The Norfolk Constabulary has closed its investigation into the November 2009 release of private e-mails between researchers at the Climatic Research Centre (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich, UK, after failing to identify those responsible. Despite not being able to prosecute any offenders, the police have confirmed that the data breach “was the result of a sophisticated and carefully orchestrated attack on the CRU’s data files, carried out remotely via the internet”. The investigation has also cleared anyone working at or associated with the UEA from involvement in the crime.
“Despite detailed and comprehensive enquiries, supported by experts in this field, the complex nature of this investigation means that we do not have a realistic prospect of identifying the offender or offenders and launching criminal proceedings within the time constraints imposed by law,” said Julian Gregory, the senior investigating officer on the case, which had been code-named Operation Cabin. “The international dimension of investigating the World Wide Web especially has proved extremely challenging.”
The hacking resulted in the release of more than 1,000 e-mails and shook the public’s trust in climate science, even though independent investigations after the breach cleared the scientists of wrongdoing (see Nature‘s collected coverage of Climategate).
“We are naturally disappointed that those responsible for this crime have not been caught and brought to justice,” said Edward Acton, UEA vice-chancellor, in a statement. “The misinformation and conspiracy theories circulating following the publication of the stolen emails — including the theory that the hacker was a disgruntled UEA employee — did real harm to public perceptions about the dangers of climate change.”
Phil Jones, research director of the CRU, who spoke to Nature in February 2010 about the affair (see ‘Climategate’ scientist speaks out), said that he hoped the end of the case would “draw a line under the stressful events of the last two and half years”.
“My colleagues and I remain committed to the research CRU undertakes to illuminate the globally important issue of climate change,” said Jones.