When the word 'saintly' can be made a state secret


What do civil servants in the Department of Energy and Climate Change think about the Guardian's environmental columnist George Monbiot - and why does it have to stay secret?

I was pondering on these questions when I read a document released earlier this month by the energy department in response to an information request.

It featured in a collection of departmental files relating to "Climategate", the incident in 2009 when large quantities of emails belonging to climate scientists at the University of East Anglia were hacked and published on the internet.

The major controversy that followed focused on concerns about how some scientists were operating. In the aftermath, officials involved in government energy policy were worried about how it would affect public opinion on policies to tackle climate change.

In June 2010, DECC's then head of science Dr Nafees Meah gave an internal presentation to colleagues about communicating climate science.

In it, he noted that Monbiot had called for the resignation of Professor Phil Jones, head of the university's Climatic Research Unit, who featured prominently in the hacked emails.

Monbiot later regretted this, when an inquiry cleared Prof Jones and his colleagues of manipulating data, while stating that they should have been more open about their work. But at the time, many considered it striking that a leading environmentalist had criticised Prof Jones to such an extent.

Dr Meah's reference to Monbiot (who he called "Mombiot") was preceded by some description of him, which was removed from the disclosed text of the speech:

Redacted document

What could he have said that demanded such secrecy, amidst the release of a large collection of government documents which contained much revealing material?

DECC has now told me that the missing words are "the saintly".

"The decision to redact the wording was made on the basis that, in printed form, the comment could have been misconstrued in the absence of the speaker's intonation," the department said.

"On reflection, however, it is considered that this approach was erring on the side of caution."

So now we know that Monbiot was described as "saintly", even if we still don't know the intonation with which this epithet would have been uttered.

And perhaps we have learnt something else - that when government departments respond to information requests, sometimes extracts are redacted for unnecessary and rather peculiar reasons.

Martin Rosenbaum Article written by Martin Rosenbaum Martin Rosenbaum Freedom of information specialist

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  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    19 little old me

    Nonsence the BBC run far more labour points of view than any other .
    If they run a coalition piece, it is without fail tempered with labours counter argument , if they do not lead with labours reaction in the first place .
    Whereas any labour piece is generaly unquestioned .

    Look at Robinsons piece . Millibland - Churchill or attle I didn't know there was a comedy section .

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    @20 Little_Old_Me

    I don't believe that I err at all. The BBC is not only required to report on political decisions, as part of its charter, it's also required to do all that it can to ensure accuracy and impartiality. The information that was not reported, it's possible to argue, was both important and relevant to the implementation of government policy, and is only now becoming public.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Could it be that Civil Servants are "on side" about alleged Global Warming,and can now freely label those who actually DISBELIEVE the IPCC party line as GW Deniers?
    If that is true,then there must be a massive conspiracy between ALL political Parties (and it seemscivil servants), which have conspired to remove money put aside to prevent pensioners freezing and donate it to "windfarm millionaires"

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Yes it is and was. Once the BBC had proper open format messageboards for news and current affairs as well as specialist subjects/programme ones. Further it does open HYS topics on very legally tricky subjects when it suits them, hence pages of removed comments often related to legal cases. Mods waste most time over PC infringements. Dump a celeb or two, all costs covered.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.


    Ultimately the Beeb has to employ staff to monitor comments on HYS, because legally they are liable for anything that is libellous etc.

    How much more are you willing to pay on top of your existing license fee to have enough mods (each of whom needs some extent of legal training) to fully monitor the comments?

    I wish every topic was open, but it just isn't feasible.....


Comments 5 of 24


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