Casement Tried & Tested
First published in History Ireland, July 2016.
The history of testing the Black Diaries, attributed to Roger Casement, is by now as confusing as the history of the diaries themselves. Results of the 1959 test cannot be found; the 1972 test was amateurish; the 1993 test was inconclusive and probably none of the tests meet international forensic standards.
But in 2002 The Giles Laboratory was commissioned by Professor W.J. McCormack to examine the controversial diaries. Sadly, this investigation failed to surpass the earlier tests.
Nonetheless, on 19 April, 2002, Professor McCormack, addressing a Casement conference, declared his indifference to the outcome of the investigation before announcing the result. The diaries were authentic – at long last. The U.K. and Irish press duly reported that the question was definitively closed. In his later book Roger Casement in Death, that indifference was largely compromised by his dismissal of those unconvinced by The Giles Report as ‘Casement vindicators’. In the years since this intervention, work on Casement has progressed, and different questions might now be asked of the McCormack-Giles intervention.
The Giles Report
The initial proposition given to document examiner Dr. Audrey Giles was that she authenticates the questioned documents; “The Steering Group have set the initial proposition to be that the documents at Kew known collectively as Roger Casement’s Black Diaries are genuinely written in his hand throughout.”
This instruction is fundamentally biased and compromises both examiner and the subsequent examination. For this reason alone, the report would not have been accepted by any court of law.
Dr. Giles should have pointed out the limitations of handwriting examination and that it might be impossible to reach a definitive conclusion. Having accepted the commission, she proceeded to authenticate the documents. But it is axiomatic that scientific investigation seeks falsification, not verification. The dominant paradigm is tested by looking for weaknesses, contradictions, anomalies. Therefore, the Giles investigation cannot claim scientific validity because it started from compromised premises. Further, the report does not fulfil the requirements of a forensic report to be demonstrated in a court of law because it lacks scientific detail, definitions and clear parameters. Quite simply, the conclusion is not demonstrated. Furthermore, there is an astonishing statement by Dr. Giles confirming that certain tests were not done because she had already foreseen the results of those tests without performing them. She stated in the RTE production of Alan Gilsenan’s documentary, The Ghost of Roger Casement,
“We could go ahead and carry out analysis of the inks, there are some problems there. There has to be a recognition that if indeed the Diaries are substantial forgeries, then they would have been produced at about the same time as the documents are dated or not long afterwards. So they are going to be produced using materials of the age, so I doubt whether in the end any close analysis of the ink is going to tell us a great deal about them.” (RTE TV documentary, March 2002)
This statement alone is sufficient to convince the ‘forgery theorists’ that the Giles/McCormack enterprise was planned as a media event rather than an impartial scientific investigation. It perfectly demonstrates the error of seeking verification rather than falsification of a thesis; the examiner uses only those tests and methods which will produce the desired result. In this case the methods used were those of comparative handwriting analysis which, by admission of Dr. Giles, are subjective. As she stated
“Handwriting examinations are necessarily to some extent subjective. It relies on my judgment to determine whether features are the same or different.” (RTE TV documentary, March 2002)
If anything, The Giles Report raised more doubts than existed before. Marcel Matley, a US document examiner, in his 16-page devastating critique, stated: “Even if every document examined were the authentic writing of Casement, this report does nothing to establish the fact”. Apart from scientific inadequacy, media publicity including two TV documentaries caused doubts that the entire enterprise was a political/publicity stunt masquerading as scientific investigation, an impression compounded by press misreporting that ink, pollen and DNA tests had given definitive conclusions when no such tests had been done.
The report was peer-reviewed by US document examiner James Horan who stated: “As editor of the Journal of Forensic Sciences and the Journal of the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners, I would NOT recommend publication of the Giles Report because the report does not show HOW its conclusion was reached. To the question, ‘Is the writing Roger Casement’s?’ on the basis of the Giles Report as it stands; my answer would have to be I cannot tell.”
