|Born||13 April 1946|
Bristol, England, United Kingdom
|Died||28 July 2020(aged 74)|
|Known for||The General Belgrano papers|
|The Right to Know: The Inside Story of the Belgrano Affair|
|Criminal charge(s)||Section 2 Official Secrets Act 1911 (not guilty)|
Clive Ponting (13 April 1946 – 28 July 2020) was a senior British civil servant and historian. He was best known for having leaked documents about the sinking of the ARA General Belgrano in the Falklands War in 1982. At the time of his resignation from the civil service in 1985, he was a Grade 5 (assistant secretary), earning £23,000 per year (£70,214 in 2020).
He wrote a number of books on British and world history. His most influential works include a Green History of the World (1991), which was revised as A New Green History of the World in 2007, and a biography of Winston Churchill (1994) and 1940: Myth and Reality (1990). Two reviewers referred to him as a revisionist historian.
General Belgrano papers
While a senior civil servant at the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Ponting sent two documents, subsequently nicknamed "the crown jewels", to Labour MP Tam Dalyell in July 1984 concerning the sinking of the Argentine navy warship General Belgrano, a key incident in the 1982 Falklands War. After Ponting admitted revealing the information, the Ministry of Defence suspended him without pay. On 17 August 1985, he was charged with a criminal offence under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act of 1911. The Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, had his pay reinstated once she had been briefed on what had happened. Ponting's defence at the trial was that the matter and its disclosure to a Member of Parliament were in the public interest. It was the first case under the Official Secrets Act that involved giving information to Parliament. Although Ponting expected to be imprisoned, he was acquitted by the jury. The acquittal came despite the judge's direction to the jury, and hence by definition a "perverse verdict". The judge, Sir Anthony McCowan, "had indicated that the jury should convict him".
In 1985 Ponting came across the one file about Operation Cauldron—1952 secret biological warfare trials that had led to a trawler being accidentally doused with plague bacteria off the Hebrides—that had not been destroyed, and confidentially told The Observer newspaper about it, leading to a story that July headlined British germ bomb sprayed trawler.
Charges under the Official Secrets Act
Shortly after his resignation, The Observer began to serialise Ponting's book The Right to Know: The Inside Story of the Belgrano Affair. The Conservative government reacted by amending the secrets legislation and by introducing the Official Secrets Act 1989. Before the trial, a jury could take the view that if an action could be seen to be in the public interest, the right of the individual to take that action might be justified. As a result of the 1989 modification, that defence was removed. After the enactment, it was taken that "'public interest' is what the government of the day says it is".
Following his resignation from the Civil Service, Ponting served as a reader in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Wales, Swansea, until his retirement in 2004. He was one of the pioneers of big history.
His historical works have attracted significant attention and often courted unfavourable reviews in the United Kingdom because of the controversial positions he has taken, but international reviews and more recent reviews have been favourable. As one later reviewer wrote, describing the impact of his biographical work, "Ponting shattered the Churchill illusion for his readers leaving them little to piece together, just marble shards on the floor of his looted temple".
Ponting was married four times. In 1969 he married Katherine Hannan. After their divorce he married Sally Fletcher who also worked in the MoD. Ponting's second and third marriages ended in divorce. His fourth wife, Diane Johnson, died before him in 2020.
He died on 28 July 2020.
