HUNDREDS OF STATE FILES NOW ‘MISSING’ BLOCKING ACCESS TO THE TRUTH ABOUT THE CONFLICT
KRW LAW LLP is the North of Ireland’s key supplier of legal services relating to the Legacy of the Conflict. We represent relatives of victims and survivors from across our community.
Many of those we are instructed by seek information about the loss of a loved one occurring during the long course of the Conflict. This information is often held by the British government in the National Archives.
For example, we accessed the National Archives for information regarding British government policy and MOD practice regarding the interrogation of paramilitary suspects during internment which fed into the decision of the Irish government to ask the European Court of Human Rights to revisit the landmark judgment in Ireland v UK.
Recently we have accessed files in relation to the McGurk’s Bar Bombing 1971 including military logs. We now fear many of these files may be either ‘missing’ or taken down. This is but one example where we and other researchers have come across problems in accessing this essential information.
We have always been aware that the National Archives is the depository of information but that state departments – Home Office, MOD, FCO, NIO – own the material and can request the return of files at any time or ask for files to be ‘taken down’. The governance of the National Archives – technically within the jurisdiction of the Lord Chancellor – is, to say the least, opaque.
Now the BBC has reported on tranches of files – many generated during the period of the Conflict – going ‘missing’ from the National Archives (BBC News 03 08 2016):
“The National Archives said it was running a ‘robust’ programme to locate the documents. A response by officials to a Freedom of Information request from the BBC showed that 402 historical files remain unaccounted for since 1 January 2012. They include more than 60 Foreign Office files, more than 40 from the Home Office and six from the official records of former prime ministers. In 2011 it emerged that about 1,600 files had been reported lost from the National Archives in the previous six years. The current rate of loss, at about 100 files per year, is an improvement on the previous figure.”
This is a very worrying trend as our clients rely upon material accessed through the National Archives to inform a range of legal actions taken on their behalf including discovery and disclosure orders and in Legacy inquests where the intransigence and unwillingness of agencies such as the PSNI to comply with disclosure orders is a well-recognised travesty and an obstruction to truth, justice and accountability.
KRW LAW LLP will continue to monitor the situation on this important aspect of litigation the Legacy of the Conflict. But as our work strives to uncover the truth about the extent of collusion during the Conflict scepticism is warranted.
Kevin Winters of KRW LAW LLP: “We are sadly use to missing or destroyed files that were formerly held by the RUC or by officials at Stormont. We are aware about explanations about asbestos, mysterious fires and break-ins. Those charged with holding this material have been criticised by law officers in the North. But this revelation about state papers at the National Archives at Kew is new point of concern for us on behalf of our clients seeking the truth which often only the British government can disclose”