Monday, July 30, 2007

You pay, they play

In our posts of 28 April and 03 May, we reported on the difficulties of obtaining a document held by the Department for Transport (DfT) – the joint report of the experts in the 2004 Formal Investigation into the sinking of the trawler Gaul.
On 26 June 2007, in a letter sent to Sandra Gidley MP in response to her similar request, Dr Stephen Ladyman, Minister for Transport at that time, wrote:
“The report referred to in paragraph 8 of the Expert’s Protocol is not in a form that can be easily reproduced or transmitted in its entirety. I would be happy to send you any relevant excerpt if you could submit a more specific request for information.”

One month later, on 26 July 2007, in a letter on the same topic, the DfT takes a different approach:
“The Department has sought advice from the Treasury Solicitor’s office on the status of the Joint Panel of Experts report and has been advised that it is not a public document. It was referred to at the RFI but only the transcripts of the various experts oral evidence were actually placed on the GAUL website.
Furthermore, it is accepted that the material prepared for the RFI was prepared on behalf of the Attorney so strictly the Joint Report is the property of the Attorney.
However, the Department can see no difficulty in providing your naval architect with an opportunity to view the Panel’s report but he should be advised that it is not a public document and it will be provided only on the basis that it remains confidential and the property of the Attorney.“
Questioned further on this subject, the Head of Shipping Policy in the DfT told us that the report in question was so confidential that no copy or reproduction of its contents or of any part of its contents was permitted.
Why cannot the public view a technical document, which was created in the course of a public investigation that cost the taxpayer about £10 mil? Although the public paid for it, the record is now owned by the Attorney General who would not even release copies of parts of the document for research and public interest purposes.
Those who have seen it appear to know why.

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