Thousands of British government papers reportedly 'lost' from National Archives

LONDON - Thousands of British government papers documenting some controversial periods in British history during the 20th-century have gone missing from the country's National Archives after they were removed by civil servants and then reported as lost, The Guardian reported on Tuesday (Dec 26).

The newspaper said almost 1,000 files - each containing dozens of papers - are missing, with most of them reportedly misplaced after they were removed from public view at the archives and taken back to government offices.

The misplaced files include those covering the Falklands war fought between Argentina and Britain in the South Atlantic in 1982, the 30-year long violent conflict in Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants known as "The Troubles", as well as the Zinoviev letter incident.

Published by the Daily Mail four days before the 1924 election, the Zinoviev letter was purported to be a directive from the top Communist official in Moscow calling on British Communists to mobilise support among the Labour Party. An official government report later found that the letter was likely to have been forged by British intelligence sources and leaked as part of a ploy to bring down the first Labour government.

The file on the Zinoviev letter scandal was reported to have been lost after they were taken by officials from the Home Office. The office, however, has not explained when it was taken or why, how it was lost, as well as whether other copies are available.

The Guardian's report also cited another instance in which officials from the Foreign Office removed "a small number of papers" in 2015 that were related to the murder of dissident Bulgarian journalist Georgi Markov. Markov was killed in London in 1978 after being jabbed in the leg with a tiny pellet containing ricin that was shot from an umbrella gun.

The Foreign Office had told the National Archives that the papers had gone missing. But after being questioned by the Guardian, it said most of the papers - save for a couple - had been located and returned to the archives. It refused to say, however, why the papers had been removed or whether copies of the documents were available.

Other files listed by the National Archives as being misplaced after being loaned to various government departments include one that detailed the British Communist party's activities at the height of the Cold War, how the British government took control of Russian government funds held in British banks following the 1917 Russian revolution, and files covering the defence agreements between Britain and Malaya in the late 1950s.

The incidents, the paper said, shed light on the ease with which government departments can obtain official papers long after they were declassified and made available to the public at the National Archives.

A spokesman for the National Archives said it "regularly sends lists to government departments of files that they have out on loan". "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 spokesman added.