Sunday 21 September 2008


There was a wee tale in the Sunday Times last week about a file that went missing from the National Archives while Labour was running what was then called the Scottish Executive. Being an inquisitive chap, I had a wee look about and got the full story which goes like this:

In the 1990s there was a series of scandals involving Labour politicians. One of them was the Monklands scandal. There was an inquiry that found the allegations to be proven and a further inquiry which found them to be not proven.

The newspaper asked for the file from the National Archives (which I assume had the primary information in it), only to find out that it had been taken back to the then Scottish Ministers shortly after Freedom of Information had become law, and the file is now lost.

Shocking! Who would have suspected such a thing? I'm hoping that there's a note somewhere that indicates who was last to have the file. I wonder if anyone checked the other files to see whether they had been tampered with?

More may, of course, come to light in time. Meanwhile, here's the story in full:

Tom Gordon

A SECRET file on alleged sleaze in the Labour Party, which had been stored in the National Archives of Scotland, has gone missing after being removed by the previous Labour-led administration.

The sealed documents dealt with the Monklands scandal, which saw Labour councillors accused of religious bias and nepotism in the 1990s.

The papers, which were due to be kept from the public for 30 years, were removed from storage at the National Archives in 2005, just a few months after the introduction of Freedom of Information (FoI) laws which could have led to their release.

The file was among 51 moved from the National Archives to the then Scottish Executive in October that year, and is the only one of the group now classed as “officially mislaid”.

Three files are still with the government, while the remaining 47 were safely returned.

It was not until a freedom of information request by the Sunday Times for the file that the Archives discovered it had been lost by the executive - the first such discovery since FoI took effect in January 2005.

The scandal revolved around claims that Labour-run Monklands district council had a spending bias towards the heavily Roman Catholic town of Coatbridge at the expense of largely Protestant Airdrie.

It erupted in June 1994, during the Monklands East by-election caused by the death of John Smith, when four Airdrie Labour councillors resigned.

Helen Liddell, Labour’s candidate for the seat, condemned the apparent sectarian bias.

In June 1995, nepotism was added to the charge sheet.

A report by Robert Black QC, which was commissioned by the council, reported 68 of the council’s 1600 employees were related to councillors, and said there was evidence of spending in favour of Coatbridge.

At the request of Michael Forsyth, the then Scottish secretary, a more powerful formal inquiry was set up under William Nimmo Smith QC.

His report, in December the same year, came to a radically different conclusion, clearing the council of all wrong-doing and concluding there was no hard evidence of nepotism.

Nimmo Smith, who is now a judge, said Black’s report had dealt in “factually incorrect” allegations “based on ignorance and bigotry”.

Known officially as DD5/2577, the missing file’s description is “The Monklands Inquiry (1995): investigations into alleged nepotism by Monklands District Council following Professor Black's report, including minutes and drafting of the inquiry.”

At the time it was moved by government officials, the Labour Party was trying to recover from the scandal of Labour MSP Lord Watson, who was jailed for setting fire to a hotel’s curtains while drunk.

Black, now a retired law professor, said he had destroyed all his copies of the Monklands files last year during a move.

“Well, well, well, that’s very interesting,” he said of the loss.

“Maybe someone thought that because the official inquiry gave Monklands a clean bill of health, there was no need for the other one to survive.

“There were a lot of highly motivated people on all sides in Monklands. There were daggers being sharpened. However my view is always go for cock-up over conspiracy.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Every effort has been made to locate the file, unfortunately without success. The Scottish Government has systems in place to ensure that both its older paper records and its modern electronic records are managed in accordance with public records legislation and best practice throughout their life-cycle. It is therefore very unusual for an official file to be mislaid and this is the first such occurrence since the introduction of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 that has come to light.”

1 comment:

BellgroveBelle said...

Interesting stuff, wonder whether anything else has gone missing?