Cat out of the bag

Jim Currie

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An amendment to The United Kingdom Official Secrets Act of 1889 came into force on 22nd August, 1911... 8 month and 9 days before the Titanic disaster. Is it possible that the Lord Mersey applied the 100 year secrecy rule to certain bits of evidence covering individuals? If so, we might all get a surprise next year! There might just be egg on the faces of not a few individuals.. including my own phisog!

JC
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Is it possible that the Lord Mersey applied the 100 year secrecy rule to certain bits of evidence covering individuals? <<

I don't see how. The whole of the inquiry was then and is now a matter of record. No testimoy was taken in camera. From where I sit, it looks to me as if there was a subject Lord Mersey wanted to avoid...like the breakup of the ship...he handled by the simple expediant of avoiding it. One does not need to invoke the Secrets act to avoid disclosing questions which were never asked in the first place, and a lot easier too!
 
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Dave Gittins

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The Official Secrets Act of 1911 can be read online at the National Archives. It's quite short as acts go.

It's specifically concerned with espionage that might be of benefit to an enemy. It covers spying on all sorts of things that might be of military use. Even Lord Mersey would be battling to apply it to the actions of White Star, H & W or the Board of Trade.
 
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Jim Fowler

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Maybe the current UK "Freedom of Information Act" would be more applicable than the Official Secrets Act. - regarding unpublished information about Titanic. However, the F.O.I. grants government departments quite wide powers to decide on exemptions, where they can withhold official papers or "redact" some of a document's content, if they consider that it might not be in the "national interest" for that information to be transferred to the National Archive.
regards Jim F.
 

Jim Currie

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The Official Secrets Act not only applied to matters of National security. I quote from an old Law Book that I have:

"Official Secrets.-- Official secrets are protected by two quite recent acts of Parliament--the Official Secrets Acts of 1911 and 1920. These acts are designed to prevent the disclosure to unauthorised persons of official information which,in the public interest, it is not desirable to disclose.

The matters involved include spying and collecting information calculated to be useful to an enemy,The publication of official documents and the unlawful use of military or naval uniforms...."

During a Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry, vast amounts of documentation of a technical nature are accrued. These are filed and become part of the official documentation. They include correspondence between individuals directly and indirectly associated with the wreck in question. There is little doubt that a great deal of correspondence crossed the desk of Lord Mersey during the UK Inquiry.. some of it sent to him from the USA. All such paperwork might be classed as 'official documents'and selectively kept out of the public domain.

Although we have the transcripts of both official inquiries,members of Titanic's crew were only able to give direct answers to specific questions. The content of published affadavits from passengers and other individuals ranges from sensible to downright fantasy. None of these could be considered thought -provoking (sensible thought that is). Do we know if individuals were interviewed privately by officials?

JC
 
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>>Do we know if individuals were interviewed privately by officials?<<

Which officials do you have in mind? A number of depositions were taken by the U.S. Senate with the interviews being conducted by the senators themselves. All of these were included in the transcript.
 

Dave Gittins

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"The matters involved include spying and collecting information calculated to be useful to an enemy,the publication of official documents and the unlawful use of military or naval uniforms...."

Not as the act stood in 1911. You can read it here.

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo5/1-2/28/introduction/enacted

The Board of Trade took depositions from practically all the surviving crew. The biggest group was those who returned on Lapland. I believe the questioning was not perfectly in private, as the unions pressured the officials to speed up proceeding. By the time this was done, the survivors had plenty of time to discuss their experiences and their testimony may have been imperfect.

The Board of Trade selected witnesses whose depositions seemed to be of use to Mersey's court, so to some extent the Board could control what was heard in court. A few of the depositions exist, as the witnesses kept copies.

Some things never made it to court because of the blundering incompetence of the counsel for third class passengers. In my e-book I draw attention to Board of Trade exchanges with Lloyd's over Titanic's construction but these were of little consequence and Lloyd's didn't make a big public fuss. I am very familiar with the two inquiries and I see no real evidence of a real coverup or concealment. There was however a certain avoidance of things embarrassing to the merchant marine, partly on the principle of not speaking ill of the dead.
 
