The Truth Shall Make You
SECRETS AND SPIES
“Revolution is to take place after the total loss of the Channel ports and defeat on the Western Front …
There would be a short civil war, the Government would leave first for Bristol and then for the Colonies,
General Ironside would become dictator and after things had settled down Germany could do as she liked with Britain.”
MI5 reports on Dr. Leigh Vaughan-Henry (above), May 1940.
Somewhere in the labyrinth of the Security Services archives are – or at least were – a series of documents detailing the names and aims of the British pro-Nazis plotting one of three armed fascist coup d’état during the dark days of spring 1940.
Evidence that Dr. Leigh Vaughan-Henry, a celebrated musicologist, conductor and ardent anti-Semite, had created a substantial organisation to lead this revolution is held in an otherwise obscure Treasury Solicitors’ file, open for inspection at the National Archives in Kew.
It contains extracts of reports from undercover MI5 agents who penetrated Vaughan-Henry’s innermost circles; these show that the self-proclaimed “Leader” was getting ready to replace the elected government with a pro-Hitler puppet régime just as soon as German troops landed in Britain.
To ensure the coup’s success, he was planning the “intimidation of certain people by threat and possible action against their wives and children; bumping off certain people (this to be organized with great care)”. He had established a network of safe houses and escape routes to Eire in case of trouble; he had also acquired a “large stock” of blank passports to be provided to his followers, and was in the process of buying an enormous arsenal of .303 rifles and ammunition for them.
But the details of exactly who belonged to the 18 “cells’ (each boasting 25 members), as well as the undercover agents’ full reports and the fate of the weapons cache are absent from the Treasury file. They are held instead in Vaughan-Henry’s MI5 dossier, originally listed as PF 42909 in the Security Service’s Registry. Yet that file – or rather files: it ran to at least three volumes – is missing. It has either been withheld from the National Archives or destroyed. Nor is this unique.
To write Hitler’s British Traitors I examined scores of once-secret files – often running to several hundred pages each – on a remarkable (and remarkably large) stratum of men and women who spied, committed acts of sabotage and worked for Nazi Germany throughout the war. 70 were prosecuted, mostly in secret trials; four were sentenced to death, two were executed. Beyond them several hundred more British fascists were interned under wartime defence regulations; their files show that MI5 accumulated concrete evidence against them.
It took between 60 and 70 years for the British Government to de-classify these dossiers and release them to the National Archives. But buried within them are the reference numbers of files on numerous other pro-Nazi British fascists, mostly occupying elevated positions in politics or the aristocracy. Most were – from the fragmentary evidence available in the de-classified files – involved in activities which sent less well-connected traitors to prison or the gallows; yet the evidence of their treachery remains locked in MI5 files which remain secret.
This is inexplicable. Not simply because there can be no threat to national security by releasing documents which were created almost eight decades ago, but because the fundamental issue they expose – the treachery by these British citizens (aristocratic or otherwise) – has already been disclosed in outline in the de-classified files. Nor can it be justified on strict legal grounds. Even by the absurdly over-secretive standards of the post-war 50 Year Rule, these folders should have been turned over to the people who paid for their creation – the British taxpayers – in the 1990s; and beyond that, the Freedom of Information Act (2000) abolished any such waiting period.
But a loophole in that Act means that it is impossible to challenge the continuing secrecy. MI5 (let alone its sister intelligence service MI6, which also played some role in the investigation of Nazi spies and their British sub-agents) is specifically excluded from the provisions of FOIA (2000). Other than an appeal to the Security Service’s conscience, there is simply no mechanism for prising historic files from its grasp.
Other nations do not take such a close-mouthed approach. Even the United States, where the intelligence community guards its secrets with some vigour, both the FBI and the CIA are subject to FOIA legislation; in theory, and often in practise, their vaults can be pried open by persistent researchers.
For seven decades the story of Hitler’s British Traitors, and of the Security Service’s to catch them, was a close-guarded secret. The refusal by successive governments to reveal the truth ensured that academics and historians falsely argued that the so-called “Fifth Column” was a myth.
The files on Leigh Vaughan-Henry and hundreds of other wartime pro-Nazi spies, saboteurs and traitors show that it was all too real. But until all the records are open the full breadth of their treachery remains unclear. It is high time to consign this secrecy to the dustbin of history.