British Museum denies sharing information about environmental activists with BP

The museum said it had not received or shared any information with its sponsor

(Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
(Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

The British Museum has denied sharing information about environmental activists with BP after an investigation found the oil and gas company paid an intelligence firm set up by a former MI6 agent to track campaigners. 

The charity was forced to deny a number of allegations after an investigation by the independent news platform openDemocracy revealed a “shocking” programme of surveillance through which BP kept tabs on campaigners and shared information with public institutions it partners, including the British Museum and the University of Warwick.

Subjects included Chris Garrard, a classical music composer who works with the Art Not Oil group, which campaigns against BP’s decades-long sponsorship of the British Museum. 

According to OpenDemocracy, BP had gathered personal details about Garrard over several years and also retained the services of Welund, a controversial spy firm, to provide regular email updates about the composer. 

Last year Garrard made a number of Freedom of Information Requests to the British Museum about its relationship with BP. Internal emails shared with openDemocracy show these were flagged by museum staff and shared across multiple departments, describing him as “an anti-BP activist”.

But FOI guidelines stress requests are to be treated as both motive- and applicant-blind.

The British Museum said that as far as it is aware it has not received any information about environmental campaigners from Welund, BP, or any other oil and gas company.

It also denied sharing any information with BP about specific campaigners or campaign groups.

A spokesperson said: “It’s possible that some references may have been included in a larger summary, such as a round-up of press clips after announcement or opening of an exhibition in which BP is the sponsor.

“The Museum has standard policies and procedures in place for processing any FOI request. 

The spokesperson added: “If an FOI request relates to a museum agreement with an external third party, on occasion we may contact that party for information to include in our response, or notify them that we are disclosing information relating to the relationship under contract.  

“We may also contact external third parties where the relevant regulatory framework requires consent or notification. 

“If ever we do notify an external third party about an FOI, our policy is to do so on an anonymised basis. 

An ICO spokesperson said: “All individuals, regardless of who they are, must receive the same response as anyone else would when making an identical FOI request.

“The transparency brought about by freedom of information is an integral part of our democracy. 

“The ICO continues to regularly engage with public authorities to provide support and advice on meeting their information rights obligations.”

Earlier this month, the campaign group Culture Unstained, which aims to end fossil fuel companies' sponsorship of culture, warned that former chancellor George Osborne’s appointment as chair of the British Museum represented a “glaring conflict of interest”.

Osborne also has a full-time role as a partner at investment bank Robey Warshaw, which counts BP as a major client.

Culture Unstained called on the musuem to confirm that Osborne will have no role in deciding the future of its partnership with BP.

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