- The Right to Know: The Inside Story of the Belgrano Affair (1985), Sphere Books, ISBN 0-7221-6944-2
- Whitehall - Tragedy and Farce (1986), Hamish Hamilton, ISBN 0-241-11835-2
- Breach of Promise - Labour in Power, 1964-70 (1989), Hamish Hamilton, ISBN 0-241-12683-5
- 1940: Myth and Reality (1990), Hamish Hamilton, ISBN 978-0-241-12668-4
- A Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations (1991), Penguin, ISBN 0-14-017660-8
- Churchill (1994), Sinclair-Stevenson, ISBN 1-85619-270-9
- Armageddon - The Second World War (1995), Random House, ISBN 0-679-43602-2
- Progress and Barbarism: The World in the Twentieth Century (1998), Chatto & Windus, ISBN 1-85619-610-0; published in the US as The Twentieth Century: A World History (1999), Henry Holt & Co., ISBN 978-0-8050-6088-1
- World History - A New Perspective (2000), Chatto & Windus, ISBN 0-7011-6834-X. Ponting's concern in the book is to provide a revisionist perspective to correct for what he perceives as the dominant bias in conventional historical narrative towards ancient Greece, the Roman Empire and the expansion of Europe (in effect, an ingrained Eurocentrism). He attempts to balance the narrative by incorporating more from often neglected aspects of world history, such as China, India and Japan as well as Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley, Mesoamerica and Peru. The book is also an exploration of the past from the interpretative framework of Big History, with the first chapter involving the perceived 99% of human history (until 10,000 BC), which then moves on to a discussion of the transition from hunter-gathering to settled agriculture and the rise of civilisations around the world.
- Thirteen Days - Diplomacy and Disaster, the Countdown to the Great War (2003), Pimlico, ISBN 0-7126-6826-8
- The Crimean War - The Story Behind the Myth (2004), Pimlico, ISBN 0-7126-6826-8
- Gunpowder - The Story (2005), Chatto & Windus, ISBN 0-7011-7752-7
- A New Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations (2007), Penguin, ISBN 0-14-303898-2 Penguin's description of the book
- BBC, On this day, 16 February 1985, Falklands' row civil servant resigns
- Richard Norton-Taylor, "The Ponting Affair", Cecil Woolf, London, 1985, p. 14.
- "Clive Ponting obituary". The Times. 1 August 2020. Retrieved 5 August 2020.
- "1985: Falklands' row civil servant resigns". BBC News. 16 February 1985.
- The China-Burma-India Campaign, 1931-1945: Historiography and Annotated Bibliography by Eugene L. Rasor, pub Greenwood, 1998, p. 91.
Hi Hitler;, by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, pub Cambridge University Press, 2014, p. 34.
- David Leigh (6 August 2020). "Clive Ponting obituary". The Guardian.
- Elton, Rodney (20 March 1985). "Official Secrets Legislation". Hansard. HL Deb vol 461 c613. Retrieved 1 December 2017.
the highly classified chronology prepared by Mr. Ponting now known as "the crown jewels"; Kaufman, Gerald (3 April 1985). "The Tribunal". Hansard. HC Deb vol 76 c1242. Retrieved 1 December 2017.
those fabulous Belgrano "crown jewels", which we were told were matters of the greatest secrecy; Dalyell, Tam (13 June 1985). "Defence Estimates 1985". Hansard. HC Deb vol 80 c1057. Retrieved 1 December 2017.
Ponting... compiled the "crown jewels"
- Malnick, Edward (30 December 2014). "Margaret Thatcher warned officials not to be too harsh on Belgrano whistleblower". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 17 December 2017.
- BBC, Clive Ponting case: Where is the investigators' report?, by Martin Rosenbaun, 18 March 2011.
- "Troubled history of Official Secrets Act". BBC. 18 November 1998. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
It was hailed as a victory for the jury system. The judge had indicated that the jury should convict him.
- David Leigh; Paul Lashmar (July 1985). "British germ bomb sprayed trawler". The Observer.
- Brown, Cynthia Stokes (2012). Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present. The New Press. p. xiii. ISBN 978-1595588456.
- "BOOK REVIEW / Bureaucrat bites bulldog: 'Churchill' - Clive Ponting". The Independent. 8 May 1994.
- Gott, Richard (9 November 2008). "Review: Three books about Churchill" – via www.theguardian.com.
- Addison, Paul (28 June 1990). "Paul Addison · Garbo & Co · LRB 28 June 1990". London Review of Books.
- CJ Coventry, Clive Ponting's Churchill, Before/Now, 1(1) (2019), https://hcommons.org/deposits/item/hc:23811/
- "Clive Ponting warns of Brexit threat to Scottish Parliament". The National.
- "World History: A New Perspective". Random House Australia. Retrieved 23 June 2014.
- "World history : a new perspective / Clive Ponting". Trove National Library of Australia. Retrieved 23 June 2014.