Stop digging

August 8, 2013

I am grateful to Times Higher Education for raising the issues I have with the University of Leicester (“Historian gets the hump over Richard III remains”, News, 1 August). However, I was surprised by the institution’s published response.

Its statement publicly acknowledges for the first time my key role in the discovery of Richard III’s remains, so its claim that it has always fully recognised my work is intriguing. I imagine editors of national papers and other media who had not previously heard of me or mentioned me in their reporting of the discovery of the remains are now scratching their heads and wondering how they missed out.

As for my appearance in the Channel 4 documentary Richard III: The King in the Car Park: my involvement with Darlow Smithson Productions’ plans for the programme predated Leicester’s involvement in the search for the last Plantagenet.

The allegation that the Richard III Society was behind my exclusion from the announcement of the DNA findings confirming the nature of the remains is also mystifying. Philippa Langley, secretary of its Scottish branch, and Darlow Smithson had arranged for me – as the discoverer of the living DNA link with Richard III – to attend the private revelation of the DNA results on 3 February. But on 1 February, I was informed by the TV company that Leicester would not allow me to attend.

Leicester’s conduct raises serious questions, not only about its treatment of me but also about whether it sees itself primarily as an academic institution or a business. In a current publicity campaign aimed at attracting students, it proclaims baldly: “We led the search for Richard III…what could you discover?” This is arrogant. Richard was buried in 1485. Since the university was founded in 19, why didn’t it uncover the remains until 2012? The answer is that only then did Langley, leader of the Looking for Richard team (inspired to a significant degree by my research), employ Leicester’s archaeological service to dig in the car park!

John Ashdown-Hill
Lawford

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