The only way the Tory government has ‘lost’ controversial archive papers is DELIBERATELY

Shadow cabinet office minister Jon Trickett says the ‘loss’ of documents about controversial periods in history is unacceptable [Image: AFP].

This Writer would not believe for a single moment that the Conservative government has ‘lost’ important archive papers on some of the most controversial episodes of recent history – and nor should you.

The politics of the past seven years has shown very clearly that the Conservatives cannot be trusted – and Theresa May’s government least of all. They are trying to whitewash history, in my opinion.

The fact that the documents were borrowed from the National Archives by civil servants means nothing. Civil servants act on the orders of government ministers.

Some of these documents may be easily replaced, such as the Zinoviev letter, which was an attempt by MI6 officers to bring about the downfall of the first Labour government. There are plenty of copies of that item in circulation! So an attempt to whitewash this attempt at political meddling is unlikely to succeed – but you can understand why some might want to try. I wonder, do we know the names of those who ordered that attempt?

Consider this, from The Guardian:

“An entire file on the Zinoviev letter scandal is said to have been lost after Home Office civil servants took it away. The Home Office declined to say why it was taken or when or how it was lost. Nor would its say whether any copies had been made.”

That is unacceptable. Those documents are public property and the entire workforce of the Home Office are public servants. They answer to us – and that means they must provide answers to us when we demand them.

The material involved with the Troubles in Northern Ireland has already gathered attention because of the potential to hide human rights abuses by the UK government (or governments). Already, organisations have made their concerns clear:

“Theresa May must order a government-wide search for these ‘lost’ files and their restoration to their rightful place in the archives at Kew,” said Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland programme director.

“Victims of human rights abuses in Northern Ireland have a right to full disclosure of what happened to them and their loved ones at the hands of the state.

“Accountability and justice demand that these files are among the evidence available to families, judges and historians in determining the truth of what happened here during three decades of violence,” said Corrigan.

“Revelations that government departments are requisitioning and then misplacing crucial files strengthen our view that decisions on the disclosure of findings by the proposed Historical Investigations Unit in Northern Ireland cannot be left to UK government ministers, as currently demanded by the Northern Ireland Office.”

Reprieve – the human rights advocacy organisation – also condemned the government, fearing that future possible abuses may be hidden from the public eye.

“This is deeply troubling and unfortunately follows a pattern we have seen before,” said Maya Foa, director. “Ministers have previously blamed ‘water damage’ for destroying crucial files showing complicity in rendition and torture, and right now they are forcing legal cases seeking to expose the truth about UK involvement in George Bush’s ‘war on terror’ into secret courts where the public and press are denied access.”

Similar files held in the National Archives have previously been instrumental in exposing human rights violations committed by the UK in Northern Ireland.

A 1977 letter from the home secretary, Merlyn Rees, to the prime minister, Jim Callaghan, documented how ministers gave permission for the use of torture against internees in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, evidence that was reportedly withheld from the European court of human rights.

In total, more than 1,000 documents – all of which have been declassified and should be available for the public to access – have been removed from the National Archive and no copies are available.

So, serious questions need to be answered:

  • Why are there no backup copies of these documents? We live in a computer age, and digital copies would provide at least a modicum of assurance that the documents are available, especially if the originals are loaned out on the orders of government ministers.
  • And who took them? Any ordinary lending library provides material only to people who are valid members of that library and, when they do take items, the library has a record showing who took them and when. This makes it easy to track those items and – if they are kept for longer than the specified time, or lost – fine the person responsible. Why does the National Archive not follow the same security procedures?

Labour’s Jon Trickett has already demanded action:

“The loss of documents about controversial periods in history is unacceptable.

“The British people deserve to know what the Government has done in their name and their loss will only fuel accusations of a cover-up.

“These important historical documents may be a great loss to history – and their disappearance must urgently be investigated.”

He’s right. Until all the documents are returned to the National Archive, until the names of those who withdrew them are known, and until the ministers who told them to take the documents and hide – or, worse, destroy – them are identified, we can only conclude that the current Conservative government has removed them in order to hide historical facts that are embarrassing to the Conservative Party or its members.

If the current government cannot – or will not – return the documents it has stolen, then it has betrayed the public trust and should resign.

And if you’re laughing at the thought, This Writer wouldn’t be at all surprised.

This is a story of corruption – and the corrupt will do anything to pretend they aren’t crooked.

