Britain used to deliberately and systematically annihilate sensitive documents to conceal traces of its atrocities it committed in former colonies as they were due to achieve independence, declassified files reveal.
According to the latest National Archives publication, British authorities secretly burnt or dumped sensitive documents as part of “Operation Legacy” to cover up traces of British activities in former colonies.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the secret program was going on in at least 23 countries and territories under British rule that eventually obtained independence after WWII, The Independent has revealed.
Among others, these countries included Belize, British Guiana, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaysia and Singapore, Northern Rhodesia (today Zambia and Zimbabwe), Tanzania, and Uganda, the paper said in a report.
The UK Colonial Office dispatched a letter to British embassies on May 3, 1961, in which colonial secretary Iain Macleod instructed diplomats to withhold official documents from newly elected independent governments in those countries, and presented general guidance on what to do, according to the report.
British diplomats were briefed on how exactly they were supposed to get rid of documents that “might embarrass members of the police, military forces, public servants (such as police agents or informers)” or “might compromise sources of intelligence”, or could be put to “wrong” use by incoming national authorities,” the report said.
“Operation Legacy” also called for the destruction or removal of “all papers which are likely to be interpreted, either reasonably or by malice, as indicating racial prejudice or bias.”
The newly published collection of documents reveals that the British cleared out Kenyan intelligence files that contained information about abuse and torture of Kenyans during the Mau Mau uprising against British colonial rule in the 1950s. The existence of some remaining Mau Mau legal case documents was revealed in January 2011.