Saturday, October 28, 2006

Questions on answers or How to communicate economically

Sandra Gidley: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what estimate he has made of the total cost of investigations and inquiries into the loss of the F. V. Gaul in 2006 prices. [96789]
Dr. Ladyman: The total cost to the Department of investigations and inquiries into the loss of the FV Gaul was £6.5 million.

No adjustment has been made for 2006 prices.

Gadfly: Perhaps Dr Ladyman should know that the Original Formal Investigation was concluded in 1974.

There appear to be some items missing from the above list. The total costs to the Department should also have included:

1. the costs of the stability and seakeeping investigations and model tests carried out for the Department by NMI and YARD between 1975 and 1978 estimated at £75,000 (in 1976 prices)

2. the costs of the two reports by Roger Clarke published in 2000. Stated to have cost the Department £50,000 at that time

3. additionally, the costs of 32 years of governmental time that has not been included in the above (political staff, technical, clerical and administrative staff, MOD, legal etc) - £1m at todays prices would not be an unreasonable evaluation!

If a simple compound interest calculation is carried out on the costs detailed above, using historical Bank Rate indices, then a figure of £10m at 2006 prices is obtained!

See also:

Sandra Gidley: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what progress has been made towards the implementation of the formal safety recommendations arising from the F. V. Gaul Re-opened Formal Investigation. [96790]

Dr. Ladyman: It is considered that, as far as is reasonably practicable, the recommendations have been implemented.

Gadfly: The four formal safety recommendations have not been implemented.

Sandra Gidley: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether any evidence of a design fault in the construction and arrangement of the duff and offal chutes on the trawler F. V. Gaul was made available to the Wreck Commissioner during the 2004 investigation. [96794]

Dr. Ladyman: The Marine Accident Investigation Branch provided the inquiry with a copy of a full set of technical drawings for the vessel, a number of which detailed the design of these chutes. These drawings were reviewed by the technical experts and the expert representing the Department for Transport referred to these drawings in the production of the document “Notes on the duff and offal chutes”, submitted to the Re-opened Formal Investigation. These notes included comments on the design of the chutes and the potential design inadequacies.

Gadfly: First of all, the question that had been asked was not answered (i.e. was any evidence of a design fault made available to the Wreck Commissioner?). A yes or no answer would have sufficed.
Secondly, The Marine Accident Investigation Branch would provide, as they normally do and as the Treasury Solicitor recently confessed, “considerable assistance” to the Wreck Commissioner. They would therefore provide much more than a set of old drawings.
Thirdly, the “Notes on the duff and offal chutes”, only commented on a presumed design deficiency in relation to the difficulty of maintenance of the non-return flaps.So, in a couple of sentences, Dr Ladyman implies that either the MAIB performance was poor, or the MAIB witheld evidence, or the retained experts were unable to recognize an obvious design fault in the construction and arrangement of the duff and offal chutes.


“When you hear a denial of knowledge or responsibility, rate it carefully on the plausibility scale. The real culprit is usually at the top, as his nose will eventually demonstrate”. (Patrick Brown, 1999, Plausibility and Pinocchio)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Equivocation and other fallacies

The Secretary of State for Transport has provided answers to the Parliamentary questions tabled last week. His answers are both evasive and incorrect.

More about these later...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Aiming but not quite hitting

Our relations with the Government are deteriorating.
We have been trying to extract a comment from the DfT, on the vexed issue of the Gaul investigation, since the 4th of September. Up to this moment, no comment or justification for the lack of it has been offered.
Nevertheless, DfT's statement on their service standards, which is published on their website, reads:
"The Department is always pleased to receive comments about its work. We are happy to answer any queries and supply information about what we do. The services we offer to everyone who contacts us are:
The Department will always try to be helpful.
We will make a note of all comments given to us about our policies, and will make sure they reach the policy officials and Ministers concerned. "
"We aim to reply to emails within 20 working days."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


The other day I asked another retained expert the same question: did he identify or see any reference to a design fault, in terms of inadequate strength of the inner covers and possible malfunction of the non-return flaps on the Gaul, within the documentation that had been made available to him during the formal investigation?
He seemed unsure about that...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

"If I take refuge in ambiguity, I assure you that it's quite conscious" (1)

In a recent message, the Treasury Solicitor writes:You have indicated that in your view the chutes were a design fault. This is your view but appears not to have been accepted as such by any of the retained experts.

Having contacted one of the retained experts, I learned that the design fault they had considered was in fact related to the difficulty of maintenance of the non-return flaps (2) (3), and that they had not identified or even seen, within the documentation that had been made available to them, any reference to a design fault in terms of inadequate strength of the inner covers and possible malfunction of the non-return flaps.
There is definitely a difference in perception here. Could some occlusion of the communication lines between those involved in the 2004 investigation be the explanation for that?
Anyway, that the vessel had a design fault in the construction and arrangement of the duff and offal chutes is an engineering fact (see the technical report on our website).
Why this has not also become a legal fact, is something that should be explained – plainly and without procrastination.
(1) Kingman Brewster

Concluding remarks from Mr Meeson (Investigation transcript) suggesting answers to the formal questions:
“………Although the design of the non-return flap was deficient, in that it was liable to seize over time and had no real means whereby it could be maintained, proper use……..”

(3) This was also questioned in the technical report published on our website:

Saturday, October 14, 2006

For those who have tried to contact us without success I have a message:

Big Brother is not only watching, but also interfering.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

As I write these lines, Mr Laurance O'Dea (the Treasury Solicitor) is investigating.
He is looking into, I am told, the evidence regarding the design defect in the construction of the Gaul and the alternative explanation for the loss of the vessel, which were published on our website ( and mentioned in the Lancashire press.
Why did this not happen during the 2004 formal investigation is something that may also be worth investigating.
Anyway, we hope that, this time round, our concerns will receive due attention and we wish Mr Laurance O'Dea good luck.
The Correspondence page on our website: has been updated.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Improbable impossibility

An extract from the Report of the Re-opened Formal Investigation into the loss of the FV Gaul:

"21.1 What was or were the probable cause or causes of the loss of the GAUL?
A sudden and rapid accumulation of water on the factory deck, (...)
21.2 What possible causes can be eliminated by the evidence which is now available?
All other causes including, seizure, scuttling, fire, collision, explosion, missile attack, torpedo attack, striking a mine, icing, cargo shift,structural failure, grounding, snagging a seabed cable or a submarine.
21.3 What other possible causes remain open?

By definition, probable is something likely to happen but not certain. What is not absolutely certain leaves room for other possibilities. Therefore other possibilities (i.e."all other causes") cannot be eliminated.
"There is no use in trying," said Alice; "one can't believe impossible things.""I dare say you haven't much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." (Excerpt from "Alice in Wonderland")