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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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