Significant ‘Errors’

(Amended 11 March, 2020)

For many decades Roger Sawyer has been a leading proponent for the authenticity of the Black Diaries. He is the author of two books, a biography Casement, The Flawed Hero, 1984 and a study of the two 1910 diaries, The Black and the White, 1997 along with several articles and broadcasts.

Clement King Shorter (1857-1926) was founder and editor of the influential illustrated weekly newspaper The Sphere to which he contributed literary articles. He was a noted collector of literary memorabilia and was on good terms with prominent literary people of the period. When Casement was sentenced to death on 29th June, 1916, Shorter, along with Conan Doyle, set about organizing one of the many petitions for his reprieve. In July 1916 Shorter was invited to Scotland Yard by CID chief Basil Thomson who showed him unidentified handwritten matter purportedly by Casement with  hopes of convincing him that the condemned man did not deserve a reprieve. Shorter was unconvinced by what Thomson showed him and continued with the petition which by 21st July had gathered 48 prominent signatories.

In his 1984 biography Roger Sawyer comments on this event in Scotland Yard as follows; ‘Among these was Clement Shorter who, as editor of The Sphere, was present when Hall first showed photographs of selected pages to a number of English and American journalists whom he invited to the Admiralty. At a later date, Shorter was shown the originals at Scotland Yard by Basil Thomson and was prompted to declare that the handwriting bore not the faintest  resemblance to Casement’s’. (pp 140).  Sawyer gives no source for his claim that Shorter was shown ‘the originals’ or for any such declaration. Since these assertions do not appear anywhere else in Casement literature, they are perhaps ‘errors’.

Some years after this event in Scotland Yard, Shorter prepared a pamphlet for private printing with the co-operation of Bernard Shaw. In February 1922 a collectors’ edition of 25 copies was printed with the title ‘A Discarded Defence of Roger Casement.’ The pamphlet contained the text of Shaw’s proposed defence which Casement had agreed with but which his defence lawyer A.M. Sullivan had rejected out of hand.


On 20th June, 1956 the following letter appeared in The Irish Times. The original punctuation is here retained.

Sir. – In the British Museum there is a pamphlet, privately printed in February, 1922, and entitled “A Discarded Defence of Roger Casement.”

This was the draft defence against the charge of treason which George Bernard Shaw sent to Roger Casement in 1916, and on which Casement wrote his own comments. These comments are printed in the appendix of the pamphlet and a footnote to them says: “These notes are in Roger Casement’s handwriting, which does not tally with the handwriting of the notorious ‘diaries’ shown to me at Scotland Yard by Sir Basil Thomson.”

Presumably this footnote was supplied either by Shaw himself, who contributed an introduction to the pamphlet, or by Clement Shorter, who prepared it for publication. Yours, etc.,

Roger McHugh

Seanad Eireann

June 20th, 1956

Only two days later on 22nd June, 1956 a brief article appeared in The Spectator under the pseudonym Pharos (1) who reported the content of McHugh’s letter and cited the following sentence thus as punctuated in The Spectator; ‘These notes are in Roger Casement’s handwriting, which does not tally with the handwriting of the notorious diaries shown to me at Scotland Yard by Sir Basil Thomson.’

Shorter’s 1922 pamphlet in the British Library contains that sentence printed thus as punctuated in the pamphlet; These notes are in Roger Casement’s handwriting, which does not tally with the handwriting of the notorious “diaries” shown to me at Scotland Yard by Sir Basil Thomson.

In the 1922 pamphlet the word diaries is enclosed in double inverted commas. In McHugh’s letter in The Irish Times that word is enclosed in single inverted commas. In The Spectator article that word is printed without inverted commas.

What has to be first determined is the reason why Sawyer fails to cite a source for his assertion that Shorter was shown ‘the originals’. The source can only be any or all of the three publications which had been seen by tens of thousands of readers: The Irish Times, The Spectator and the 1922 pamphlet. It is therefore strange that Sawyer does not cite a source which is already in the public domain. This failure must be counted as a very significant ‘error’.

The Spectator’s apparently innocuous elimination of the inverted commas printed in the original pamphlet might help to throw some light on why Sawyer failed to cite a source for his assertion. The Spectator article cites the 1922 pamphlet where Shorter printed the word diaries in inverted commas to indicate a reserved meaning  for that word (2). It is obvious that by citing The Spectator as his source, Sawyer would also have led his readers to the 1922 pamphlet where astute readers would have noted that the word “diaries” carried a reserved meaning. Since The Spectator was not cited as a source, readers could not know of the reserved meaning in the original pamphlet.

It is unthinkable that Sawyer failed to inspect the original 1922 pamphlet in the British Library. And it is unthinkable that he failed to note the inverted commas which indicate a reserved meaning.  Such failures would be serious ‘errors’ indeed.