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  1. corneleus51 December 27, 2017 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    They must not get away with this. They are already masters in the skill of confidence trickery, and should be treated as such. Important documents should only be referenced within the Library. This is what we have to do with reference books in our libraries after all!
    Also simpler things like the Tories holding a public ballot in the earliy 1960,s to decide whether we would join the common market, then changing it’s mind about balloting with the reason that “We (the People) might vote the wrong way!”
    Compare that with the “Brexit” vote and how they made it full and final and SO important to British democracy, and yet many of us felt that the case was put when the racists were trying to say that “All the foreigners would have to go home” and spouting that it would cure our problems! Let us see the two ways the Conservatives presented the original “in” vote and then retracted the ballot with the one they wantied the bigots to vote in. a perfect way to show how unbalanced this mob is!

  2. Colin M.Taylor December 27, 2017 at 6:48 pm - Reply

    I worked in the Ministry of Defence for over twenty years. Official Documents were carefully accounted for, particularly Classified ones which could only be accessed by those with NEED to access their contents. Documents would be filed and movements of those files would be tracked with scrupulous records kept
    Anyone holding such documents would have their holdings checked every six months and if anything was missing, you would spend a VERY uncomfortable time with the Site Security Officer and if (s)he wasn’t satisfied, Ministry of Defence Police or even Special Branch.
    Of course, over the past few years, many Government functions have been farmed out to the likes of Serco and we know that many NHS documents were shoved into a room and forgotten. Whilst it is possible that that has happened in this case, the fact that the missing documents cover some of the most contentious issues in recent history suggest that this is a deliberate act, a breach of the Official Secrets Act. There must be a Criminal Investigations and those responsible MUST answer for their actions.

    Yet again, Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn were spot on in the Yes Minister episode ‘The Skeleton in the Cupboard’

    James Hacker: How am I going to explain the missing documents to “The Mail”?

    Sir Humphrey Appleby: Well, this is what we normally do in circumstnces like these.

    James Hacker: [reads memo] This file contains the complete set of papers, except for a number of secret documents, a few others which are part of still active files, some correspondence lost in the floods of 1967…

    James Hacker: Was 1967 a particularly bad winter?

    Sir Humphrey Appleby: No, a marvellous winter. We lost no end of embarrassing files.

    James Hacker: [reads] Some records which went astray in the move to London and others when the War Office was incorporated in the Ministry of Defence, and the normal withdrawal of papers whose publication could give grounds for an action for libel or breach of confidence or cause embarrassment to friendly governments.

    James Hacker: That’s pretty comprehensive. How many does that normally leave for them to look at?

    James Hacker: How many does it actually leave? About a hundred?… Fifty?… Ten?… Five?… Four?… Three?… Two?… One?… *Zero?*

    Sir Humphrey Appleby: Yes, Minister.

  3. Brian December 27, 2017 at 7:58 pm - Reply

    It would be reasonable to anticipate that potential litigation concerns within the government exist where prior notice is current. The Tory party has many potentially criminal episodes of ultra vires policy to address, (not least, welfare issues). Given the fiduciary duty placed upon the ultimate trustee’s of documentation, (the government), such losses, could in all likelihood, be in contempt of future court proceedings.

    The duty to preserve criminal evidence arises only when any party has notice that the evidence may be seen to be relevant to litigation, or even, when a party should have known. This brings fore the importance of complainant parties giving such prior notice and recording it’s delivery which places a responsibility to establish a legal hold on documentation. There is then no defense for not acting to preserve such evidence (documents).

    This however works only one way (in government favor) with damning, rather than complicit evidence, where it becomes in the interests of a party to destroy evidence that may prove complicity in a more serious charge. Were it proved however, that such an act was deliberate to frustrate the course of law & public interest by any individual in office as a public servant, a mere 3 yr maximum sentence is levied and the liability is not vicarious. Clearly, as the law stands, the Tory party, or it’s individuals can mitigate liability by withholding or destroying evidence.

    This does not mean the case to which the evidence relates can be escaped and the destruction of evidence is a very precarious act, as our esteemed chancellor Mess’rs Hammond recently pointed out regarding ISIS. So despite their best attempts, escape is unlikely and justice will prevail.

  4. rotzeichen December 27, 2017 at 9:48 pm - Reply

    Clearly the government is desperately concerned to get these files back as they have mounted the largest internal investigation that we have seen yet, or should I say, why haven’t they?

    If we were to describe Tory governments over the last forty years, I wonder just how history would interpret it all?

    I was looking at a puzzle my family were doing over Christmas and the picture was a street celebration of VE day with a banner, on the one end it had a Union Jack and the other the Star Spangled Banner, no where was there a flag representing the soviet union.

    How the writers of history pencil out the facts by omission, neatly recognising the USA but forgetting the contribution made by the Russians.

    The people of this country are under the greatest attack by its own government that I have seen in my lifetime, in the words of Bernie Sanders who so aptly describes our current predicament, said: “the 1% are at war with its own people”.

