The Cabinet Office under Michael Gove is getting an appalling reputation for its handling of Freedom of Information requests. It is already facing court action from Open Democracy after being accused of blacklisting journalists making requests and setting up – totally against the spirit of the legislation – a clearing house to handle requests from journalists and advise other departments how to handle them. Under the FOI Act you don’t even have to disclose your own identity to get information – it is a public right.
But now it has plumbed new depths in trying to censor important historic documents years after the death of Lord Mountbatten, one of the country’s most interesting and controversial figures. And it is hoping to make it impossible for the author of his biography, Andrew Lownie, to challenge the Cabinet Office by making it too expensive for him.
The diaries of Lord Mountbatten were purchased by Southampton University for £2.8 million – with £2 million from the taxpayer – as part of a huge archive covering both Lord Mountbatten and Lord Palmerston. The archives is known as the Broadlands archive, named after his famous home.
Andrew Lownie has written an excellent biography, The Mountbattens: Their Lives and Loves, published two years ago. It explores the lives of both Mountbatten and his wife Edwina. It was his research for this book that led him to the Broadlands archives, and he has been attempting to gain access to the diaries and documents from 1935 onwards.
So far using the Freedom of Information Act he has spent four years successfully fighting the Cabinet Office and Southampton University to get the censored part of the diaries released. He has won every step of the way and the Information Commissioner has ordered them to be released.
Cabinet Office employing two QCs at vast expense to fight the disclosure
But now the Cabinet Office and Southampton University are going to a tribunal to stop the release of the diaries and have employed, at vast taxpayer’s expense two QC’s to argue why these documents should not see the public light of day.
Andrew Lownie has launched a crowdfunder appeal to raise £50,000 to defend himself against these two QCs.
The documents could shed light on the royal family and the independence and partition of India. Lord Mountbatten was the uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, confidant of Edward VIII (Duke of Windsor) and the last Viceroy of India, while Lady Mountbatten had a close relationship with the Indian leader Jawaharlal Nehru.
The Guardian took up the issue and suddenly the Cabinet Office decided to release the diaries up to 1934 but no further. This means that some of the most interesting episodes that also included Lord Mountbatten’s controversial war record in the Navy and the extraordinary coup attempt against Harold Wilson, and possibly his version of the advice he gave to Prince Charles, our future king, when he was a young man, remain secret.
Andrew Lownie deserves enormous support to take on the Cabinet Office which must, rather than Southampton University, be behind this censorship of these documents. They belong to the nation, not Michael Gove or the Royal Family.
Support Andrew Lownie’s appeal
I suggest you get on to his crowdfunder page here and donate if you can. I have also written an earlier review of his book on this blog.