However, the media campaign proved successful in perpetuating not only the official thesis of authenticity but also in regenerating that untested thesis as definitively proven. Doubters became heretics as scientific investigation became propaganda.
Leading US experts including Andrew Sulner, (Fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, lawyer and former state prosecutor) and Professor Dan Simon have explored cognitive bias and flawed forensics.
Mr. Sulner has pointed out that too many handwriting experts still believe that training and experience shield them from the biasing influences proven to impact the accuracy of visual observations and decision making by ordinary mortals.
In his paper “Cognitive and Motivational Causes of Investigative Error” presented to The American Academy, Professor Simon explained how errors can compound upon each other and demonstrated various dangers in forensic investigations, such as selective framing ( inquiry is framed in terms designed to influence the outcome), selective exposure ( information provided chosen to influence the outcome), and selective stopping ( inquiry ends when the hypothesis appears to be confirmed).
The Giles Report is afflicted by all three defects: selective framing, selective exposure and selective stopping.
It is now increasingly recognized in the US forensic science community that experts are reluctant to acknowledge the possibility of mental contamination of evidence in the form of cognitively biased evaluations. As highlighted in the 2009 National Academies of Science report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the U.S, research in behavioural science and information obtained from reviews of errors in high-profile cases have clearly established the adverse impact that contextual and motivational biases have on human judgment and on the accuracy of forensic evaluations of evidence.
Deep scrutiny exposes the following lethal defects in The Giles Report.
Firstly, whereas document examiners do use the term ‘consistent with’ despite its lack of precision, ‘consistent with’ says no more than ‘might be’ due to a degree of observed similarity. But an imprecise degree of similarity is insufficient for positive identification and therefore is inconclusive.
A series of ‘consistent with’ results is more persuasive than one or two such results because the apparently repeated similarity suggests lower probability of error in each observation. It does not, however, guarantee error elimination – the key word is ‘suggests’. It is here that cognitive bias plays a determining role by unconsciously programming the search for repeated similarity. The subjective perceptive mechanism becomes less impartial as it is progressively conditioned by a cognitive bias created by previous observations; we see what we have been previously conditioned to see. The process is called recognition.
Dr. Giles reaches ‘conclusive’ evidence by repeating the expression “if taken together” in the preambles to her conclusions; this expression, following the imprecise ‘consistent with’, overlooks the distinct features of single contentious entries. A number of ‘consistent with’ assertions grouped under ‘if taken together’ produce what she calls “conclusive evidence”. But ‘consistent with’ is not a constituent of conclusive evidence because it is an intermediate term on the scale of value determination; any number of identical inconclusive terms cannot produce a conclusive result.
This is a misapplication of The Law of Large Numbers which requires variant input values in order to produce a result higher than some of the input values. 2+3+4+5 divided by 4 = 3.5 which is higher than two of the input values. But 3+3+3+3 divided by 4 = 3 which is identical to all input values. Therefore, a series of ‘consistent with’ input values cannot produce a result higher than any single input value. Identical inconclusive values cannot produce conclusive results. The final Giles conclusion ought to be ‘consistent with’ which is inconclusive. This outcome would be ‘consistent with’ the 1993 result of ‘correspond closely’.
Secondly, the term ‘consistent pattern’ appears on six different occasions of the report. However, what is meant by ‘consistent pattern’ goes unexplained but it clearly refers to the ‘contentious entries’. Regarding the possibility of forged entries, Dr. Giles states, “… I would expect to find evidence of this in the form of: a consistent pattern of contentious entries”. Without an explanation, one must guess at possible meanings. Does she mean that the contentious entries should show features which distinguish them as a group from innocuous writings? Does she expect the questioned writings to be labeled for easy identification? If they were easy to identify by virtue of shared distinctive features, then the hypothetical forger would have utterly failed . Dr. Giles does not even explain why she would expect to find any pattern. Surely a repeated detectable pattern acts like a label and is exactly what the forger would avoid?
