Hillsborough documents blame fans

 

Former prime minister Margaret Thatcher was told that a senior Merseyside Police officer blamed "drunken Liverpool fans" for the 1989 Hillsborough football stadium disaster, according to leaked government papers.

The documents show that four days after the tragedy, a member of Mrs Thatcher's No 10 policy unit met senior Merseyside officers who told her large numbers of Liverpool fans turning up without tickets had been a "key factor" in what happened.

Ninety-six fans died following a crush on the overcrowded terraces at the stadium in Sheffield where Liverpool were due to play an FA Cup semi-final match in April 1989.

There was deep anger in the city after South Yorkshire Police, who were responsible for policing the game, blamed Liverpool fans who turned up drunk, late, and without tickets, for what happened.

However the papers, obtained by BBC Radio 4's The World at One suggest that view was shared by their colleagues on Merseyside itself.

They include a note addressed to Mrs Thatcher dated April 20 1989 headed "Merseyside Police views on Hillsborough" and marked "Confidential".

It contains an account of what was said to be a long-planned meeting between the No 10 adviser and the then Merseyside chief constable Sir Kenneth Oxford and other senior officers from the force.

According to the note, Sir Kenneth 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."

Another officer - who was not named - was said to have directly blamed the supporters.

"One officer, born and bred in Liverpool, 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 note said.

Thirty-nine people had died at the Heysel stadium in Belgium when rioting Liverpool supporters charged Juventus fans before the 1985 European Cup final.

Sir Kenneth, who died in 1998, was also said to have expressed concern at the way Liverpool's ground at Anfield had been turned into a "shrine" by grieving fans.

"He deplored the press's morbid concentration on pictures of bodies. He was also uneasy about the way in which Anfield was being turned into a shrine," the note said.

The note is initialled "MT", suggesting it was read by Mrs Thatcher, and the phrase "drunken Liverpool fans" is one of a number of passages underlined by hand.

The programme said none of the papers it had seen referred to the views of the South Yorkshire force.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel, set up in 2009, is currently reviewing all the official papers relating to the disaster with a view to their eventual release later this year.

Families of the victims reacted angrily to the views expressed by Sir Kenneth and his colleagues about the Liverpool fans.

Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son, James, died in the tragedy and who now chairs the Hillsborough Families Support Group, branded the comments a "disgrace".

"They watched videos of what happened that day and they (have seen) survivors running along with bodies and maybe people who may be still alive on hoardings. They were the heroes that day," she told The World at One.

"I find all of that absolutely appalling. Ninety-six lives and he was uneasy about it made into a shrine.

"The people who were there that day - the survivors, the fans - all needed somewhere to go to show respect and to be grateful that no more had died. He was ashamed that was made into a shrine. How appalling is that?"

Sheila Coleman of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign said she was disgusted but not surprised at the views expressed by the police.

"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," she told the programme.

"We are obviously disgusted with the views of Merseyside Police but to some of us that will come as no surprise."

She also expressed concern at the timing of the leak and the fact that none of the papers related to the South Yorkshire force.

"That makes us very suspicious of how this information was leaked," she said. "Merseyside Police would have been informed by South Yorkshire Police.

"We find it a strange coincidence that this information is leaked only days after we found out the panel are not going to report until the autumn."

Richard Kemp, Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate for Liverpool, said: "The appalling news that Margaret Thatcher was being briefed by the police that Liverpool fans were drunk explains a lot in terms of the way the issues have been dealt with by central government for the past 23 years.

"I am delighted that this Government is releasing all documents, no matter how sensitive they are, so that grieving families can at last feel that all the truth has been brought into the public view."

Mrs Aspinall later said she hoped there would be no further leaks, saying the independent panel should be allowed to "release the full picture".

She said: "The panel is there to scrutinise the documents and present a balanced report.

"It doesn't help the families of the victims, the survivors or the fans to have pieces of the jigsaw come out piece by piece, that is not how we will get to the truth."

PA

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