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Page last updated at 09:21 GMT, Wednesday, 18 April 2012 10:21 UK

Lost colonial papers reveal 'banality of bureaucracy'


The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has revealed the first tranche of thousands of documents which were locked away in the years when the British empire was giving way to independent governments around the world.

These are a record of the last days in the colonies which was thought to have been largely destroyed.

Professor Anthony Badger, master of Clare College, Cambridge, and expert historian supervising the release of documents, said this release gives us a "sense of the proportion in which bureaucrats dealt with pretty horrendous issues in the last days of empire".

David Anderson, professor of African Politics at the University of Oxford, who issued the first freedom of information request which led to the documents release, said that there are some quite surprising documents such as those found in the Malayan papers.

These "revealing documents" highlighted how the government were retaining public works and roads maintenance files while destroying things on communism and intelligence.

Professor Badger said that it is going to be very difficult to know whether it will change the picture we have already but it does show the "banality of bureaucracy" where administrative issues went alongside things like papers to do with summary execution.

Professor Anderson pointed out that it raises questions about "how we manage our own records and history".

"This is about historical legacy," he said, adding that The Freedom of Information Act needed to be looked at because when it comes to historical records, "not all that should come does come".

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