At another point, she discusses the difficulty of simulating another person’s handwriting due to the need to suppress the writer’s own handwriting during simulation. “Whereas this may be done over a small portion of handwriting, this becomes extremely difficult over more than a few lines of handwriting”. But is she referring to a beginner or an experienced forger? No-one disputes that the writings, if forged, were done by an expert. But even this misses the point. The fact is that the contentious entries are all relatively brief. Dr. Giles states many times that the entries are “restricted in quantity”, “limited quantities of comparable material”, “the contentious entries represent a small amount of comparable material”. The contentious entries never amount to “more than a few lines of handwriting” – frequently much less. Thus this brevity facilitates the experienced forger who never needs to simulate extended handwriting such as a letter might contain.
When Dr. Giles discusses the 1911 Lett’s Diary, which contains contentious writings “on virtually every page”, her argument does not improve. A ‘curious’ comment follows: “It is easier to identify areas where the entries are non-contentious rather than where they are contentious”. No explanation for this easier distinction. Strange because the two types of entries are, by her own account, free of any ‘significant differences’ and therefore should be indistinguishable. The only difference would then be semantic, one with sexual references, the other without. To someone without English, these writings would be identical if there are no significant differences. Dr. Giles is English so we must assume she detects the difference without noting semantic content. But on what basis she does not explain. But this distinction would constitute a significant difference requiring reasoned explanation. Even stranger is her later comment: “The contentious entries are a large and integral part of the entries of this Diary and cannot be separated in any way from the innocuous entries”. But this contradicts her earlier separation of contentious and non-contentious entries.
In her quest to provide another form of ‘proof’, Dr. Giles explains that special instruments were used to detect alterations, deletions and erasures. On two separate occasions she states that limited testing for erasures was done on blank pages and no evidence found. The tests were limited because “unfortunately, without some manipulation, the Diary pages cannot be subjected to ESDA (Electrostatic Detection Apparatus) examination”. On a separate occasion, the erasure test is again performed on blank pages; again these pages “are not suitable for” the ESDA technique. No evidence found.
Therefore, limited erasure tests were applied only to pages without writing and by chance those blank pages and only those were unsuited to ESDA testing. No erasure tests were done on any written pages to detect suspected interpolation of contentious writing.
Perhaps the most awkward facet of Dr. Giles’ approach is when she noted differences in the questioned writings but made them ‘disappear’ by not counting them as significant because such differences must be explained. Unable to find reasonable explanations for significant differences, they became insignificant. However, she did not find comparable significant differences in the unquestioned writings. Their absence in the unquestioned writings constitutes sufficient reason to consider the significant differences as evidence of forgery. This point was also made by US document examiner Marcel Matley in June 2015 : “In reality Giles unwittingly proved at least some “contentious entries” were by a different hand.”
Does the Giles Report actually demonstrate the falsity of its own conclusions? Instead of lucid exposition, what precedes the conclusion is a verbal smokescreen composed of ambiguity, repetitions, irrelevant data, deceptions, omissions, ex cathedra pronouncements and disinformation. A century on, from their miraculous appearance the provenance of the Black Diaries has not been determined
The release of the ‘discovery’ document (MEPO 2/10672) in 2001 after 85 years of secrecy met with ominous silence. This police list of personal effects allegedly found in Casement’s trunks, date stamped 28th July 1916, adds one more version to Thomson’s four conflicting versions and to that recorded in the interrogation transcript. The Giles Report, despite its scientific veneer, cannot eliminate the fact that there are now six versions of discovery of the diaries. That a single credible account of the provenance of the crucial documents cannot be produced after 100 years reveals dangerous instability in the foundations of the authenticity edifice.
The Giles Report was published in Mary E. Daly (ed.), Roger Casement in Irish and World History (Dublin, 2005).
Did You Know?
The BBC History website contains misinformation concerning Roger Casement. Paul Tilzey, the producer of The Secret of the Black Diaries documentary broadcast in 2002, last updated this site in 2011.
