A massive trove of government papers detailing some dark episodes of British history, including the Falklands War and the notorious Northern Irish Troubles, have vanished from the National Archives.
Almost 1,000 files, each thought to contain dozens of British government papers, have disappeared from the National Archives in London after civil servants removed them from the institution, a Guardian investigation has revealed.
By odd coincidence, the disappearance affects some of the most controversial parts of 20th-century British history, namely papers concerning the Falklands War, Northern Ireland’s Troubles and British colonial rule in Palestine.
Other files that vanished detailed tests on polio vaccines and long-running territorial disputes between the UK and Argentina, as well as the infamous Zinoviev letter from the 1920s, which the British secret services claimed to be a directive from Grigory Zinoviev, the head of the Moscow-based Communist International (Komintern), to the Communist Party of Great Britain, ordering it to provoke civil war and unrest.
An entire file on the Zinoviev letter scandal vanished after Home Office staff took it away, according to the Guardian. The Home Office declined to explain to the paper who removed the files from the National Archives and why. It also did not say whether any copies had been made.
Other files the National Archives has reported as “misplaced while on loan to government department” include one concerning the way in which the British government took possession of Russian Empire funds held in British banks after the 1917 revolution.
Specific papers from within certain files have also been carefully selected and removed.
“The National Archives regularly sends lists to government departments of files that they have out on loan,” a spokesman for the institution said. “If we are notified that a file is missing, we do ask what actions have been done and what action is being taken to find the file.”
The revelations may leave historians particularly suspicious, as it is not the first time files documenting controversial episodes of Britain’s past have disappeared or been destroyed. In August last year, records linking the UK to Israel’s nuclear program went missing from the National Archives. The archives assured the public it was following a “robust” plan to find the lost files.
A few years earlier, the Foreign Office revealed that multiple documents that “might embarrass members of the police, military forces, public servants (such as police agents or informers)” in former British colonies or “might compromise sources of intelligence” were deliberately destroyed as part of ‘Operation Legacy’.
‘Operation Legacy’ also called for the destruction or removal of “all papers which are likely to be interpreted, either reasonably or by malice, as indicating racial prejudice or bias.”