There have been calls for MI6 to open its files to reveal the truth about its role in the abduction and assassination of Patrice Lumumba, Congo’s first democratically-elected Prime Minister, following claims that it was behind what has been described as “the most important assassination of the 20th century”.

Calder Walton, whose new book on British intelligence prompted the claims, said the only way to verify them was for MI6 to release its classified Congo files.

“The revelations … about the involvement of the Secret Intelligence Service in Lumumba’s killing are an interesting twist in this story. However, until SIS releases records from its own archives, it is impossible to substantiate those revelations with documentary evidence…Only then will historians be able to place SIS in the position it deserves in the history of anti-colonial movements in Africa and elsewhere,” Mr. Walton told The Times .

In his book, Empire of Secrets: British intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire , he argues that jury is still out on Britain’s role.

“The question remains whether British plots to assassinate Lumumba … ever amounted to anything. At present, we do not know,” he writes. However, Labour peer, Lord David Edward Lea, has claimed that a former senior MI6 officer admitted her part in “organising” the assassination during an informal conversation with him.

Speculation

Lumumba, hailed “the hero of Congolese independence” from Belgium in 1960, was shot dead on January 17, 1961.For years, there has been speculation about UK role. In 2000, the BBC reported that in the autumn of 1960 — three months before the murder — an MI5 operative in the British embassy in Leopoldville suggested “Lumumba’s removal from the scene by killing him”.

U.S. documents from the time point to Washington’s role in covert assassination plots — the most famous being a CIA plot to poison Lumumba’s toothbrush by smuggling a poisoned toothpaste into his bathroom.