Here’s What the British Government Has Been Hiding from You

Files at the FCO archives in Hanslope Park (All images courtesy of the author)

Katie Engelhart

In 2013, The Guardian revealed that Britain’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) had illegally withheld 1.2 million (later revised to 600,000) historic documents from the public, in flagrant breach of the UK Public Records Act. The documents — which include the desk diary of Soviet spy Donald Maclean; case files from Nazi persecution compensation claims; and masses of material removed from Hong Kong — were being held at Hanslope Park, a secretive, high-security compound in Buckinghamshire that the FCO shares with intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6.

The whole document saga began in 2009, when a group of elderly Kenyans brought a historic lawsuit against the FCO, claiming damages for abuse they suffered under British colonial authorities (which, in the case of these particular plaintiffs, included rape and castration). At the time, FCO officials denied having any relevant documents that might shed light on the crimes. Only two years later, in 2011, did the FCO admit it was unlawfully holding 1,500 Kenya files at Hanslope Park.

Later, it confessed to possessing 20,000 undisclosed files from 37 former British colonies. The documents include incriminating evidence of murder and torture by British colonial authorities. (An embarrassed British government began releasing the so-called “Migrated Archives” to Britain’s National Archives in 2012.)

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