Many National Archives Files Are ‘Lost’ – But Release Still Reveals British State Brutality

Every six months the National Archives release previously classified documents. In among the eating or driving arrangements of politicians, and gossip about diplomacy lies long forgotten information about the workings of the British state. There is the odd insight into the chaos of actual government, such as whether to have a disgraced US president visit. In the case of former Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher, it was decided that Richard Nixon was a bit toxic. Others are concerned with how to deal with the fallout from a nuclear accident. They show that after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster the British government didn’t have a clue. It gave out the phone number of the pool of government drivers as the helpline number for information about radiation poisoning.

But there is a serious, recurring problem. The rate of document releases from the archives has increased recently but so has the amount of files that are missing or officially withheld. This year some 190 of the 490 files scheduled for release from the Prime Minister’s office have been retained by the government. Withheld files include dossiers on the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, the Scott arms-to-Iraq Inquiry, and the basing of US cruise missiles in Britain. Even dozens of government files covering Britain’s European policy in the early 1990s have been held back. Of the 45 European files due to be released, the Cabinet Office has retained 38.  Worse, about another 1,000 files have gone missing after being removed by civil servants, according to a Freedom of Information request.

Read more: Simon Basketter, Socialist Worker,

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