown up. Specifically, I would like your confirmation of two matters.
1. That you have never knowingly deleted emaiis or files that were at the time subject to a request under the FOIA or the EIR, and that you never will.
2. That you undertake never to suggest to anyone that they should delete emails or files subject to a request under the FOIA or the EIR.
In addition, I ask you to undertake, in the clearest possible terms, that you will use your best offices to help deliver a genuine cultural change within CRU to achieve greater openness and pro-active compliance with the FOIA.
Briffa Reply 30 July 2010
A few days later, Briffa wrote back to Acton, pretty much using the words of Acton’s letter:
I am writing in response to your letter of the 26th July, first to thank you for your kind remarks about the positive contribution that CRU has made to the science of climate change and for your appreciation of my own small role. I also note the concern felt by yourself and the University that the CRU should maintain a culture of openness and, of course, complete compliance with the spirit and letter of Freedom of Information regulations.
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 pro-active compliance with FOIA and EIR within the CRU and the wider University.
We have established that the potential email deletion which gave rise to the ICO’s concern did not take place
Briffa’s response looks to me like it had been vetted prior to Briffa sending it and perhaps drafted by someone else.
UEA Written Evidence, 2 Sept 2010
About six weeks later, on Sep 2, 2010, perhaps in response to the widespread derision about Muir Russell’s failure to investigate the email deletion scandal, Acton submitted written evidence to the SciTech Committee
We have established that the potential email deletion which gave rise to the ICO’s concern did not take place, and the University has received undertakings from the CRU staff most notably involved in the emails that they will fully comply with the letter and spirit of Freedom of Information requests. Extracts from statements they have made on this subject are provided in appendix F.
Briffa’ statement in Appendix F was a word-for-word quote from the second paragraph of his letter to Acton.
Acton’s Oral Testimony October 2010
Acton and Muir Russell were examined by Graham Stringer in October 2010, at which Muir Russell admitted that he hadn’t asked Jones and Briffa about the deletion of emails, leading to the then surprising revelation by Acton that he had supposedly carried out the investigation that Muir Russell had failed to do. Today’s information shows that Acton’s “investigation” (almost certainly) did not include an actual interview of Briffa by Acton – only a letter from Acton to Briffa and a letter from Briffa back. Now watch Acton’s evidence to the SciTech Committee.
Stringer began his questioning of Acton on this point as follows (referring here to Muir Russell’s negligence):
Q94 Graham Stringer: … 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?
Acton’s answer – that he himself had “investigated” the matter – undoubtedly came as a total surprise to Stringer, as it did to me.
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.
With the benefit of the fresh documents, we know that Acton’s “investigation” was nothing more than sending a letter to Briffa and Briffa sending a letter back. Acton’s language here tracks the language of the letters.
Stringer, somewhat surprised, followed up (the term “caution” here taken from Muir Russell’s evidence):
Q95 Graham Stringer: Did you ask them under caution?
As so often, Acton did not answer the asked question. In this case, Acton’s freelancing led him into answers that were unsupported by his “investigation” and which were untrue. Acton asserted that the emails in question could be “produced” – this wasn’t true, as Briffa’s memory stick as returned to UEA did not contain some key emails. Acton’s statement that the emails had not been deleted was untrue. The Climategate emails (and especially the CG2 dossier) shows unequivocally that Briffa and Osborn had deleted emails from the UEA computers (while retaining copies on personal memory sticks).
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.
Stringer then asked about the documentation of Acton’s “meetings”:
Q96 Graham Stringer: And you recorded those meetings with Professor Jones and his team?
It now appears that Acton had not actually met with Briffa or Jones. Watch the pea.
Professor Edward Acton: If you examine our website you will find that these statements have been there for some time.
Acton later corrected his testimony on this point, to say that the statements had been on the Sci Tech Committee website.
Stringer tried again:
Q97 Graham Stringer: Did you ask Professor Briffa why he thought it necessary to take e-mails home?
Acton’s next answer was again untrue and/or misleading:
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.
In my recent correspondence with UEA, they now say that there was only one incident in which Briffa remove documents – the 2008 incident, well before Briffa’s serious illness in 2009. Stringer tried again:
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.
Once again, watching the pea. Briffa’s removal of documents in 2008 had nothing to do with his subsequent illness. Acton once again has misled the Parliamentary Committee. Acton’s assertion that the documents are “produced and producible” was only partly true and again misleading. Briffa had deleted documents from UEA computers and the version available to Acton was available to him because Briffa had returned a memory stick in March 2010 only after the Climategate scandal.
Briffa’s statement, quoted to Parliament, also stated that he did not delete “files” – a statement that is evidently untrue as Briffa now claims that he removed only emails (not attachments); thus, his destruction of the attachments on his UEA computer destroyed these files.
In summary, Acton’s “investigation” consisted of nothing more than asking Briffa whether he “knowingly” deleted emails and files subject to FOI request and accepting Briffa’s answer without the slightest attempt to seek an explanation for Climategate letters clearly stating that Briffa and Osborn had removed emails from UEA to personal storage.
Less thorough, if it can be imagined, than even Penn State “investigations”.