Protesters may be toppling statues, but millions of records about the end of empire and the slave trade were destroyed by the state
The history that some believe implicitly is "the truth" about the past is a deliberate distortion of the facts.
In 2013 I discovered that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had been unlawfully concealing 1.2m historical files at a highly secure government compound at Hanslope Park, north of London.
Those files contained millions upon millions of pages of records stretching back to 1662, spanning the slave trade, the Boer wars, two world wars, the cold war and the UK’s entry into the European Common Market. More than 20,000 files concerned the withdrawal from empire.
There were so many of them that they took up 15 miles of floor-to-ceiling shelving at a specially built repository that a Foreign Office minister had opened in a private ceremony in 1992. Their retention was in breach of the Public Records Acts, and they had effectively been held beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act.
Beginning in India in 1947, government officials had incinerated material that would in any way embarrass Her Majesty’s government, her armed forces, or her colonial civil servants. At the end of that year, an Observer correspondent noted large palls of smoke appearing over government offices in Jerusalem.
As decolonisation gathered pace, British officials developed a series of parallel file registries in the colonies: one that was to be handed over to post-independence governments, and one that contained papers that were to be steadily destroyed or flown back to London.
As a consequence, newly independent governments found themselves attempting to administer their territories on the basis of an incomplete record of what had happened before.
In Uganda in March 1961, colonial officials gave this process a new name: Operation Legacy. Before long the term spread to neighbouring colonies, where only “British subjects of European descent” were to be involved in the weeding and destruction of documents, a process that was overseen by police special branch officers. A new security classification, the “W” or “Watch series”, was introduced, and sensitive papers were stamped with a red letter W.
There is more. Please read this.