They named them the Special Collections

The UK has a law providing that government documents become public after thirty years, which is an admirably strong provision – unless it’s ignored.

Ian Cobain (whose Cruel Britannia is an excellent if harrowing read; hear him on Radio 4’s Start the Week here) reports in the Guardian that

The Foreign Office has unlawfully hoarded more than a million files of historic documents that should have been declassified and handed over to the National Archives, the Guardian has discovered.

The files are being kept at a secret archive at a high-security government communications centre in Buckinghamshire, north of London, where they occupy mile after mile of shelving.

Some of the material does cover plausibly touchy stuff; there are four and a half meters on Burgess and Maclean. On the other hand, there appears also to be stuff that’s probably not so touchy anymore, including the resolution of the Crimean War. It’s the kind of stuff kept secret, one suspects, out of habit.

Cobain explains the FO only had to acknowledge the archive because it lost a suit relating to the Mau Mau – a suit during which they repeatedly claimed that they weren’t keeping a different, smaller secret archive, which eventually they had to admit they were.

The excellent and eminent professor Anthony Badger writes, “it is difficult to overestimate the legacy of suspicion among historians, lawyers and journalists” that results from such concealment.

One might add citizens to that list.


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