Sunday, October 19, 2008

Verba volant scripta manet

When Moses received God’s commandments, he didn’t have any paper to write them down on. Still, he dutifully carved them onto clay tablets, which he carried all the way down the mountain to show his people the proof.
More than three millennia down the line, the UK Department for Transport, inexplicably, are not even able to store the instructions received from their earthly superiors, and the reasons behind some of their most important decisions are not kept in any decipherable form.
As already mentioned in a previous post, in response to our FOI request of 4 July 2008, the DfT informed us that they held no specific technical justification [of their decision not to re-hear the Gaul RFI] recorded in any form. Within the same reply, the DfT also mentioned that their earlier decision fully sets out the Secretary of State’s reasoning in relation to the re-opening of the investigation.
Unaware of what that reasoning was, we have formally asked them, via another FOI request (dated 11 September 2008), to provide us with a full account of the reasoning behind the Secretary of State’s decision not the re-open the Gaul Formal Investigation.The DfT’s response to this latest enquiry, received on 13 October 2008, was astounding. It stated simply that “The department does not hold such an account in recorded form.” Hmm! From the Department’s contradictory statements we are now left to surmise that either there was no analysis and justification behind their decision not to re-open the Gaul RFI, or that their reasoning has not been ‘set out’ and recorded on any physical media or legible format. It may, therefore, only exist in their heads – in the form of mental images, conceptions, impressions or phantasms. Or, perhaps, it only manifested itself via sensory representations, dispositions, moods or affections.
It is, of course, also possible that the DfT is not telling the truth. But, that would be terribly bad and unbecoming.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

MV Derbyshire

Recent events have compelled us to re-visit the MV Derbyshire shipping disaster, its causes and the ways in which the British Government conducted both the investigation and the re-investigation of the tragedy and to what effect.
We have therefore decided to dedicate a separate blog to the MV Derbyshire case, and this can now be visited at the following link:
As with the Trawler Gaul, we shall progress matters one step at a time, make the necessary disclosures, analyse and present the evidence piece by piece.
Possibly, with time, the number of our blogs will increase. Our government, certainly, offers enough scope for that.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Portfolios and kisses

Last week’s cabinet reshuffle marked a return to the good, old days of the Blair regime, the allocation of government jobs designed to celebrate the various Labour factions' decision to kiss and make up.
The reshuffle saw Peter Mandelson, New Labour’s own Machiavelli, hurriedly brought back from Brussels for his alleged ingenuity in economic concerns. It also saw several other similar characters ennobled or promoted to important cabinet jobs.
Geoff Hoon, a politician much beloved by the armed forces, was appointed Secretary of State for Transport, taking over from Ruth Kelly who had left the political scene in a rush. Lawyer by profession and quite flexible by nature, Mr Hoon is expected to deal with the DfT problems in a more expedient and craftier fashion.
The Department for Transport also witnessed John Prescott’s good friend, Rosie, bartered in exchange for his former loyal attendant, Paul Clark [*] - thus allowing old Mr Prescott to keep his chubby index finger on the DfT’s pulse.
The ends justify the means, the Prime Minister might have thought in his desperate struggle to remain in power.
But is this really an effective approach?
In situations like this, we fear, the ends can be quickly forgotten and the questionable means, chosen to attain them, turned into ends in themselves. And, having forgotten where it all started and what for, those means could then easily become institutions.
Or, have they already become that?
[*] Just like Jim Fitzpatrick, the other Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport, appointed in June 2007, who was once a junior minister at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Why no search for the Gaul?

Although the approximate position of the Gaul had been well known, both in official and unofficial circles, in the 23 years that preceded its discovery, successive governments were reluctant to survey the area in question, and to locate and identify the wreck.
It was only in 1997, when TV producer Norman Fenton chartered a vessel and launched a search in the Barents Sea, that the position and identity of the wreck could be confirmed. Finding the wreck took him no longer than six hours. His discovery triggered an obvious question: why had a search for the wreck not been carried out earlier, this would have put an end to much of the speculation and rumours that had surrounded the vessel’s loss and, more importantly, would have helped to ease the grief, frustration and anger felt by the families and friends of those who had perished with the Gaul.
The discovery of the wreck obliged the Government to answer this question; hence, in April 1999, the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, asked Mr Roger Clark, Head of Shipping Policy in the DETR, to conduct an ‘independent’ [1] investigation into why there had been no search for the Gaul after her disappearance in 1974.
Mr Clark applied himself to the task and, a year later, his findings were published in a 60 pages DETR report (see Annex 1).

In brief, the Government’s justification, presented within Mr Clark’s report, claimed that:
Initially we didn’t really know where the vessel was and it would have cost too much to find her and, even if we were to find the vessel, the expense of carrying out an underwater survey of the wreck could not be justified in terms of the benefits it would bring for marine safety.
John Prescott lauded Mr Clark’s conclusions and expressed his total confidence in their soundness and objectivity.

During the 2004 Re-opened Formal Investigation, in response to the victims’ families’ dissatisfaction with Mr Clarke’s explanations, justice David Steel, the Wreck Commissioner, re-examined the arguments, then endorsed, in his turn, Mr Clarke’s earlier conclusions (see the final report of the RFI [2]).

While the official reasoning may appear quite plausible, we have reasons to believe that, in fact, the Government had never been too keen to discover the location of the wreck, not on the grounds advocated by Roger Clarke, but for an entirely different reason: i.e. because a survey of the wreck and an analysis of the evidence that it revealed would have raised questions as to the adequacy of her design. The DfT’s marine experts, it now appears, had long suspected that the arrangement of the duff and offal chutes on the Gaul were a weakness in her design and that this weakness might have been a causal factor in her loss.

(Further details to follow)


[1] As head of the DfT’s shipping policy section, Roger Clarke could hardly be considered independent of the government whose actions he was asked to investigate

[2] “We accept the Department’s submission that its actions were solely directed to balancing the interests of those immediately affected by the loss of the GAUL with the wider public interest and the resources available