A selection of files recently released at The National Archives

May 2006

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Catalogue ref. Date Description
Records created or inherited by the Prison Commission and Home Office Prison Department
PCOM 8/202 1926 Attendance at Divine Services with othersThe Prison Commission looks at whether a condemned prisoner should be allowed to attend chapel with his fellow prisoners, and if so what restrictions should be imposed. The file describes how condemned prisoners were segregated from the rest of the inmates at chapel, and how the system ensured that as little attention as possible was drawn to their presence.
PCOM 8/205 1918 - 1928 Smoking by condemned prisonersThe Prison Commission is contacted by a number of governors regarding the correct process for requests by condemned prisoners for cigarettes. The files show that the ultimate decision was in the hands of the medical officer who was to recommend whether or not the condemned man was to be given cigarettes.
PCOM 8/207 1920 - 1926 Medical reportsFile expresses concern over prisoners' mental state while on remand, stressing that medical officers need to monitor the prisoners to make sure they are fit to plead. The file shows the concern the Commission has to the mental state of prisoners before their trial, although it specifies that the reports written by the medical officer should not speculate on the state of mind the prisoner was in at the time he committed the crime.
PCOM 8/209 1927 Instructions to Governors of prisonsThe Prison Commission looks to remind officers that all relevant conversations between condemned prisoners and their visitors must be reported, and that nothing should be allowed to reach the public. The file also includes instructions on the burial of executed prisoners.
PCOM 8/216 1913 - 1916 Chaplain of Maidstone reports bad effects of executions on other prisonersThe Chaplain of Maidstone prison expresses his concern at the effect that the presence of condemned prisoners has on those whose sentences have been commuted, as it reminds them of their experience following their original sentence. There are proposals to end executions at Maidstone and have them moved to Canterbury which are met with strong opposition from the local community and are eventually abandoned.
PCOM 8/217 1923 - 1928 Chaplain of Maidstone reports bad effects of executions on other prisonersThe Chaplain of Maidstone prison reiterates the concerns mentioned in the previous file (PCOM 8/216). Proposals for amendments to the prison are made, and the file includes the plans.
PCOM 8/218 1927 Burial service and attendance of Chaplain at executionThe Prison Commission addresses the issue of whether or not prison Chaplains should be present at executions and if so, what part they should play. It is decided, amongst other things, that reading from the Burial Service is no longer to take place, as it may cause the condemned man too much anguish.
PCOM 9/622 1929 - 1932 Regulations for governors, sheriffs and executioners: draft revisionThe Prison Commission looks at revising the guidelines for executions following a number of incidents.
PCOM 9/628 1940 - 1941 Mr Thomas Pierrepoint, executioner: question of medical fitnessFollowing a complaint from a prison governor after an execution, the Prison Commission investigates Thomas Pierrepoint's capacity to continue his duty as executioner. There seems to be concern with his age and his eyesight impeding on his capabilities. The file includes reports from various Prison Governors concerning Pierrepoint's actions whilst conducting a number of executions.
PCOM 9/629 1942 - 1944 Mr Thomas Pierrepoint, executioner: adverse reportContinuing from the previous file, the Prison Commission expresses further concern over the capacities of Thomas Pierrepoint, who is 72 years of age at the time. Owing to shortages due to the war and favourable reports from other prisons, the Commission is inclined to allow him to continue, although it concludes that particular attention should be paid to his technique.
PCOM 9/633 1946 Mr Albert Pierrepoint, executioner: claims misrepresentation in a Sunday Pictorial article of 15 September 1946The Prison Commission discusses a newspaper article about Albert Pierrepoint. The file also contains a letter from Pierrepoint complaining that members of the press are hounding him and his entourage.
PCOM 9/626 1938-1939 Applications for post of executioner: personal details, examination papers, training arrangementsDescribes the entire application route for a number of posts for executioners and assistant executioners. As well as detailing the whole process, the file also explains some of the rationale used around decisions to employ or not.
Records created or inherited by the Dominions Office, and of the Commonwealth Relations and Foreign and Commonwealth Offices
DO 35/7002 1953 Reverend Michael Scott's activities concerning South West AfricaReverend Scott, spokesperson for Chief Hosea Kutako of the Herero tribe (now part of Namibia), looks to raise awareness at the United Nations of the suppression of non-European people in South-West Africa. Claims that Chief Kutako is being refused a passport by his government, and also that Reverend Scott is being stopped from travelling in the USA.
DO 35/6016 1955 Military aid to Cambodia under Geneva AgreementsMilitary aid programme agreed by Cambodia with the Americans to the detriment of India who had also put forward their help. This caused a considerable amount of friction, and India questioned the legality of such a deal under the Geneva Convention.
Records created or inherited by the Ministry of Health and successors, Local Government Boards and related bodies
MH 102/2069 1952 - 1954 Proposed adoption by a negro woman of a child of an Englishwoman and a coloured US serviceman; the child being in care of a local authority: permission for adoption refusedMrs King, a US citizen, is looking to adopt a little girl, daughter of a "coloured" American soldier and a British married woman. The file details the steps she has taken to try to get the adoption to go through, including writing to HM Queen Elizabeth II. Many efforts are made towards getting permission for the adoption as it is considered to be in the best interests of the child. However, the law dictates that a British citizen can only be adopted by another British citizen. There are quite a few FOI restrictions in this file, all relating to the child's personal details.
Records created and inherited by the Foreign Office
FO 371/30816A 1942 Anglo-Belgian relationsThe Foreign Office addresses the problems they are encountering with the Belgian Allies due to a breakdown in relations with Belgian representatives in the UK as well as problems with the Special Operations Executive. Includes correspondence from the Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden to his Belgian counterpart.
FO 1019/95 1945-1946 General correspondenceInternal correspondence regarding the Nuremberg trials. Mentions possible harmful allegations made in the trial, which could damage the British government's credibility.
FO 1019/106 1945 Major war criminals: miscellaneous mattersDeals with a number of issues raised during the preparation stages for the Nuremberg trials. Addresses the possible prosecution of industrialists in the German war effort. Also discusses concerns relating to crimes committed in maritime warfare by the Germans, in particular the "sink-at-sight" tactic and the general doctrine of unrestricted warfare at sea practised by the Germans. However, it is recognised that some reprisal tactics adopted by the British could be considered just as bad.
Records of the Cabinet Office
CAB 195/5 1947 Sir Norman Brook Notebook: Cabinet Minutes, CM (47) 1st Conclusions - CM (47) 96th ConclusionsThis notebook covers the period from January to December 1947. Amongst other interesting topics, it relates discussions concerning Foreign Affairs in the post-war period, Bankside Power Station, the Savoy Hotel strike and the Criminal Justice Bill: Capital Punishment. Further details and chosen extracts are related below.