It has been reported today that the Secretary for Defence has withdrawn the permission to proceed with the latest phase of the HMS Victory Project Design, the recovery of ‘at-risk surface artefacts’, whilst the decision is reconsidered. The recovery of surface artefacts had been previously stated as the government’s least favoured approach and yet permission was granted in October 2014. Despite repeated requests to the project website for further information in order to understand the proposals for the investigations more fully, Rescue did not receive any responses. As a result, in January this year Rescue submitted a Freedom of Information request asking why the Government had now accepted the principle of ‘Surface Artefact Collection’ and whether new information had been made available about the condition of the wreck to alter the Government’s position. We also requested sight of the Project Design so that we could be satisfied that claims that the work would be carried out to the highest research and rescue orientated standards could be substantiated.
It was not just Rescue that was concerned, questions were also raised in the House of Commons by Kevan Jones MP and at the same time a Judicial Review was also requested from another quarter. The response to our FOI request, received only 3 days ago, informed us that ‘the detailed Project Design was submitted to the Government in confidence’ and was therefore withheld. So it is with some astonishment and much satisfaction that we heard today’s news. The Judicial Review is now on hold whilst the decision is reconsidered.
Before any decision to proceed with investigation of HMS Victory is retaken the detailed Project Design must be put into the public domain for peer scrutiny and comment. We do not think that the ‘surface artefact collection’ option can conform to any notion of best archaeological practice, as it is based on the collection of the portable items, but allows for no archaeological or academic study of the vessel itself and does not properly consider the human remains also likely to be present.