An article published in the Press and Journal on 8 September 2010 informed the public about the outcome of the Trident families’ quest for information relating to a hidden NMI report on the Trident’s stability reserves (withheld from them by the Department for Transport (DfT) since 1976).
In a statement from DfT’s current Shipping Minister, Mike Penning, the families were told that it would now be “impossible” to establish the reasons why the report had not been passed over to them in 1976, when it was first produced.
Following a request for further information about this report (information that would have been located within the DfT’s shipping safety research folder - reference no. MS/92/12/09), the families were told that “this file is no longer in existence, it did not disappear, but was destroyed in accordance with the routine, approved disposal agreement” (?!) and that ‘A file is reviewed after 25 years and if National Archives show no interest in maintaining the file, then it is destroyed”
On hearing this news, the families were quite right to register a complaint, but, unfortunately, the task of dealing with it was given to one of the DfT’s divisional directors, a Mr John Bagley, who piously claimed:
“It is clear from documents supplied to me that on 17 February 2005 the MCA instructed Iron Mountain to destroy this file. The file was listed along with 9,777 others in the same instruction and appears to have been a routine procedure, which Iron Mountain complied with the following day when the file was destroyed by shredding. The file appears to have been disposed of in accordance with proper procedures and at a point in time which would have been well in excess of the retention period”
A plausible, but unfortunate set of circumstances perhaps, or bad luck? - We think not!! [*]
In the first instance, merchant shipping files do not go to the shredder by way of a mindless, automated routine; they are sent there when they are no longer relevant to current happenings in the shipping world (for MCA policies relating to file retention and disposal see copy of memorandum below – paragraphs 2, 5 and 7 are the most relevant. Note: files containing the results of expensive maritime safety research are not routinely shredded).
Additionally, the very fact that the wreck of the Trident was discovered in June 2001 and that the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) were subsequently tasked with carrying out underwater surveys on it, meant that, in the first instance, the MAIB would have collected all available Trident files from the Department’s main file registry.
It was only after they had reviewed all official records and the results from their underwater surveys that the MAIB were able to advise the DfT’s Minister that ‘new and important evidence’ had been found - the basis on which Mr Stephen Byers re-opened the formal investigation in March 2002.
Once a maritime public inquiry has been opened (or re-opened), the normal procedure is for all official files and records to be taken into the custody of the DfT and AG (via the Treasury Solicitor) who will then decide which items of evidence should be released to the parties to the inquiry.
Thus, if the Trident investigation was re-opened in 2002 and the Trident stability file was shredded in 2005, it would seem that someone within the DfT specifically requested/authorised the file’s destruction. MCA officials would not have been authorised to take a decision on a file that was linked to an ongoing formal inquiry.
Perhaps the DfT could provide us with a justification for their haste.
(On this subject, there is, however, more to come…)
[*] By 2005, the DfT and their retained experts were well on course for a re-write of the official records on the Trident’s loss. Obviously, if there were any historical records available from that period – and if they fell into the 'wrong hands' (the FOI act came into force 6 weeks before the Trident’s records were shredded) - then these could be read!!!!