Relatives of Liverpool supporters killed in the Hillsborough disaster reacted angrily last night after leaked Whitehall papers disclosed that Merseyside police wrongly blamed the tragedy on drunken fans at the time.
Confidential documents relating to the tragedy, in which 96 supporters were killed when the crowd surged forward before an FA Cup semi-final in 1989, were not due to be released until the autumn. But some of the papers obtained by the BBC yesterday revealed that the former Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher, was told by a senior Merseyside officer that drunken fans caused the crush.
There was anger in Liverpool after the tragedy that South Yorkshire Police, who were policing the match in Sheffield, had blamed supporters. But the papers show that officers in Merseyside shared their colleagues' opinion – and relayed it to Downing Street.
Four days after the disaster, a member of the Downing Street policy unit met senior Merseyside officers. According to a note of the meeting, an unnamed officer blamed the supporters for the chaos, likening it to the Heysel stadium disaster in 1985 in which 39 Juventus fans died after being charged by Liverpool supporters.It said: "One officer, born and bred in Liverpool, said that he was deeply asham- ed to say that it was drunken Liverpool fans who had caused this disaster, just as they had... at Heysel."
According to the note, Sir Kenneth Oxford, who was Merseyside Chief Constable at the time, said: "A key factor in causing the disaster was the fact that large numbers of Liverpool fans had turned up without tickets. This was getting lost sight of in attempts to blame the police, the football authorities, etc."
Sir Kenneth, who died in 1998, was also said to have expressed concern about Liverpool's ground being turned into a "shrine". The note is initialled "MT", suggesting it was read by Lady Thatcher, and the phrase "drunken Liverpool fans" has been underlined.
Sheila Coleman, of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, said: "Those of us who were around Liverpool in the 1980s are well aware of Ken Oxford's racist and bigoted views, Presumably, he recruited senior officers with a similar mindset."