[Save Penwith Moors] Libel allegation against Cornwall Council

A book published by Cornwall Council in April 2011 with financial support from English Heritage:

Managing the historic environment on west Cornwall’s rough ground
by Graeme Kirkham, with Peter Herring, Vanessa Straker and David Earle Robinson ISBN: 978-1-903798-74-4

– states on page 92 under ‘Public responses to management’:

Proposals for introducing grazing to some areas of moorland in West Penwith resulted in the formation of a ‘Save Penwith Moors’ group which actively campaigned against grazing. Coincidental with the protests there were several instances of damage to fencing on rough ground both newly installed and long-established.”

A Freedom of Information request to Cornwall Council confirmed that the print run was 300 and that the publication was read at draft stage by Peter Herring and Charles Johns, in their roles as Historic Environment Managers, with the final draft being proof read by Mr Kirkham.

After this publication was brought to our attention a letter was sent on 12th August 2011 to the chief executives of both English Heritage [EH] and Cornwall Council [CC] alleging libel affecting the three ‘public faces’ of Save Penwith Moors action group [SPM] by implying connection with criminal activity, and thus publicly damaging their reputations.

A response dated 25th August 2011 was received from EH legal department denying our allegation and stating that the relevant paragraph was “a truthful and factual account of the public responses to the management measures undertaken with respect to the reintroduction of grazing….”

What the book left out

On 21st September 2011 a response to this letter was sent to EH and copied to the Chief Executive of Cornwall Council, stating – amongst other items – that it was unfair and totally misleading to publish a one-sided account by including the second sentence without any mention of other negative events:

it was also coincidental that cattle – observed and reported by SPM supporters on several occasions after their introduction in May 2009 − destabilised stones of Tregeseal Stone Circle on Carnyorth Common that necessitated repairs by the Historic Environment Service;

and that both the National Trust and Natural England made serious errors in carrying out unlawful acts under HEATH Project stock proofing works that breached the Highways Act on two separate occasions [one cattle grid on Watch Croft and another on Carnyorth Common], as well as archaeological destruction resulting from works on Carn Galva and unsatisfactory excavation works that breached ESA prescriptions and had to be backfilled.

All these events occasioned a public response by SPM resulting in action by the agencies concerned to rectify these errors. Why no mention of these public responses in what purports to be “a truthful and factual account of the public responses to the management measures undertaken with respect to the reintroduction of grazing”?

On 15th November 2011 a final response was received from the Legal Department of Cornwall Council:

The sentences that you complain of do not mention any of the ‘three faces of the campaign group’ either expressly or by implication. Therefore, it is disputed that any personal loss could arise as a consequence of what was in fact published or that any reasonable person would think less of any of the group members.

The report that contained the sentences that you complain of was prepared and published pursuant to a public duty. The content of the paragraphs being challenged is a factual account of the public’s response to the grazing management issues. It is denied that there is any correlation between your group and the acts of criminal damage referred to. Nor were the words designed to discredit any individual or group.”

We ask why this reference to illegal activity − fencing damage that had no direct impact on archaeology − in the sentence immediately following mention of Save Penwith Moors was necessary or justified within a book devoted to our heritage. The publication states that SPM “actively” campaign against grazing.

This is untrue and gives a totally false impression: we only campaign for a select few areas of open access moorland to be kept free of stock proofing and grazing – not every current and intended moorland management scheme.

Again, on page 111 Stabilising stones at Tregeseal Stone Circle, it is merely stated that “Several stones re-erected or replaced by antiquarians in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had become loose in their sockets….

There is no mention of continuous photographic evidence provided by Save Penwith Moors as early as June 2009 showing cattle using the stones as ‘rubbing posts’; there is no mention of the fact that, after our continual reports of damage to this scheduled ancient monument, SPM met, on 1st July 2009, with the Senior Archaeologist of Cornwall Council Historic Environment Service and another official from English Heritage, when some five or six stones of the circle were found to be loose – two significantly so.

To summarise

Save Penwith Moors consider the items described above represent a deliberate attempt to smear our campaign by associating it with criminal damage while totally ignoring any of our positive actions, none of which were mentioned in the section Public responses to management or elsewhere. We contend that this Cornwall Council publication failed to make it clear to any “right thinking member of society” that, while criminal damage may have been “coincidental” with the setting up of Save Penwith Moors, our campaign had always publicly stated that it did not carry out, condone or encourage such action.

We consider any right thinking person would demand the inclusion of all negative and positive archaeological occurrences otherwise the credibility and veracity of the whole publication, as well as the motivation of its contributors, becomes morally, academically and legally questionable.

Since Save Penwith Moors was set up in July 2008 we have, in numerous statements to the press, on our web site, and by email to relevant parties, made it quite clear that we campaign using all lawful means at our disposal and do not commit, condone or encourage any criminal damage to stock proofing infrastructure.

On a print run of 300 it is probable that every library in Cornwall will have a copy, as well as influential archaeologists in Mr Weatherhill’s peer group, and the inferences of criminal damage will therefore be exceptionally damaging to his reputation as a writer and archaeologist of international standing, as well as to Mr Cooke and Mr Yandall and all other supporters of Save Penwith Moors.

Seeking redress

We – the three ‘public faces’ of Save Penwith Moors − therefore seek redress from Cornwall Council and English Heritage and demand a public acknowledgement that Save Penwith Moors action group have not committed, condoned or encouraged any criminal damage to stock proofing infrastructure that has taken place.

Ian McNeil Cooke
Craig Weatherhill
Steve Yandall

Richard Williams, Head of Legal and Democratic Services
Tel: 01872 322120
Fax: 01872 323833
Email: rawilliams@cornwall.gov.uk
Historic Environment Service
Telephone: 0300 1234 202
Email: hes@cornwall.gov.uk

Christopher Brookes, Legal Advisor
Direct Dial: 020 7973 3304
Email: Christopher.Brookes@english-heritage.org.uk
PRESS RELEASE 16th January 2012

Ian McNeil Cooke (Co-ordinator)
Men-an-Tol Studio
Cornwall TR20 8NR
Email: info@savepenwithmoors.com

Web site: www.savepenwithmoors.com


Loaded to Cornwall24.net e-magazine on 17 January, 2012 by the Editor on receipt from the SPM group.