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J. Fowler

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With regard to the pre-Inquiry interviewing of witnesses - does anyone know if UK Departmental officials, in 1912, would have followed the same due process that was followed in later years ? (In other words, would they have advised individuals crew members etc. before the interview began, that they weren't obliged to say anything that might incrimininate themselves?)

regards - Jim F.
 

Jim Currie

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Hello Michael!

With respect; The US Senate Inquiry was a political side-show. There was much soul-searching at the time as to the legality of it. Much of the questioning seemed to be centred around which influencial person was seen by whom.

The real test for the British seamen.. the one they dreaded most of all would be the inevitable Inquiry held under the supervision of an officer of the Crown.


Hello Dave. Trust they eyes are now OK!

I suggest to you that Section 2: of The Act covers all types of secret documents.
The fist paragraph covers off-limits places. All other possibilities are covered by the following 'or' clauses relative to unauthorised communication of Official documents.

I quote:

"2 Wrongful communication, &c. of information.

(1)If any person having in his possession or control any sketch, plan, model, article, note, document, or information which relates to or is used in a prohibited place or anything in such a place,
or which. has been entrusted in confidence to him by any person holding office under His Majesty or which he has obtained owing to his position as a person who holds or has held office under His Majesty,
or as a person who holds or has held a contract made on behalf of his Majesty, or as a person who is or has been employed under a person who holds or has held such an office or contract,– .
(a)communicates the sketch, plan, model, article, note, document, or information to any person, other than a person to whom he is authorised to communicate it, or a person to whom it is in the interest of the State his duty to communicate it, or .
(b)retains the sketch, plan, model, article, note, or document in his possession or control when he has no right to retain it or when it is contrary to his duty to retain it : .
that person shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.
"

As for the set-up of a Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry...

You have without doubt read the Attorney General's explanation to Lord Mersey about the absence of certain witnesses. You will also have noted his reference to The Merchant Shipping Act of 1898 Part 6 and the two methods of Inquiry...preliminary and formal. Depending on the sensitivity of the subject matter, a formal Inquiry may or may not be the result of preliminary investigations and Inquiries. This I know to be fact since I have been involved on both sides of the fence...gathering and giving evidence relative to a marine accident(s).

My point is, that long before Day 1 of the UK Inqiry, Lord Mersey and the Attorney Genral had set in motion the wheels of an informal investigation. During this period, there was surely reams of paperwork generated. This was not for public consumption. Most of it would be tedious and boring but there might just be a few juicy items between the lines.
On the other hand, perhaps not!

Evidence of a cover-up will not be obvious if it is well covered-up.'
In the days before trial by television, formal Government Inquiries(since they were in public) tended to be 'clean'! No unwanted, embarrassing revalations etc.

As for evidence of a real cover-up or should I say mis-use of evidence... as a navigator you'll agree that the most obvious was the manipulative use of the evidence of Captain Knapp USN relative to the position of the ice barrier and that of Captain Rostron of the Carpathia, Captain Moore of the Mount Temple and Captain Lord relative to the CQD position.
What about Third Officer Groves's evidence concerning a ship with two white masthead lights? Now that was a lu-lu!

Regards,

JC
 
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I still don't understand how the Official Secrets Act could have been applied to matters relating to the loss of a merchant vessel. The wording of the Act seems to me to be quite clear, insofar as it refers to a persons "holding office under His Majesty", that is to say, those employed by the state - specifically civil servants and members of the armed forces.

The Act may have applied to Cunard vessels such as the Lusitania (which had been built with the aid of state subsidies with a view to those vessels being used as armed merchant cruisers) but the White Star liners were purely commercial vessels.
 

Jim Currie

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Hello Stanley!

The operstive words in all these acts are "Wrongful communication, &c. of information" and "In the public interest"

If politicians deem it necessary, they will sit on all sorts of bits of paper for a very long time. The Dunblane Inqiry is a prime example.

Another classic example of keeping a lid on things is 100 year rule as applied to the Census Act.

What you can be sure of is; politicians have a way whereby they can bury anything that might make them look silly.. at least until it can't harm them.. like when they are dead!

