The price of a slice of the truth

Nearly 350 years ago William Prynne, a lawyer from Lincoln’s Inn, found himself in a dank and dirty corner of the Tower of London.
It was a place where soldiers and civil servants refused to work ‘for fear of fouling their fingers, spoyling their cloathes, endangering their eyesight and healths by the cankerous dust and evil scent.’
Prynne was King Charles II’s new keeper of the National Archives.
And he was no stranger to the Tower. He had been jailed for life, had his cheeks branded with the letters SL – for seditious libel – and his ears chopped off, for a pamphlet attacking actresses and, by implication, Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I.
A report of  the trial of William Prynne Esq, in the Star Chamber, for writing and publishing 'A Scourge for Stage-Players,' can be found in the Archives. Subsequent keepers have been less harshly treated.
Prynne wrote: ‘In raking up this dung heap I found many rare antient precious pearls and golden records &c.’
It is a sentiment echoed every day in the modern National Archives building at Kew, where researchers request 600,000 document files a year and millions of documents are viewed online.
These are just some of the gems from my researches, many of them published for the first time, but none of them worth losing an ear for.

© These pages and their content are copyright of Peter Day 2014.

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Yuri Andropov

Thatcher refused to spare KGB chief's blushes over spy trial

Cabinet Secretary Sir Robert Armstrong tried to keep Soviet leader Yuri Andropov’s name out of a British spy trial to avoid embarrassing him.
He was over-ruled by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, according to newly released documents at the National Archives.
Canadian professor Hugh Hambleton was being tried on two charges of selling Nato secrets to the Russians during a 30 year career as a KGB agent.
The case, in December 1982, was heard only two weeks after Andropov had been appointed Soviet leader in succession to Leonid Brezhnev. For the previous 15 years he had been head of the KGB.
Professor Hambleton told investigators that during a visit to Moscow organised by his KGB handlers in 1975 Andropov had been a special guest at a dinner in his honour. After a discussion about international politics, Andropov had thanked him for his work, said he hoped he could play a role in world trouble spots in the future, and suggested he should become a Canadian member of parliament in order to act as an agent of Soviet influence.
Although parts of the case were heard in camera, to protect Nato secrets, the Attorney General, Sir Michael Havers, was expected to mention the dinner in open court.
Sir Robert (now Lord) Armstrong, wrote to the Prime Minister: ‘I think you will want to see this immediately. The Russians, not understanding British justice, will no doubt believe that we have organised that the story about Andropov should come out now, as an unfriendly act. I will explain tomorrow whether it really is inevitable that this story should come out in the evidence.’
Mrs Thatcher replied curtly: ‘This is for the Attorney General’s decision. We can’t interfere in any way.’
Mr Andropov may well have wondered about the timing of the trial, as a result of which Professor Hambleton was jailed for ten years. He had been unmasked as a Soviet agent three years earlier by the Canadian intelligence service.
They had found sophisticated equipment for decoding radio messages in his flat in Quebec and under questioning he admitted handing over thousands of pages of documents, many of them Top Secret, while working as a Nato economist.
But the Canadians were doubtful that they could secure a conviction for spying, because he had not betrayed Canadian secrets, and he was granted immunity from prosecution in return for a full confession.
Sir Robert had informed Mrs Thatcher about the case when Prof Hambleton visited Britain in 1980 but no action was taken. It was only when he returned to Britain in 1982 that he was invited to attend a debriefing session with police Special Branch and subsequently arrested and charged.



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