LEAKED DOCUMENTS HAVE revealed that then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was told that a senior police officer believed that “drunken Liverpool fans” caused the Hillsborough stadium disaster in 1989.
The official cause of the disaster was found to have been the failure of crowd control by the South Yorkshire Police force on 15 April 1989 which led to a crush that killed 96 Liverpool FC supporters and injured hundreds more at the Sheffield stadium.
In documents obtained by the BBC, briefings by the then chief constable of Merseyside Police, Ken Oxford, to the Prime Minister stated that it was his belief that “a key factor” of the disaster “was the fact that large numbers of Liverpool fans had turned up without tickets.”
The documents also disclose that the Prime Minster was told that another senior member of Merseyside Police, who is unidentified, directly blamed supporters. He was reported to have said that he was “deeply ashamed to say that it was drunken Liverpool fans who had caused this disaster, just as they had caused the deaths at Heysel.”
The BBC’s World at One programme says that the documents they have seen are mostly letters to and from 10 Downing Street and cabinet minutes that Thatcher was discussing and being told about in the immediate aftermath of the worst stadium disaster in British football history.
Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Sheila Coleman from the Hillsborough Justice Campaign said that the timing of the release of the documents was “interesting”.
“Who leaked the information? It’s strange that the minutes only mention Merseyside Police and not South Yorkshire Police. The negative comments of Merseyside police have now made for spectacularly defamatory headlines,” she said.
“This is clearly a diversion. Is it a useful diversion for the government and a smokescreen against the true facts coming out?”
Margaret Aspinall, who lost her son James in the disaster, told BBC Radio 4 earlier today that she found the disclosure of the police officers’ views at the time of the disaster to be “rather appalling”.
An independent panel established nearly three years ago has been reviewing hundreds of documents related to the disaster but these are not expected to be made public until later this year, later than was previously thought.
Last October, British MPs voted for the release of all documents relating to the disaster with one former senior government minister describing the withholding of the cabinet documents as “one of the biggest injustices of the 20th century.”
In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, South Yorkshire Police conspired to cover up their failings and shift the blame on supporters even though an independent inquiry later found the blame rested primarily with the inadequacies of policing on the day and the dilapidated stadium.
The documents also disclose that the independent inquiry, chaired by Lord Justice Taylor, was the subject of some dissatisfaction within the government of the day.
The documents today reveal that the Thatcher government was frustrated that Taylor would not adapt the inquiry to their timetable for pushing through legislation to introduce an identity card scheme for all football fans in Britain, an idea that was later scrapped.
Coleman added: “The papers also reveal that Margaret Thatcher and her government were more concerned with the potential damage that would be done to the proposed Football Spectators Bill than they were with establishing the true facts of the disaster.”