JC
 
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Hello Jim,

The point I am trying to make is that, back in the Victorian/Edwardian period, businessmen such as J.Bruce Ismay were deeply suspicious of any kind of government interference in the affairs of commercial undertakings such as railways or steamship companies, and if any government had attempted to impose its will on these companies there would have been a furore. I have done quite a lot of work on the role of the Board of Trade in relation to the railways, and I have never found any mention of the Official Secrets Act being used in this context.

In an age of laissez faire, the state could exert some control via the law, for example the introduction of the Plimsol line, or the introduction of continuous automatic brakes on the railways, but the use of a crude instrument such as the Official Secrets Act in a commercial situation would have been regarded as an outrageous attack on the freedom of the individual. Today, of course, things are very different — but it is surely misleading to apply today's standards to the situation that pertained back in 1912.
 
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>>With respect; The US Senate Inquiry was a political side-show.<<

I'm not disputing that. My point was that officials did conduct private interviews which became a matter of public record in the transcripts. Nothing about the Mersey Wreck Commission appears to have been done that way. All the evidence I've seen indicates that they either let it all hang out for everybody to see, or they just plain avoided dealing with it.

Easier that way.
 

Jim Currie

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Helo Stanley!

I understand the point you are making. The problem with Official Inquiries is that once they call for a document, report or any other relevant paperwork, it becomes Crown Property. The Crown Agent then has thr right under various Acts of Parliament to either bury or publish such documents. I put a question mark at the beginning of this thread. I have no proof that such secret documents exist but I know they exist concerning other high profile cases in the UK

As for the US Inquiry Michael... The amendments to your Constitution were very well thought out. Did the the first amendement covered the Senate Inquiry into the loss of of the Titanic?
The UK populace in 1912... even to-day did/do not have the freedom of information enjoyed by your citizens.

JC
 
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Jim Fowler

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Inconvenient truths do get buried deep - sometimes. But, since the data security systems for various UK government departments have experienced more leaks than Titanic, during recent years,- it doesn't seem like a strong possibility that surviving archives from the 1912 Inquiry would still contain undisclosed revelations. ( but it would be nice to be wrong about that !)
regards - Jim F.
 
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Apparently, according to a new book entitled The Falsification of History - Our Distorted Reality "The surviving crew were detained overnight and forced to sign a pledge under the Official Secrets Act, promising to keep secret forever the actual events of the night of 14th-15th April 1912". Others claim that the Official Secrets Act was used on the workers at Harland & Wolff to ensure that they did not reveal that the Titanic was the Olympic (or was it vice-versa?)
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>As for the US Inquiry Michael... The amendments to your Constitution were very well thought out. Did the the first amendement covered the Senate Inquiry into the loss of of the Titanic?<<

Nope, but it's irrelevant because of the Commerce Clause in the same document. This gives the whole of the Congress a surprisingly broad range of powers. Granted, a lot of our own citizens don't like it but that's a whole different rant!
 

Jim Currie

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Jim F.

The popular,present-day practice of 'leaking' is a modern misnomer. If Titanic had 'leaked' as much as governments have done in recent years, she would never have made it from Belfast to Southampton and many lives would have been saved.
As one who has lived for quite a while, I can tell you without fear of contradiction that this over-used practice of 'leaking' was not common in the old days. That was in all probability, why the newspapers carried such fanciful, and in some cases,ridiculous accounts of the disaster.

Hello Stanley!

I'm afraid I'm not into conspiracy theories. However There are serious researchers not averse to making interpretions based on such theories. The purported breaking of the speed record is a classic example.

Hello Michael!

Very interesting!

I have had a quick look at the Commerce Clause. I wonder how it might be applied in this instance?


JC
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>I have had a quick look at the Commerce Clause. I wonder how it might be applied in this instance? <<

It was essentially enough to legally justify the Senate Inquiry.

The First Amendment itself is no barrier to the government keeping secrets either. The thing is, in this affair, the Senate had no interest in or reason to do so, and didn't bother trying. They put it all out on Front Street for everybody to see. Much the same happened with the Mersey Wreck Commission. All of it became a matter of public record.

Personally, I expect anything of a secretive nature was discussed in the smoke filled back rooms of some of the exclusive clubs these people would have been members of. Since anything written would have been in personal correspondance between "friends" and would have been unwritten otherwise, there was literally nothing to place a "SECRET" stamp on.

Like I said, much easier that way.