BBC NEWS
BBCi CATEGORIES   TV   RADIO   COMMUNICATE   WHERE I LIVE   INDEX    SEARCH 

BBC News UK Edition
 You are in: Special Report: 1999: 01/99: 1968 Secret History  
News Front Page
World
UK
England
N Ireland
Scotland
Wales
UK Politics
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
Education
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
CBBC News
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
1968 Secret History Friday, 1 January, 1999, 22:15 GMT
How top secrets become common knowledge
Files go through various checks before being made public
Files go through various checks before being made public
On 1 January, the government made public documents kept secret for the past 30 years.

These public records are certain to have a dramatic impact on the way people look back at the events of 1968.

1968 Secret History

But even after the New Year, some of the most sensitive documents will remain secret for the time being - while others will never be fully revealed.

Government departments accumulate miles of files every year, each of which has a different fate - either eventual publication or the shredder.

For instance, of the files the Foreign Office accumulated in 1968, only a small number will be made public this year.

All of the Foreign Office's records are stored in the remote Hanslope Park, deep in the heart of rural Buckinghamshire.

It is here that the decision is made whether to hang on to ageing files for a few more years, destroy them, or allow them to be made public under the 30-year rule.

Too secret for 30 year rule

There is a continual process of culling files that are no longer relevant.

But more than 40% of the Foreign Office material survives the cull.

The majority of files are shredded
The majority of files are shredded
Some documents will be judged too secret to be published after 30 years and will not become public knowledge until well into the next millennium.

Those that are published end up at the Public Record Office in Kew, London.

Andrew Macdonald, from the Public Record Office, explains: "If you can imagine one shelf mile of records, that is the quantity of material that comes in the public records office at Kew every year.

"A whole mile of shelving is filled. Now that represents no more than about 5% of the total records created by the government in the first place.

"Now, it is clearly critical that we determine together with the government departments which 5% it is that is selected and come to the Public Record Office."

Before the papers are finally released to the Public Record Office, they go through a final check at the Foreign Office.

Sensitive information

Heather Yasamee of the Foreign Office says: "Before releasing the files to the Public Records Office, we have to make sure that there is no residual sensitivity in the papers.

"Now the end result of this exercise is that we release practically everything - some 98% - nevertheless we go through every page to identify any potentially sensitive reference which would cause harm."

The review process is carried out by retired ambassadors and civil servants who look out for anything which could damage national security or endanger people.

All applications to keep files shut are finally determined by the Lord Chancellor's advisory council on public records.


Leviathan - UK Confidential
BBC Two Friday 1 January 6.40pm

Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more 1968 Secret History stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more 1968 Secret History stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | World | UK | England | N Ireland | Scotland | Wales |
UK Politics | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology |
Health | Education | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes