Andrew Lownie's case
Andrew Lownie's case
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Latest: June 6, 2021
The target £50,000 was reached last night after David Elstein, the former chairman of Open Democracy and Chief Executive of Channel 5, topped up the fund by £15,000. I'm extremely gra…Read more
I have been fighting for 4 years to secure access to the diaries and correspondence of Lord and Lady Mountbatten, from 1918-1979. It is too late for my own book, but I am carrying on the fight so the diaries and correspondence, bought with public money, are available for everyone.
It will take £100,000 to fund the case to a final hearing, of which I am fund raising for half. Lord Mountbatten (“Dickie”) was the uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, confidante of Edward VIII (Duke of Windsor), the last Viceroy of India (overseeing independence and partition of India and Pakistan), First Sea Lord (at the time of the Suez crisis) and Chief of Defence Staff. Edwina, Lady Mountbatten was a wealthy socialite, who became a tireless relief worker, and had a close relationship with the Indian leader Nehru.
Together, their writings can be expected to shed light on many of the most important episodes of 20th-century history, including on the Royal Family and the independence of India, Pakistan (and Bangladesh). It is estimated the diaries could be a more important historical source than the Chips Channon Diaries.
Using almost £4.5 million of public money, Southampton University purchased the entire Broadlands archive (including the Mountbattens’ diaries and letters) from a Mountbatten family trust The purchase was enabled with the help of grants, including almost £2 million from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and £100,000 from Hampshire County Council, and partly through the Acceptance in Lieu tax scheme with the approval of HMRC.
Arts Council England says the Acceptance in Lieu scheme allows important historic archives to be given “to the nation” as a way of settling tax bills, and that “material accepted under the scheme is allocated to public museums, archives or libraries by the appropriate minister and is available for all.”
In its applications for funding the purchase, the University stated that the entire Mountbatten archive would be accessible by the public at Southampton but it is not. I made a request for the diaries and correspondence under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in May 2017. The University refused to release them, citing a Cabinet Office’s power of veto under a Ministerial Direction, and after futile internal reviews I complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), in August 2018. In December 2019, the ICO ordered the University to release all the diaries and letters.
This decision was significantly delayed because the University failed to respond to the ICO’s investigation for over a year. Indeed, it only did so after the ICO was forced to take what it described as the “unprecedented” step of bringing contempt of court proceedings in the High Court to compel the University to respond . The ICO branded the University’s delay as “completely unacceptable” and in court filings complained about its “persistent, wholescale and unexplained failure to comply with the information notice … or otherwise to assist the Commissioner with her reasonable enquiries. In effect, the [University] continues to flout its statutory duty under the Freedom of Information Act 2000”.
The University appealed to the First Tier Tribunal, with the support of the Cabinet Office. Together they have an army of lawyers, including two QCs. After much pressure the University said that the diaries to 1934 would be released in early April 2021. They were not.
Over four years I have done my best on my own working with expert lawyers in the field but I now need help to fight the case to a conclusion – the full Tribunal hearing has been repeatedly adjourned at the request of the University and Cabinet Office, and is now due to take place on 15-19 November 2021. The University and Cabinet Office keep changing their case, and I will now need to file statements to overcome numerous further FOIA exemptions from disclosure being cited by the University and Cabinet Office, prepare final legal arguments, and fund my advocate for a 5-day hearing.
There are important issues at stake in this David versus Goliath case.
The historical importance of the archive itself, not least relating to Indian Independence and how far the Mountbattens were impartial.
Questions of academic freedom and whether the state can censor private diaries and letters.
(i) What is the genesis of the Ministerial Direction which “closed” the diaries and letters shrouded in secrecy? Despite after four years of probing, neither the Cabinet Office nor the University has disclosed even the name of the person who signed it;
(ii) Why are Government and University spending large sums of money (with two QCs) on a legal case to prevent access to private diaries and letters bought with public monies and where the fundraising emphasised that the archive would open to all?
· Any reference to ‘I’ in respect of work undertaken on this campaign to date may refer to my personal capacity or my capacity as Director and part-owner of The Andrew Lownie Literary Agency Ltd.
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June 6, 2021
The target £50,000 was reached last night after David Elstein, the former chairman of Open Democracy and Chief Executive of Channel 5, topped up the fund by £15,000. I'm extremely grateful to him and the almost 500 other donors for their generosity. It will now be possible to defend the appeal in November and I hope secure the release of the important Mountbatten diaries and letters for all scholars.
May 23, 2021
A huge thank you to those who have contributed
With less than a week to go I still have £20,000 to raise to ensure the Mountbatten diaries and letters, bought with £4.5 million of public monies to be 'available to all', can be seen by all historians. This is an important archive and also involves crucial principles of censorship, Freedom of Information, abuse of power.
No university should be blocking public access to archive material of great historical significance which it purchased using public money and for which tax income was forfeited. No university should be censoring private diaries and letters, ostensibly on behalf of the Government, for which there is no legal justification, in what seems an unquestioning relationship between an academic institution and the State. No university should
I have spent my life savings to ensure this material is released but I have nothing more to give. I am hoping others will step up to the plate and carry on what I started. I've been touched by the generous donations from people I don't even know but who believe this is a just cause.but disappointed that friends, many historians, have remained silent. If 100 people give £200 then the target will be reached. I have six days to raise it.
Here is some of the recent publicity:
Talk Radio today at 7.50 am-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZIL2aoLnVk
Daily Telegraph interview- https://www.telegraph.co.uk/royal-family/2021/05/18/costly-battle-unearth-lord-mountbattens-secret-diaries/
May 15, 2021
The story breaks in the media
The story of my campaign has now broken in the media with stories in the Guardian and the Mail
Further coverage is expected tomorrow and next week.
The other good news is that the diaries up to 1934 promised for release were suddenly made public on Thursday. They can be found at
However, Southampton are still keeping back some promised pre-1934 files. Why?
I still have £47,000 to raise in two weeks if my legal challenge is to continue. These are important diaries which should be open to all. I have spent all I can to take this so far and would appreciate any donation, however small.
Best wishes, Andrew
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