He describes The Giles Report as a “fully independent forensic examination” and as an “impartial scientific analysis”. He ignores the critical peer review comments by US document experts Marcel Matley and James Horan. Matley described The Giles Report as “forensic junk science” and Horan stated that it failed to demonstrate its conclusions. Other critics commented that an analysis to be convincingly impartial required a non-British expert with no connections to agencies of the British state. Dr. Giles is a former employee of the Metropolitan Police.
Tilzey states “the diary pages were distributed by the British authorities …” This appears to mean pages from the diary and if so, this is false. The pages which were distributed were typescript pages which the authorities alleged were copies of diary pages which they did not display. The unwary reader would easily be misled by Tilzey’s bland comment and would believe that the diaries were shown.
Like Dr. Giles, Tilzey resorts to the familiar claim that Michael Collins authenticated the diaries. “Collins who inspected them in 1921 and was satisfied that they were genuine…” This is wholly false. Collins saw two diaries in February 1922 and he left no written comment. Collins never knew Casement and there is no evidence that he had ever seen Casement’s handwriting. It was therefore impossible for Collins to authenticate the handwriting. But his silence on the matter allows Tilzey (and others) to indulge in mind-reading. Moreover, it is unclear why Collins’ non-expert opinion would count more than the opinion of anyone else. There is only one indication of Collins’ reaction; upon return to Dublin he opened a file which he called ‘Alleged Casement Diaries’. Duggan’s 1933 statement cannot be verified by Collins’ silence at the time. Duggan’s own opinion is undermined by his admittance that he (Duggan) did not know Casement’s handwriting although in 1933 he believed that Collins did. Once again, the absence of verifiable evidence allows speculation to pose as historical fact.
Did You Know?
The Giles Report verifies that the 1903 Black Diary is incomplete on account of pages missing for the period from January to February 13th. None of the principal Casement authors have addressed this anomaly of the missing pages. That the pages were forcibly torn out is clear from The Giles Report which confirms that the fragmentary remains contain writing; so, at some time, those pages existed and were written and were part of the bound volume diary and were later torn out.
The 1903 NA diary has attracted special attention on account of its “wealth of detail” which has convinced many that it is a genuine Casement diary. But no-one has explained why almost 12% of the bound volume diary was intentionally removed. Something made it imperative that those pages be removed otherwise they would not have been removed.
Thesis 1: the 1903 Letts Diary is a genuine Casement diary.
The thesis that Casement removed the pages from his own diary while continuing to write compromising entries in the diary is not credible. Nor is it credible that he removed the pages after 1903 but left those remaining incriminating entries in the diary. Therefore if Casement removed the pages, it is most probable that he did so during 1903 while continuing to write many incriminating entries into the diary. This is contradictory and it disposes of this motive for Casement removing those pages.
An informed homosexual reading of the 1903 diary identifies at least 25 homosexual encounters plus many other non-contact events. If this is correct, then Casement left those entries in the diary but removed the first six weeks from the diary. This contradiction undermines any argument that he removed those pages because they contained incriminating material. If no reasonable motive can be presented to explain this anomaly, then there is no reason to believe that Casement removed those pages. On the thesis that the 1903 NA diary is a genuine Casement diary, no motive can be found to explain why Casement would remove the pages.
Thesis 2: the 1903 Letts Diary is not a genuine Casement diary.
That the NA diary was in Casement’s possession in 1903 has not been proven and is contested. It is an undisputed fact that Thomson claimed to be in possession of the 1903 NA diary in 1916. That the pages were removed is verified and undisputed. That the removed pages contained writings is verified by Dr. Giles.
What reason would Thomson have for removing those pages? It is self evident that if those pages had contained incriminating material he would not have removed them. Therefore they did not contain incriminating material which means those pages contained innocuous writing. Innocuous writing by Casement was, however, vital evidence supporting Thomson’s claim that the diary was written by Casement. Therefore Thomson had no motive to dispose of that innocuous writing by Casement. Therefore Thomson did not do so. This leaves only one possible motive for Thomson removing those pages – that the writing on those twenty-two pages was not by Casement. If the writing on those pages was not by Casement, then the 1903 diary now in the National Archives was not a Casement diary but was the part-used diary of someone else. If the 1903 bound volume diary was not a Casement diary, then the 1903 diary now held in the NA was forged.
