Rewriting History in Great Britain

Recently uncovered documents in the British archives reveal dark secrets from World War II. One problem: they are forgeries

The National Archives at Kew (Nick Cooper / Wikipedia)

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Antony Beevor, author of Berlin, The Downfall 1945 and other best-selling accounts of the era, worries that whoever planted the documents is fueling conspiracy theorists and other historical revisionists.

"Truth is being undermined," he says. "One can see the possibility of Holocaust denial groups being able to turn this around, saying, well, if there are fake documents in the National Archives there could be fake documents having to do with the Holocaust. All these theories are mixing together and feeding off each other."

While the prosecutors' press release did not name the suspect, Britain's Solicitor-General, Vera Baird, responded to a question from a member of Parliament by saying that The Crown Prosecution Service had found "sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against Mr. [Martin] Allen for a number of criminal offenses, but . . . there were a number of public interest factors against a prosecution, which outweighed those in favor."

Allen has not been charged with any wrongdoing. His lawyer, Patrick Butler, says Allen had no part in preparing or planting the forgeries and believed that they were entirely genuine when he quoted them in his books.

"If they are forgeries, he would love to know who did it and when and why," says Butler, who says Allen is "in very poor health" with an unspecified illness. The lawyer also criticizes the National Archives management for letting the documents be removed for scrutiny by outside experts. This compromised the chain of custody, he says, and raised the possibility that outsiders might have tampered with the papers.

The decision not to prosecute leaves Allen in limbo, with his reputation under attack but without a forum in which to defend himself.

"I can't comment on the Crown Prosecution Service decision because they are the prosecuting authority," says David Thomas, now the National Archives's chief information officer, "but I think that from Allen's point of view and from our point of view, it's a shame there never was a trial," he says.

"Then at least there would have been some certainty about it."


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