NORTH-EAST MPs last night accused the British Library of using “spurious arguments” to stop the return of the Lindisfarne Gospels to the area and laid down a Parliamentary Early Day Motion praising The Journal for exposing the Library’s attitude to the region.
Durham North MP Kevan Jones has called for an apology after we revealed internal emails from the British Library in which staff said the campaign to return the Lindisfarne Gospels “if taken to the (absurd) logical conclusion” would mean Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods should return to Northern Ireland.
And emails from the then curator of illustrated manuscripts Michelle Brown said the North-East MPs were only interested in the Gospels’ return for political reasons and agreed to meet campaigners in order to “complicate matters.”
Mr Jones last night tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM) which called for an apology and accused the Library of hiding information from Gospel campaigners.
The emails, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show the Library knew its technical arguments were flawed.
Staff had previously said there was a conservation risk to the Gospels coming North, but internal emails revealed staff were already admitting this argument was “the weakest” two years ago.
Mr Jones said: “The Journal’s story has revealed what we have been saying for a long time.
“These offensive emails show just how London-centric the British Library is.
“What should be a national institution is in fact heavily London-biased.
“I congratulate The Journal on exposing the inner workings at the British Library.
“Personally I think the Library should apologise to Roberta and should explain to the region just what it has against the Gospels being returned to the North-East.”
Ms Blackman-Woods is writing to Library staff to request a meeting after she was accused of using the campaign to further her political ambitions.
Mr Jones’s EDM will call on MPs to follow him in condemning the comments made by the Library staff, a bid already supported by Berwick MP Alan Beith, who said: “The emails revealed that the decisions taken by the British Library have not been taken on a sound basis and they were very offensive.
“Perhaps the most important thing here is that the Library was looking for reasons to avoid a loan, rather than how to ensure the Gospels can be safely displayed in the North-East.
“They have avoided taking a fair and honest look at the Gospel campaign.”
The British Library was unavailable for comment when the EDM was proposed.
The emails can be viewed at www.journallive.co.uk/gospels
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Security expert suggested venues
A SECURITY expert told the British Library four years ago that the Lindisfarne Gospels could be safely displayed in the North-East – prompting an urgent meeting to discuss how to avoid this sparking another loan.
The revelation features in emails The Journal has obtained as part of an Freedom of Information request. The first instalment published yesterday is set to cause a stir in the Commons and more details of the emails are revealed today.
In 2004 Iain Slessor was a national security adviser for the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, responsible for assessing the risks posed to the objects in their charge.
Mr Slessor told the Library’s then head of manuscripts Dr Christopher Wright that the Gospels would not be at risk if sent to the North and that Durham Cathedral could look after them.
In November 2004 Dr Wright emailed colleagues to say: “Three venues in the area occurred to him as suitable (in security terms) for such a major loan, the Laing, the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts and the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle.
“This last is to house a display including The Madonna of the Pinks, although he thinks this is to be in a temporary gallery which he has not yet examined. I also raised with him the possibility of the Treasury Museum, Durham Cathedral.
“This has not been inspected since 1989 but it hosted a £30m loan in the 1980s and, consequently, he thought it might be added to the list as a possibility.”
Dr Wright added: “None of this is very satisfactory but I sense we are not going to get much more out of him.”
Staff at the Library then began emailing each other on how best to deal with the “rather disquieting” news. Michelle Brown, curator of illuminated manuscripts, thought Mr Slessor backed the Library’s arguments.
She wrote: “If he’s changed his tune now, that does raise potential problems. I think our best course might be to say that our understanding was that he had approved the Laing for a short-term loan but that this had required temporary upgrades at their end and considerable support from the BL.
“It’s important to maintain a distinction between those facilities that could maintain a temporary loan, and those that would be able to take on any longer-term arrangements that might be mooted in certain quarters.”
A spokeswoman for the Library said the director and staff of Tyne and Wear Museums are being consulted on the possibility of a further loan.