Evidence of Britain's colonial crimes revealed, including orders to cover up evidence of further atrocities

After 50 years of secrecy, the British archive of papers related to colonial handovers have been made public. The trove of papers document (among other things), the brutal torture of Kenyans who participated in the Mau Mau uprising, a vicious purge of "enemies" in colonial Malaya, and the forced relocation of indigenous people from the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, followed by a coverup that included lies to the UN. Also in the documents is an order requiring colonial governments to destroy evidence of wrongdoing, against a disclosure such as this, which suggests that the 8,800 documents being released are only a tiny fraction of the evidence of Britain's crimes.

The papers at Hanslope Park include monthly intelligence reports on the "elimination" of the colonial authority's enemies in 1950s Malaya; records showing ministers in London were aware of the torture and murder of Mau Mau insurgents in Kenya, including a case of aman said to have been "roasted alive"; and papers detailing the lengths to which the UK went to forcibly remove islanders from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

However, among the documents are a handful which show that many of the most sensitive papers from Britain's late colonial era were not hidden away, but simply destroyed. These papers give the instructions for systematic destruction issued in 1961 after Iain Macleod, secretary of state for the colonies, directed that post-independence governments should not get any material that "might embarrass Her Majesty's government", that could "embarrass members of the police, military forces, public servants or others eg police informers", that might compromise intelligence sources, or that might "be used unethically by ministers in the successor government".

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...

Some idea of the scale of the operation and the amount of documents that were erased from history can be gleaned from a handful of instruction documents that survived the purge. In certain circumstances, colonial officials in Kenya were informed, "it is permissible, as an alternative to destruction by fire, for documents to be packed in weighted crates and dumped in very deep and current-free water at maximum practicable distance from the coast".

The release was precipitated by a civil suit over torture in the Mau Mau uprising.

Britain destroyed records of colonial crimes


  1. And people wonder why eastern coutries are suspicious of western countries with imperial pasts. There are good and bad people everywhere and I find it fustrating that our media and politicions dismiss the past as not relevant to todays politics.

      1.  Two of those are no longer among up…

        As for Japan, damned if i know. They did absorb various elements of Europe and NA fairly quickly once the isolationism lifted.

        1. Persia is still there.

          The point wasn’t that the operative word is imperial, not Western.

        1. Thankfully, we can count on the Koreans and Chinese as being trustworthy paragons of moral fiber! Much like we Americans!

      2. I’m pretty sure that the Aztecs and Persian empires weren’t around in the 20th century.

    1. It was not my intention to point fingers at any group as the ‘bad’ guys with imperial pasts or otherwise. When I look at politics in the news I see a lot of what I saw in the playground as a child. The big bully does what the likes and sets the rules. His mates however small can get away pushing around other kids around because they know their big bully freind will back them up.

      However, which of us can say that if the tables turned we would not get drunk on power to some extent. We are them and they are us and, as adults, I beleive we need to take collect responsibilty for letting these things happen and then forgetting about them. We ellect our leaders once every four years and then sink back into apathy and our Facebook accounts.

  2. the Beothuk native people on Newfoundland (Britain’s first Colony) no longer exist – wiped out by the Imperial forces… blankets with TB in them? outright hunting? no one cares to remember. fish and chips are still big there though…

    1. 1. The Beothuk were wiped out by other First Nations warriors (usually Mi’kmaq or Maliseet) who were hired by the British authorities to do so, and by civilian Newfoundland settlers (usually under the command of a “fishing admiral”), not by the “Imperial Forces” themselves. They left that particular dirty work to others already on the ground.

      2. The TB blankets were used against mainland nations, not the Beothuk, as the infectious diseases hospital in Halifax (where the blankets came from) hadn’t been established yet. Also, the Beothuk never entered into trading relationships with the English or the French, so they never would have had the opportunity to receive blankets even if they were available.

      Not arguing with the sentiment, but you need to get your facts straight if you want to be taken as seriously as you deserve. Try reading Ingeborg Marshal’s “A History and Ethnography of the Beothuk” for the whole sordid, sad tale. It’s a pretty dense read, but well worth the slogging through it.

      1. thanks. knee-jerk reaction, ‘get-the-queen-off-my-money’ response. for the record though, the corp. delegating out the shit work doesn’t make them less culpable. abstractly related: BP and Dow Chem are sponsoring the ‘most sustainable Olympics ever’ –  it’s a historical non-stop pile of bullshit, this capitalistic lie of greed based self-promotion. arrgh. 
        i want to defect to somewhere that doesn’t exist

        1. “for the record though, the corp. delegating out the shit work doesn’t make them less culpable”

          I couldn’t agree more – just a stickler for accuracy!  ;-)

  3. Hey guize!


    Remember when governments had to hide the fact that they tortured and murdered people? When they couldn’t just hand-wave and claim that it was legal?

  4. The trail of misery that the English Empire is second to none in the history of the world. Nothing has changed. Anywhere they can bully other countries into submission they will. Ireland, Israel, Gibraltar, Falklands, Iceland/Icesave, Egypt(artifact theft),Chagos islands the list goes on. Thieves and bullies and constantly in the believe they are in the right. 

    1.  Second to none? On the scale of empires I doubt that it is a notable blip. Did it do lots of bad things? Yep. Name one empire that didn’t. Right back to the Mongol Empire brutality and force have been a component of any conquering power.

      For that matter, many small individual governments continue to commit worse atrocities today. Do these acts cause less misery because they are individual instead of a single perpetrator?

      1. The astonishing thing about the British Empire is its good reputation. It certainly wasn’t the worst, but people still act as if they had carried white man’s burden.

        1. To paraphrase Winston Churchill: “History will be kind to me, because I intend to write the history.”

          Most of the history we read was written by white descendants of colonial powers. Not much surprise that such “history” helps the British Empire retain its good rep.

        2. They had a knack for finding who the different powers were in the area and playing them against each other.  Divide and conquer.  Of course the subservient winner now owed their success to the Brits and wouldn’t criticize them.

        3. Shall we go over that Monty Python sketch about the Romans, again?

          Every Empire that lasted more than a few months will inevitably have brought some improvements to justify their claims to legitimacy, and Britain has had colonies for quite a few decades. Arguably, India owes their current economic situation in large part to the English language imposed by their colonial masters. Singapore and HongKong would still be fishermen villages if it weren’t for the British Empire. Etc etc.

          I think the relatively benign reputation Britain still endures is because of their economic and cultural legacy balancing out their abuses (as well as some inevitable historic revisionism. of course). Compare it with Belgian, French, Dutch, Italian or German colonial histories, for example, and you’ll probably see it as well.

    2. With the exception of Ireland, you’re talking about the actions of the British Empire and not the English colonial empire. I’d hate to see the Scots left out of all the trite nation bashing.

      1. Maybe that’s why there’s a push for Scottish independence. If the people in Scotland don’t get any credit for British colonial atrocities, why bother with being British?

        Although if this is the case, an independent Scotland doesn’t bode well with the world. They have 200 years of imperial atrocities to make up and they have haggis.

  5. I’m sure some  Big Brit Brass is pacing their office at the moment – wondering how that whole “censor the Internet initiative” is coming along

  6. The Imperial apologists will continue to note that there were accents and teacups. And that’s adorable.

  7. Depressing and upsetting as these shameful revelations are, I am trying to take some small comfort from the fact that at least the USA has never inflicted harm on  a foreign country or foreign person.

Comments are closed.