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Permission issues - operator error?

I'm assuming operator problem as I get same symptoms on:
   two laptops each running different Debian releases (6.8, 9.1).
     [both using MATE desktop]
   two different media (32Gb USB flash, 240 Gb USB SSD).

Logged in as 'richard' I use Gparted (providing root password) to repartition the drive. As I'm diagnosing problems I do a power off/on cycle to force a cold boot.

After login in as either 'richard' or 'root' permissions are displayed as "could not be determined".

As 'root' I copy a directory from a random partition of the hard drive.
Permissions for the directory and its contents are displayed as 'root'.
I change the folder ownership to 'richard' clicking on apply permissions to enclosed files.

They enclosed directories and files are still owned by 'root' :<

With >50 years test/troubleshooting in various fields, do I have a blind spot?
(P.S. I've even written test procedures - interesting experience ;)


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