This argument explains why the 1903 bound volume diary which the authorities claimed was wholly authentic was vandalised. A refutation of this argument must be compatible with verifiable facts, must remain within limits of probability and common sense, must perform with maximum economy and must convincingly answer reasonable questions.
Did You Know?
In 1958 tensions over the Black Diaries reached a critical point and the British government was in a dilemma. A Working Party was instructed to investigate, evaluate and advise on a future policy which would relieve the Home Office. The Working Party soon realized that there was no proof of authenticity for the diaries which had been in limbo for decades. The opinion of a handwriting expert was sought and on 4 Nov, 1958, Dr. Wilson Harrison produced his opinion.
Roger Sawyer describes this opinion as a forensic test which declared authenticity.* Unfortunately, Sawyer does not give any reference or source for this claim nor does he cite from the results of this ‘test’ nor does he say if he has seen any official papers prepared by Dr. Harrison.
Very little attention has been given to the Harrison report and for good reason. The opinion of Dr. Harrison consists of three short paragraphs amounting to a mere 93 words in total. It is obvious that no tests were done and Dr. Harrison does not claim to have performed any tests. Therefore, this intervention was not a test of any kind, far less a forensic test. The word ‘test’ does not appear and neither does the word ‘authentic’. It was no more than a brief handwriting comparison by a government expert.
The Working Party dealing with the government’s dilemma must have been disappointed with the flimsiness of these 93 words which lack conviction. This might explain why Dr. Harrison’s report was not publicized at the time or later and why it still appears not to be in the public domain; it is buried in a National Archives file of over 200 pages.** Other Casement authors refer to Dr. Harrison’s intervention but none give any details or quote from his report.
Dr. Harrison was a Home Office forensic scientist and was the author of Suspect Documents: Their Scientific Examination (1958). In this very brief report Dr. Harrison carefully avoided any claim that the diaries were the authentic writings of Casement. He made no attempt to verify the authenticity of the control material provided for comparison and described these files as “attributed to Roger Casement”. Perhaps an attempt to authenticate the control material would have been ‘indelicate’ but both law and science require it.
In brief, his opinion was that the diaries were written by one person only and that the person who wrote the diaries also wrote the control documents. He affirmed that both writings were attributed by the government to Casement.
That Harrison’s report was of little comfort to the Working Party is clear from documents dated March 1959 when a formal committee of enquiry was proposed for the purpose of authenticating the diaries definitively. The proposal was soon aborted because the committee “might refuse to conclude categorically that the diaries are not forgeries.” (6 March) With regard to the Harrison report it was feared that “that another expert might be found whose opinion would not accord with his.” (9 March) The apprehension did not end there: “… if the remit were confined to the question of forgery, the committee would be entitled not only to examine the diaries, presumably with the assistance of a handwriting expert, but to explore how they came into possession of the police and to see whether there was any evidence that they were being groomed for a particular purpose.” (9 March) [Italics added] The risk that the committee “might refuse to say categorically whether the diaries are or are not forgeries” killed the proposal. In the end it was decided that the best way to cover up the cover-up was to give the diaries restricted release in the hope that “the verdicts of the scholars will at least cancel each other out.”*** To date no impartial committee has ever examined the Black Diaries.
*The Black Diaries; A Question of Authenticity. p. 97. Roger Casement in Irish and World History. RIA 2005.
** HO 144/23481
*** Sir Alexander Clutterbuck, HM Ambassador to Ireland. 1958.
Did You Know
When the Giles Report was announced on March 12, 2002 the mainstream press obediently published their opinions on the opinion of Dr. Giles the following day. The man behind the Giles Report, Professor McCormack, published his Casement study only four and a half months later in late July 2002. Work on his 256 page book had obviously begun long before Dr. Giles received the Black Diaries from TNA. McCormack’s book is strongly in favour of authenticity which signifies that when he commissioned Giles he was not impartial to the outcome of her intervention.
