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  1. ITV Report

'Lost' files detailing colonial crimes made public

Colonial records published of Barack Obama's father was going to be a student in the US. Photo: National Archive/PA Wire

Thousands of 'lost' colonial era files believed to have been destroyed have finally been made public.

The documents which were secretly sent back to the UK when former colonies became independent, shed new light on how British officials ran overseas territories.

The archives even include some well-known names. Barack Obama's Kenya-born father, who had the same name as his son, features in the archives. The president's father came to America in 1959 to begin a degree.

National Archives reveal record of Barack Obama's father Credit: Reuters/Jim Young

The National Archives released today more than 1,200 out of 8,800 of these records in Kew, west London, the first of six tranches in a process due to be completed by November 2013.

They record how colonial administrators planned to burn other classified papers- potentially revealing abuses committed under the British rule in territories including Kenya, Cyprus, present-day Malaysia and the Bahamas.

Wambugu Nyingi, Jane Muthoni, Paul Nzili and Ndiku Mutua accused the British government of torture during the Mau Mau uprising Credit: Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett

The "migrated" archives came to light in January last year after four elderly Kenyans brought a High Court case against the UK Government over the alleged torture of Kenyan Mau Mau rebels in British camps in the 1950s. Only a third of the Kenyan files were released today.

The Kenyan ministry of defence files state that British officials were told to divide all documents into the categories of "legacy" material, which could be left behind, and "watch" material, which could not. One memo dated April 1961 noted:

"'Watch' material can only be seen by 'authorised' officers. An 'authorised' officer is defined in the draft as a servant of the Kenya government who is a British subject of European descent, and who has been security cleared to see classified documents."

To obviate a too laborious scrutiny of 'dead' files, emphasis is placed on destruction - a vast amount of paper in the Ministry of Defence secret registry and classified archives could be burnt without loss, and I should be surprised if the same does not apply to the CS's (chief secretary's) Office."

– Memo from the colonial archives dated April 1961
Two Kenyan "Mau Mau" freedom fighters are pictured Credit: Reuters/Kenya National Archives

There are similar references to the destruction of classified material in the files relating to Malaya, which became independent in 1957 and joined with three other states to form Malaysia in 1963.

Tony Badger, a Cambridge University history professor who has been appointed by the Foreign Office as an independent reviewer of the archive's release, acknowledged that there was a "legacy of suspicion" about the documents among journalists and academics.

But he stressed that so far no files have been withheld from release at the National Archives, and significantly less than 1% of the content has been redacted.