Colonial Crimes – have you read this news?

Britain destroyed records of colonial crimes

Review finds thousands of papers detailing shameful acts were culled, while others were kept secret illegally…

Hanslope Park, where the Foreign Office kept a secret archive of colonial papers

Hanslope Park, where the Foreign Office kept a secret archive of colonial papers. Photograph: Martin Argles for the Guardian

Thousands of documents detailing some of the most shameful acts and crimes committed during the final years of the British empire were systematically destroyed to prevent them falling into the hands of post-independence governments, an official review has concluded.

The following are brief quotes from a series of these articles in the UK GUARDIAN NEWS

Documents already disclosed show how a senior Foreign Office diplomat noted in 1966: “The object of the exercise is to get some rocks which will remain ours […] there will be no indigenous population except seagulls.”

Tony Badger, Master of Clare College, Cambridge, who is overseeing the transfer, says that most of the colonial records were weeded and burned, that the rest should have been published under the old 30-year rule in the 80s and that the whole affair is “embarrassing, scandalous”.

Many of the watch files ended up at Hanslope Park. They came from 37 different former colonies, and filled 200 metres of shelving. But it is becoming clear that much of the most damning material was probably destroyed.

Officials were warned that they would be prosecuted if they took any paperwork home – and some were. As independence grew closer, large caches of files were removed from colonial ministries to governors’ offices, where new safes were installed.

Among the documents that appear to have been destroyed were: records of the abuse of Mau Mau insurgents detained by British colonial authorities, who were tortured and sometimes murdered; reports that may have detailed the alleged massacre of 24 unarmed villagers in Malaya by soldiers of the Scots Guards in 1948; most of the sensitive documents kept by colonial authorities in Aden, where the army’s Intelligence Corps operated a secret torture centre for several years in the 1960s; and every sensitive document kept by the authorities in British Guiana, a colony whose policies were heavily influenced by successive US governments and whose post-independence leader was toppled in a coup orchestrated by the CIA.

The documents that were not destroyed appear to have been kept secret not only to protect the UK’s reputation, but to shield the government from litigation.


The documents show that colonial officials were instructed to separate those papers to be left in place after independence – usually known as “Legacy files” – from those that were to be selected for destruction or removal to the UK. In many colonies, these were described as watch files, and stamped with a red letter W.


I have long wondered if records were kept concerning the invasion of Turtle Island, when the colonists came to take the land and destroy anyone who stood in their way…it’s ugly history and who wants to know? …I do….. Lara

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