  5. hugosmum70 December 27, 2017 at 10:33 pm - Reply

    as far as i know. if a member of the public goes to any archives centre and i assume national archives are the same, firstly they have to make an appointment. secondly if they wish to sit and examine or read a document they have to do it there. they have to wear white gloves and treat the documents with a lot of delicacy and care. no one is allowed to take them away to look at in private. so how were these documents allowed to be taken away at all. or was it the staff were intimidated by whoever had gone there to get these documents. or is that only some of the really old documents they hold that is treated that way.

  6. NMac December 28, 2017 at 9:49 am - Reply

    This is government theft and corruption on a massive scale.

  7. fathomie December 29, 2017 at 2:00 am - Reply

    I can answer a few of those Mike. All documents, regardless of whether from the NA or from depts own archives have to be signed out and assigned to a member of staff. Thus there is a paper trail. However, it is not possible for all these documents to be ‘lost’. For that to happen would require a train of events that defies probability. First, controversial material is highly sensitive and as such, wherever they went, they would be required to be checked in and checked out, to make sure they were NOT ‘just left lying around’. Second, the material would be clearly, unmistakably marked, as such they would be recognisable to all staff and someone, somewhere would have picked up on them being in the wrong place, in particular that many of them. It is therefore not going to be simply a case of ‘admin error’ as Tory supporters are already trying to claim.

    On the issue of backups, sadly the NA and the UK’s archives in general do not have the staff, money or facilities to back up all documents to digital. The last census made available for example, cost millions to scan, check, and put online, and hundreds of extra staff was used. Only because it was a census, and demand is high for these to be published after the 100 years has expired, was the money made available. With archives nationally, and including the NA, suffering staff cuts since 2010, often drastic ones (our local archive has one part time archivist now for a once important shipbuilding town), there is no way everything, or even close to everything, can be digitalised. Moreover, some documents may never be as they are too fragile to copy.I was extremely lucky, in that the museum of Labour history in Manchester allowed me to copy some key information back in the day, as this is no longer allowed there for that reason.

    As a final note, you are one hundred percent correct. The Tories have not ‘lost’ anything. You do not lose highly sensitive documents which have to be accounted for by civil servants (and it is unlikely given the nature of them this was entrusted to admin staff), to the NA. The NA can get VERY funny about loss of documents, and that this many have gone, on topics the Tories are not keen to allow the Public the inside line on, it is not an ‘accident’ they have gone. The Tories have form for documents vanishing on key issues. The Suez papers, all of them, managed ‘accidentally’ to fall into a paper shredder, despite them being on a desk nowhere near one…

    • Colin M.Taylor December 29, 2017 at 3:32 pm - Reply

      In point of fact, as technology has advanced, the records have actually become MORE vulnerable; for example, a lot of the data obtained from the Space Programme was stored on Magnetic tape, in a data format that is obsolete – it’s only due to the efforts of a few enthusiasts, restoring the hardware, that the data have not been lost.
      Closer to home, photocopiers and laser printers were hailed as a boon BUT, whereas proper ink actually penetrates the fibres of the paper it is printed on, leaving a permanent record, toner only sits on the surface. If placed into vinyl pockets, supposedly to ‘protect’ them, the plasticiser in the plastic actually loosens the toner which can then be rubbed off of the paper. I know of at least one case where a legally important paper was pulled out of a file and the toner was wiped off, leaving a blank sheet.
      I’ve already alluded to the vulnerability of magnetic media and Hard drives; one good Electromagnetic pulse and the data will be lost for ever (there was some truth in the Bond film ‘Goldeneye’)
      Don’t think that burning to CD is any more reliable: Whereas Magnetic media, if properly stored will last at least 50 years, many CD-ROMs, are lasting barely half that.
      The Tories won’t need to destroy records in future; they will just have to wait for themto self-destruct.

  8. hugosmum70 December 29, 2017 at 2:37 am - Reply

    where the hell is it all going to end,, better still WHEN is it all going to end. they are just destroying everything that was britain. that belongs to us. our lives even our pasts now. in 75 years ive never known anything like this especially not on this scale.

  9. Colin M.Taylor December 29, 2017 at 10:49 am - Reply

    When I worked in the Ministry of Defence, great care was taken to ensure that all official documents were accounted for. All papers had to be placed on file and the movements of those files were recorded. You could only access such documents on a ‘Need to know’ basis and your holdings would be checked every six months.
    If any discrepancies were found, you would have to account for them.
    Destruction of official documents could only be with official permission and a completed Destruction Certificate, which itself would be filed.
    If official papers have been destroyed, WHERE ARE THE DESTRUCTION CERTIFICATES?
    If there are none, then there MUST be a Police Investigation

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