The following article by John Ezard appeared in The Guardian on 13th March in response to McCormack’s press release. It is typical of many others published on the same day. The text in italics was not written by Mr. Ezard.
“The private diaries of Sir Roger Casement, in which the folk hero of Irish republicanism wrote in exuberant detail of sex with men, are genuine beyond doubt, the first forensic study of them for 86 years found yesterday.”
The world famous pioneer of human rights is now merely a folk hero. The opinion of one person constitutes proof beyond doubt. The Giles Report is a private opinion with no legal (forensic) status.
This “unequivocal and confident” verdict is expected to lay a long controversy virtually to rest and destroy part of Casement’s legend.
Which part of what legend?
It leaves him substantially intact, however, as the man who declared from the dock of the Old Bailey: “Self-government is our right – a thing no more to be doled out to us or withheld … than the right to feel the sun or smell the flowers or to love our kind”.
The controversy has lasted in Ireland, Britain and the US almost since Casement was hanged for high treason in August 1916 after trying to land arms for the Irish Easter rising.
The British government leaked his diaries in a successful ploy to defuse a campaign for his reprieve. “The diaries did for him,” Bill McCormack, head of the seven-strong inquiry steering group, said yesterday.
The diaries were not leaked; only police typescripts were shown. Who are the seven-strong steering group? Their names appear nowhere.
Supporters have maintained that the government forged the diaries. But the forensic tests, the first to be carried out, found “no reason” to suspect forgery.
Who are these ‘supporters’ and what is it they ‘support’? Without legal status the report is not a forensic test but the opinion of one person.
The inquiry was inspired by and partly financed by the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, who is expected to accept the result. Yesterday a spokesman for him said: “You can’t call for an inquiry and reject the results. But this will be a blow to some people”.
Ahern did not inspire the Giles inquiry; McCormack did that on his own initiative. Who is this un-named ‘spokesman’ and why is he un-named?
Professor McCormack, head of literary history at Goldsmiths College, London, said Irish-Americans might find the verdict harder to accept than Irish people. This raised the issue of “influential members of the Irish diaspora in the US seeking to promote a version of Irish identity that emphasised racial, cultural and sexual purity”.
This means that anyone who disagrees with McCormack is promoting ethnic purity; the evidence?
In four of his five diaries, Casement zestfully noted details of his sexual exploits with friends and paid-for males. His entry for March 2 1910 read: “Sao Paulo. Antonio, $10. Quick enormous push. Loved Mightily”. But if Giles is wrong and the diaries are not his diaries?
The diaries’ authenticity was confirmed by Audrey Giles, one of Britain’s leading document examiners. She concluded that the handwriting, ink, paper, pen strokes and pencillings were all genuine.
Giles did not confirm anything save what McCormack wanted her to confirm; she gave her opinion and she specifically excluded ink testing.
Prof McCormack said Casement’s supporters were entitled to resent the 1916 government’s “plain blackguardism” in deploying private diaries to send a politically embarrassing figure to the scaffold.
At last the ‘supporters’ have got something right according to McCormack. The government did not use private diaries; they used police typescripts. So he was hanged because the government felt embarrassed?
The government’s behaviour was more cowardly than a forgery. But none of Casement’s supporters had taken the opportunity of having the diaries tested.
Cowardly behaviour does not exclude forgery. The diaries belong to the British state which decided who, when and how they might be tested.
An Irish diplomat said: “There are some people who will be disappointed by this finding. But I don’t think Casement’s reputation matters much to many people in Ireland now. There is more acceptance of the idea that people have private lives.”
Who is this nameless diplomat and why is he un-named? This so-called finding is merely the opinion of one person, a former employee of the same police force which in 1916 made the defamatory typescripts. If his reputation matters little now why is there a controversy, why an ‘investigation’ and why such press coverage? Private lives – so this scandal is about invasion of privacy?