Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Chemical weapon legacy - Cover-up ??

Defence activities since the first world war have left a legacy of land contaminated with chemical weapons.  This extract from DIOlogue the house magazine of the Defence  Infrastructure Organisation Issue 2 October 2011. Some four years ago, the MOD set up Project Cleansweep to confirm that there was no risk to people or the environment from the UK’s historic programme for manufacturing, storing, handling or disposing of chemical warfare agents (CWAs).

Extract from 2nd issue of the DIOlogue newsletter published October 2011

The article mentioned that the project Cleansweep report was due to be published in the Autumn of 2011. A FOI request made in  2012 asking for the report.

FOI Request 18 September 2012

Dear Ministry of Defence,

In the 2nnd issue of the DIOlogue newsletter published October 2011 MOD regarding project "Cleansweep" said

"A comprehensive Project Completion report is due for publication this autumn, with both the Health Protection Agency and Environment Agency supportive of its findings. A copy will be placed in the Library of the House of Commons as well as being sent to MPs in whose constituencies these sites are located, local authorities and environment agencies. “Cleansweep has been a resounding success, both technically and in terms of partnership working,”

Could you please provide me with the following information

1: A copy of the "Cleansweep" report referred to the DIOlogue newsletter

if the report has not yet been published

2: when will the report will be published

3: information about the delay in publication

16 October 2012 MOD Replied

"You asked for a copy of the Project Cleansweep Completion Report or if the report has not yet been published details of when it will be and information on the delay in publication.
I can confirm that the Report has not yet been published, as two additional ground water monitoring reports on sites, that are included in the Cleansweep Completion Report are still in the process of being produced. While I am unable to say exactly when the rpeort Completion report will be published, I would be happy to provide you with a hard copy when it is,"

It is now 2013 and  as far as I am aware the Project Completion report has yet to be published..  
When asked through a FOI about specific sites and the potential for chemical contamination, the MOD are using the delay in publishing the Project Cleansweep report as an excuse for not providing information about the sites detailed in the FOI request. The also feel that it is not in the public interest to publish information about these sites.

It is notable that the Environmental Information Regulations (2004) require the proactive publication of environmental information

Dissemination of environmental information the legal duty

   4.—(1) Subject to paragraph (3), a public authority shall in respect of environmental information that it holds— 

(a)progressively make the information available to the public by electronic means which are easily accessible; and

(b)take reasonable steps to organize the information relevant to its functions with a view to the active and systematic dissemination to the public of the information.

   (2) For the purposes of paragraph (1) the use of electronic means to make information available or to organize information shall not be required in relation to information collected before 1st January 2005 in non-electronic form

FOI request for Information: Chemical Weapon Contamination 

Thank you for your request of 27 May 2012, this was passed to the Defence Infrastructure 
Organisation (DIO) – the Ministry of Defence (MOD) organisation with responsibility for the 
defence estate – and has been dealt with under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000 and Environmental Information Regulations (2004). 

You requested (verbatim) the following information:- 

a: Land quality assessments 
b: CW Clearance certificates 
c: Results of environmental surveys 
d: whether or not the site is owned by the MOD 
e: any other information about chemical weapon contamination at these sites; 

at the following sites :- 

 1 (FFD) Little Heath Suffolk Under the 
control of 94 Maintenance Unit 

FFD 2 Melchbourne/Riseley Bedfordshire American FFD - Station 572 

FFD 3 Norton Disney Lincolnshire Under the control of 93 
Maintenance Unit 

FFD 4 Lords Bridge Cambridgeshire Under the control of 95 
Maintenance Unit 

FFD 5 Escrick Yorkshire Under the control of 80 Sub Maintenance 

RAF Macmerry located about 9 miles east of Edinburgh. In the past, 
the airfield may have been referred to as Tranent, or Penston 

While I can confirm that the MOD holds information within the scope of your enquiry, it is likely that some or all of it falls within the scope of a qualified exemption of the FOI Act. The relevant exemption is Section 22 (Information Intended for Future Publication) which provides that information is exempt from disclosure if the public authority holding it or another person intends to publish it at some future date, whether determined or not, and in all the circumstances it is reasonable to withhold the information prior to publication. 

The exemption is subject to the balance of the public interest. By virtue of section 10(3) of the Act, where public authorities have to consider the balance of the public interest, they do not have to comply with the request until such time as is reasonable in the circumstances. The MOD has not yet reached a decision and I will not be able to fully respond to your request within 20 working days because of the need to carefully consider the issues involved. Our decision will be made as soon as possible and I will inform you immediately thereafter.


MOD has failed to provide the information on the specific sites, failed to publish the project cleansweep report and failed to  disseminate environmental information as required by the Environmental Information Regulations (2004).  The MOD is using its failure to publish the Cleansweep report as a reason to withhold information

Are the MOD afraid of publishing the information because there are significant problems with chemical weapon contamination which they wish to remain hidden??

File lists - key to accessing corporate memory

FOI dated 19th February 2013

“Please could you provide me with the following registry file lists used by :- 

  •  D Sef Pol 
  •  D Def H&S 
  •  DS&C”

Answer 12 March 2013

"However, we have to advise you that we will not be able to answer your request without  exceeding the appropriate limit. This is because to the only official record of registered files  is the MOD Form 262 of which there is one form for each file and part of a file opened.  There are many thousands of MOD Form 262s which make up the official file record for D Def H&S and D SEF Pol and to locate, retrieve, and extract information in scope of your request would involve some 7 man days of effort"

The answer implies that there are significant difficulties in locating files in order to inform policy and questions about issues, some only a few years old.  D Sef pol, D Def H&S and DS&C  were in turn all Directorates of MOD Head Office concerned with health, safety and the environment.  The difficulty in accessing  files means that it is very difficult to look back and learn from  previous accidents and polluting events.  So, such unfortunate incidents are likely to reoccur.

It also means that there will be problems finding and checking information used to inform the answers to Parliamentary questions, FOI requests, and  to defend claims against the MOD etc.  

File lists are also required in order to access archived files, in the absence of file lists historic information is inaccessible.  

The lack of file lists has led  to "corporate amnesia"

A previous post to this blog also points out in the clearest terms that MOD has failed to ensure the retention of key information for the period  1975 to 1985 about the way in which radioactive waste has been managed and disposed of. It may also mean that key information about policy and standards may have been lost