Exclusive: Margaret Thatcher’s ministers to be interviewed by police watchdog over Hillsborough disaster

Did senior officers tell the PM that drunken Liverpool fans were to blame for the crush that killed 96?

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Ministers from the Thatcher government are to be interviewed by the police watchdog to discover if senior officers told the then Prime Minister that drunken Liverpool football fans were to blame for the Hillsborough disaster.

The then sports minister, Colin Moynihan, and the Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, were at Hillsborough the day after the tragedy, when Margaret Thatcher was briefed by the then Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, Peter Wright, who died in 2011.

The Sun’s former editor, Kelvin MacKenzie, has given a statement to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) saying that his infamous front page 25 years ago – headlined “The Truth”, which accused some Liverpool fans of urinating over officers and picking the pockets of victims – was supported by what the Prime Minister was told at the ground on the day after the fatal crush.

Mrs Thatcher, accompanied by ministers, football officials, police and aides, spoke with Mr Wright on 16 April 1989, the day after the tragedy. The Hillsborough Independent Panel, reporting in 2012, said there appeared to be no record of the Chief Constable’s briefing to the Prime Minister and to Douglas, now Lord, Hurd.

Mr MacKenzie and former Sun political editor Trevor Kavanagh have told the IPCC in the past month that the late Baroness Thatcher’s former foreign-policy adviser Charles Powell confirmed the drunken-fans story to Mr Kavanagh in Westminster before the story went to press on 19 April.

The story was based on allegations about fans’ behaviour contained in a Sheffield news agency report that featured comments by police officers and a local MP.

The Sun story and the headline sparked a damaging backlash on Merseyside against the newspaper after it was seen to blame Liverpool supporters for the deaths of 95 fans. (The death toll later rose to 96.)

Mr MacKenzie said he was told by officials from the watchdog that they planned to interview Charles, now Lord, Powell, and Lord Moynihan, at the earliest opportunity. The IPCC declined to comment.

Lord Powell told The Independent that he did not recall giving any briefing to the press about the disaster and had not been at Hillsborough during the tour with police. “I wouldn’t have been in a position to confirm anything,” he said. “I don’t have the slightest recollection, we’re talking about 25 years. I honestly don’t think so.”

Mr MacKenzie was interviewed by police last month. Mr Kavanagh was interviewed by the IPCC last Friday. “If you got something from a trusted source and you confirmed it separately with a conversation from someone reporting to the Prime Minister, you could scarcely ask for better sources,” said Mr Kavanagh.

Mrs Thatcher was accompanied on the tour of the ground by a group that included Bernard Ingham, then her press secretary; Colin Moynihan; Douglas Hurd, and the then chairman of the Football Association, Bert Millichip. The group also included David Duckenfield, the Hillsborough match commander for South Yorkshire Police on the day of the disaster.

Sir Bernard said that he had not been contacted by the IPCC to give his account of the meeting. “I’ve not heard a thing,” he said. Lord Moynihan declined to comment. Messages left for Lord Hurd were not returned.

Mr MacKenzie apologised for the headline after the publication of the Hillsborough Panel Report in 2012, which found there was no evidence to back the suggestion that alcohol had a role in the tragedy.

The IPCC inquiry, which is looking at the aftermath of the tragedy, is separate from the police inquiry set up by the present Home Secretary, Theresa May, into events leading up to the stadium crush. That inquiry, Operation Resolve,  has prepared a report for the coroner for his own year-long inquiry, which started this week.