File series BS 27 – May Inquiry in relation to the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings

FOI request reference: F0059919
Publication date: December 2019




Request & response 

This request relates to the inquiry by Sir John May in relation to the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings (TNA ref BS27):

– Please provide a current index of files under the category BS 27
– Please indicate whether any decisions have been taken that would prevent a file being disclosed on the opening date of 1 January 2020
– If such a decision was taken, please state by whom
– If such a decision was taken, please state when
– If such a decision was taken, please provide the justification


A list of files in record series ‘BS 27: Inquiry into the Circumstances Surrounding the Convictions Arising out of the Bomb Attacks in Guildford and Woolwich in 1974 (May Inquiry): Transcripts of Inquiry and Reports’ is publicly available via Discovery, our online catalogue. You can view this via the link below:*&_ser=BS+27&id=C3043

In addition to the files listed in Discovery, 10 files (BS 27/768-777) are retained by the Home Office.

We can confirm that applications from the Home Office for extended closure of 668 files in the BS 27 series were approved by the Advisory Council on National Records and Archives in November 2019.

The extended closure of the files was approved under sections 40 (Personal Information), 38 (Health & safety) and 31 (Law enforcement) of the Freedom of Information Act.

We are unable to provide you with detailed justification for this decision because this information is covered by the exemption at section 36 of the FOI Act, which exempts information if release of the information would prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs.

For further information about why this exemption has been applied, please see the explanatory Annex at the end of this letter.

Additional information
As explained in this response 668 files have temporarily been returned to the Home Office from The National Archives at the Home Office’s request. In addition to these files, on the 20 December 2019, The National Archives received a request from the Home Office that a further 55 files be returned to the Home Office for administrative purposes.

Pieces BS 27/1-48 in the series will remain open files held at The National Archives


Section 36: Prejudice To Effective Conduct Of Public Affairs
Section 36 is a qualified exemption and we are required to conduct a public interest test when applying any qualified exemption. This means that after it has been decided that the exemption is engaged; through consultation and agreement with the qualified person the public interest in releasing the information must be considered. If the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in withholding it then the exemption does not apply and must be release. In the FOIA there is a presumption that information should be released unless there are compelling reasons to withhold it.

36 (2) Information to which this section applies is exempt information if, in the reasonable opinion of a qualified person[1], disclosure of the information under the Act

(b) would, or would be likely to, inhibit
(i) the free and frank provision of advice, or
(ii) the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation, or the Qualified Person has been consulted and confirmed that, in their opinion, the exemption can be said to reasonably apply.

The public interest has been concluded and the balance of the public interest has been found to fall in favour of withholding information covered by the section 36 exemption.

Considerations in favour of the release of the information included the principle that there is a public interest in showing a true and open account of government decision-making. This makes for greater accountability, increases public confidence in and helps to encourage greater public engagement with political life. There is a general public interest in being able to evaluate government policy.

Release of this information would be seen to prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs (section 36) by preventing the effective function of the process. This would outweigh any benefits of release. It was therefore decided that the balance of the public interest lies clearly in favour of withholding the material on this occasion.

Further guidance on this exemption can be found at: