Skulduggery at the British Library
Incident in 2005 involved 35 items

Tyldesley Diary

It's now February 2010 and more information is available than when Dalya Alberge first reported that the manuscript of the Tyldesley Diary had been extensively damaged whilst in the custody of the British Library. Dalya's reports can be found in The Times of 14 May 2007 and 29 December 2007

I shall be publishing full details of what is now known as time allows, but in the meantime here is a summary:

  1. P, an employee of the British Library, seriously damaged The Tyldesley Diary, a Jacobite manuscript belonging to me but lodged for safekeeping with the Library. Details of the damage are given at the foot of this posting.
  2. The Library's initial press release in 2007 was largely inaccurate or misleading. It described this as an "isolated incident" and repeatedly referred to dates in the 1990s - a period prior to the current Chief Executive of the Library taking up office.
  3. The Library agreed to deal with me in good faith as we worked together to address the situation. It gave me two further commitments: (a) to treat the perpetrator in the same way as a reader who had wreaked such harm and (b) to inform me of the results of its internal investigation.
  4. P resigned prior to a disciplinary hearing. The police were only involved at my insistence. One of the officers later telephoned me to alert me to the fact that the Library had indicated it was not seeking a prosecution. I asked the police nevertheless to pursue the matter. P confessed to criminal damage and received an adult caution - equivalent to a conviction.
  5. At the time P was apprehended, he was working at the House of Lords Record Office, a satellite operation of the Library. There he had access to a wealth of historic documents. I was informed by the police that the Library's search of P's workspace uncovered two volumes belonging to another private owner - a Spanish gentleman. Nevertheless P's home address was never searched. Reportedly P is now living in Norfolk and selling shellfish.
  6. Although I co-operated fully with the Library's investigation it refused point blank to let me have sight of its investigation report or to set out in a separate document what had happened to my manuscript. One of its letters appeared to me to have been drafted by a lawyer. I enquired about this and it then came to light that the Library had instructed a freedom of information partner at Farrer & Co to assist in denying me access to the relevant information. The Library spent over £10,000 of public funds on legal fees. In fact it was worse than that, as I was then obliged to instruct a solicitor and subsequently claimed the costs of £1,572.50 plus VAT back from the Library.
  7. When I pursued a freedom of information request to obtain details of the findings from the Library's investigation one of the directors sought to dissuade me and gave me his personal assurance that the Library was not attempting to conceal anything.
  8. Nevertheless I followed through with the request and subsequent appeals. As a result I have obtained a heavily-redacted copy of the investigation report.. This reveals an incident in 2005 which the Library had until that point in 2008 concealed from me. On 22 May 2005 a cache of 35 items were found in a walk-in safe at the old Library premises in Bloomsbury. 30 were from the Library's own collection including an item from the King's Library, a map, some philatelic items, a case book and Foundation items. 5 items were privately owned, including the Tyldesley Diary. The safe had been concealed behind two high cabinets.
  9. Here is the really mind-boggling bit. After this discovery the Library staff involved decided not to include the privately-owned items in the ensuing security investigation. This had two consequences:
    1. As far as I know, P was not caught at that time - though I have to add that the heavy redaction of the report makes it hard to be sure. Had I been contacted I could have told the Library that the Tyldesley Diary was in the possession of P in 2002. I met him at the Library's Euston Road premises in that year to check on my manuscript. The circumstances of that meeting would have pointed strongly to P being responsible for placing the Tyldesley Diary in the concealed safe. It would have been a work of seconds to trace me - a basic web search would have led to this website, which contained my contact details and mentioned that I owned the manuscript.
    2. Unbelievably, P was able once again to take possession of my manuscript - indeed he has admitted to subsequently taking it from site to site in the back of his car. The damage only occurred later and could have been wholly avoided had the 2005 incident been properly handled.
  10. I had said that I would not make any financial claim against the Library as long as it acted in good faith. It did not seem appropriate to deprive such an institution of funds. When I discovered that the Library had instructed solicitors without telling me I changed my position. This decision was confirmed in my mind when when I found that the Library had throughout our discussions concealed the 2005 incident. However, I did say that I would still make no claim if the Library gave me a public apology. It declined to do so.
  11. The manuscript has been conserved by the Library, though much of the damage is irreversible. I have also received a payment in respect of the loss of value, based on an independent valuation.
  12. There were serious failings at the Library which led to the damage to my manuscript - failings which occurred recently and on the current management's watch. NOT in the 1990s. To spend public money to stop me finding out what happened to my manuscript adds - to put it mildly - insult to injury.

Damage

The picture above shows the same page of the diary before and after the damage. The damage included:

  1. At least one leaf missing.
  2. Oil staining.
  3. Orange stains, probably caused by mould.
  4. Mildew.
  5. Increase in size of paper caused by P's botched attempt at remedial treatment.
  6. Scraping, smearing or fading of the textblock.
  7. Original vellum binding damaged to the point that, coupled with the change in size of paper, means it cannot be reinstated.
  8. Some physical damage, particularly to the end papers.