An environmental journalist has published details of lapses in nuclear weapons safety after a three-year Freedom of Information battle.
Rob Edwards, who freelances for the Glasgow-based Sunday Herald, said an ‘astonishing U-turn’ by the Ministry of Defence had seen the information released to him on the eve of an Information Tribunal.
He first asked the MoD in December 2006 for six reports by its internal nuclear safety regulators, to find out about their work in ensuring there are no accidents involving Britain’s nuclear warheads.
Rob was given heavily censored versions of the reports 14 months later then appealed to the Information Commissioner, who backed the MoD – before the information was finally released ahead of a tribunal.
A story published in the Sunday Herald following the information release showed the handling of weapons at the Clyde naval base was ‘plagued by confusion, shortcomings and non-compliance with regulations’.
The reports, written in 2005 and 2006, also showed problems elsewhere in Britain’s nuclear weapons programme – but the MoD insisted its safety record was as robust as possible.
In his blog, Rob writes about his battle to gain access to the information, saying he appealed to the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, after receiving censored versions of the reports.
Mr Graham ruled to Rob’s surprise that it was in the public interest for safety regulators to make criticisms “free from the ‘chilling effect’ of having these discussions made public.”
Rob writes: “But this is the inverse of the truth. Keeping such criticisms within the MoD’s secretive citadel is far more likely to have a ‘chilling effect’ on the regulator’s frankness and effectiveness than opening them to the light of public scrutiny.
“So I did something I have never done before. I appealed to the Information Tribunal, which oversees Graham.
“I asked three experts to help me, offering to pay them nothing: Fred Dawson, a former senior MoD official; John Large, an independent nuclear consultant; and John Ainslie, the coordinator of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.”
The team submitted 100 pages of evidence about why it was right for the information to be released, leading to the reports being given to Rob before the tribunal could start.