UK National Archives

An extraordinary recent communication from un-named officials at the UK National Archives reveals they do not know if there is any evidence for the existence of the diaries in 1916. They refuse to look for evidence because the cost might exceed £600.

The CEO Mr. Jeff James was asked the following question in September 2017:

Is any evidence being withheld by TNA which would demonstrate that the bound volume diaries were shown to independent witnesses before August 3, 1916?

The following response was received on 3 October from an official of the Freedom of Information office at TNA:

“This information is exempt under section 12 of the FOI Act. The Act makes provision for public authorities to refuse requests for information where the cost of dealing with them would exceed the appropriate limit, which for … The National Archives, is set at £600… We hold a large amount of correspondence, documentation, research, reports and presentations relating to the Casement diaries… We estimate that to review all this information in order to confirm whether we do or do not hold the information you have requested, it will take us in excess of the cost limit …Therefore, this part of your request will not be processed further.”

CEO Jeff James stated on 18 August 2017 that the research submitted had been “given serious consideration” and had been “reviewed by relevant experts, including … the Director of Research and Collections.” Mr. James wrote “the evaluation of your paper is that you have not provided sufficient evidence to allow The National Archives to open a publicly-funded investigation …”

A request to see copy of the experts’ ‘evaluation’ or ‘review’ was refused under terms of the Freedom of Information Act. By way of compensation for this refusal, an exchange of redacted internal email correspondence between un-named officials was made available. This reveals a shocking absence of knowledge of the background with one ‘expert’ asking if the notorious diaries were gifted to the Archives. The same ‘expert’ does not know what was circulated in 1916 and imagines the smear material might have been stolen letters despite undisputed evidence in the public domain for decades that police typescripts were shown.

But two points emerge; firstly, the “relevant experts” insist they are merely custodians of public records and are not held to guarantee their authenticity which is presumed. Secondly, no attempt to engage with the research or to refute any part of it was contemplated.

Therefore the ‘experts’ admit they do not know if the diaries are authentic and do not know if there is any evidence of their material existence in 1916. Nonetheless, TNA continues to attribute the diaries to Casement. The minister responsible for The National Archives, Mr. John Glen MP, has been asked to intervene.

LATEST: A response from the office of John Glen MP dated 21st October indicated that the Minister would not intervene. A letter to the Director of Research at TNA, Dr Valerie Johnson, asking if she had examined the research submitted, brought the following response from an un-named official: “Dr Johnson’s views were taken into account in the full and final response that you received from Jeff James, Chief Executive and Keeper dated 18th August 2017. We have nothing further to add on this matter…”

Conclusion: An investigation has been refused. Dr Johnson’s views remain unknown. CEO James has closed the correspondence. The wheel has turned full circle to the defensive silence of pre-1959. The silence of pre-1959 concerned the existence of the diaries at any time. Today all Casement files (save 14) have been released. In-depth research of those files demonstrates that there is no evidence for the existence of the diaries in 1916. Therefore, the only possible motive for silence today is to conceal the absence of evidence for their existence at that time. By default, the silence of today confirms that the diaries did not exist during Casement’s lifetime.

Extracts from TNA email correspondence:

“lt is our duty to preserve and make records available. I don’t think it is necessarily for us to assess the provenance or authenticity of the records. We have to assume that most which come in from departments are authentic records. ln this case I think the records were gifted(?) …. lt is possible that the items circulated were not from the Diaries but taken from amongst a bundle of letters Casement wrote to a friend which were stolen. On that basis they aren’t part of the Diaries but they aren’t forgeries either.”

Since the Public Record Office first accepted the contested diaries into their care in 1959, they have been evidently uneasy about their authority. In this trail of correspondence obtained under FOI, uncertainty and confusion is still apparent … Jeff James and his ‘experts’ are trying to put on a brave face, but, reading between the lines, they appear to be running scared from what you are both revealing and demonstrating. The problem they face is that the British National Archives has been used to authenticate the diaries for well over fifty years and they are loath to admit this. I have a substantial PRO memorandum and Press Statement, circulated back in  the 1990s that quite clearly demonstrate how the PRO archivists were shoe-horning the diaries into a position of authenticity. This was particularly evident in October 1995, when they released the bulk of papers to do with Casement’s trial and execution. To my mind this recent communication demonstrates a strategic ignorance from the ‘experts’ about the latest developments. What they infer is often confused, factually incorrect and demonstrates muddled thinking … Furthermore, I find it hard to believe that the decision by James was made on the basis of these emails. There must be more … Martin Mansergh is probably quite right that this matter is being decided upon at a much higher level.” Angus Mitchell.