In the sentence immediately following his claim that Shorter saw the originals in Scotland Yard, Sawyer writes; ‘The original rolled manuscript shown to the Associated Press representative … was later found to have been twenty-two pages torn out of the 1903 diary.’ This is strange and Sawyer is the only author to make this claim (3). He does not say when this was discovered or who discovered it or how he alone learned of this. But perhaps this was an oversight, yet another ‘error’. It is even stranger since both the rolled manuscript and the twenty-two pages have long disappeared and Sawyer has never seen them.

Here Sawyer has made a very significant ‘error’ because his claim is demonstrably false as noted on page 153 of Anatomy of a lie. As confirmed in The Giles Report of 2002, the pages of the 1903 diary measure 90mm x150 mm; journalist Ben Allen testified that the pages shown to him by Hall were of almost legal size, 216mm x 356 mm, were buff coloured and torn at the top. The latter pages were around 5.7 times larger than the diary pages. It is unthinkable that Sawyer failed to ever personally examine the 1903 Black Diary. It is equally unthinkable that he failed to ever read the sworn statement made by Ben Allen which is now in the NLI. Such failures would yet again be serious ‘errors’ indeed.

It is a fact that Sawyer bonded this unverifiable claim about the pages to his Shorter account. This might be a remarkable ‘coincidence’ but that coincidental proximity makes the unverifiable claim an essential part of a single claim which acts to offset any suspicion that Shorter was shown the same roll of papers which Allen saw in May. Despite the offer being repeated several times by Hall, Allen was never offered the bound volumes now at Kew. No doubt Allen was not the only journalist to see these papers although it seems that Hall wished to favour him with an exclusive. It cannot be excluded that this roll of handwritten papers was the diary materials shown to Shorter in July and which caused him to enclose the word diaries in double inverted commas.

There are good reasons for excluding that the roll of handwritten papers shown to Allen in May, 1916 was a genuine Casement diary. The main reason is that Allen was not allowed to verify the pages with Casement which procedure was a standard condition for publication. Another reason is that these unidentified pages have never been seen since 1916; they are presumed destroyed. Therefore, the authorities first produced and showed this evidence against Casement and then the authorities destroyed their own evidence. Such destruction of evidence is only explicable if the papers were not written by Casement. No other rational motive can be proposed. A third reason is  that this mysterious roll of papers does not appear in any of the police lists of possessions allegedly found in Casement’s luggage.

Whatever Shorter was shown purported to be the notorious diaries and he naturally expected to see conventional diaries of the type purchased and used by the vast majority of people. The use of inverted commas indicates that his expectation was not satisfied and he did not see conventional diaries. But the diaries at Kew are indeed conventional diaries mass produced for consumers. There are strong grounds for interpreting the inverted commas as a signal that the materials seen were improvised diaries in some form rather than bound volumes. And most probably Shorter was shown the mysterious roll of papers. This is the most credible explanation of his motive for using inverted commas for the word diaries.

This event represents yet another occasion when the bound diaries might have been shown to an independent witness but were not shown. In this instance the non-showing was performed by Thomson himself and in Scotland Yard where he allegedly held the bound diaries. Rather than show the volumes allegedly in his custody, Thomson showed something else to Shorter whom he had invited. There can be only one explanation for Thomson’s failure to produce the bound diaries, only one explanation which satisfies reason and common sense. The compromising diaries which are now held in the UK National Archives could not be shown on the day of Shorter’s visit in July 1916 because they did not exist.

The published claim that Shorter was shown the bound diaries at Scotland Yard rests upon a cluster of ‘errors’ which, by definition, cannot constitute evidence. Therefore there is no evidence that Shorter was shown the bound diaries. This fact adds to the absence of witness evidence for the existence of the Black Diaries in 1916. The multiple ‘errors’ made by Sawyer must be considered as significant ‘errors’. Such ‘errors’ are by definition unintentional only when caused by a cognitive bias of which one is unconscious. It follows that if the ‘errors’ are intentional, they are not true errors and therefore they belong to a distinct category. Readers can determine for themselves the significance of these ‘errors’.


1 – There are grounds for believing that Pharos was a pseudonym used by René MacColl who published a hostile biography in 1956 called Roger Casement: A New Judgment.

2 – Reserved meaning: inverted commas used to indicate the word does not carry its usual meaning. Example; Not surprised he couldn’t find it in his “filing system”.

3 – Inglis claims (Roger Casement, 1974, p. 66) that the 1903 diary pages were torn out in 1916 and shown to journalists. No source is given. He does not mention the rolled manuscript pages shown to Ben Allen.