Leaked government documents reveal Mrs Thatcher was told by an unnamed Merseyside police officer that ‘drunk Liverpool fans’ caused the Hillsborough football disaster.
Four days after Britain’s worst sporting tragedy in April 1989, a senior policy official from Number Ten met senior Merseyside officers, who claimed a “key factor” in the tragedy was the large number of Liverpool fans who turned up without tickets. Ninety six fans died following a crush at Sheffield’s Hillsborough Stadium, where Liverpool were due to play an FA cup semi final.
The BBC has seen a briefing note to the then Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher, marked ‘Confidential’, and headed “Merseyside Police views on Hillsborough.” It sets out what happened when the No 10 advisor met Sir Kenneth Oxford, who was Chief Constable of Merseyside at the time, along with other members of his senior team.
According to the letter, an unnamed officer directly blamed supporters. “One officer, born and bred in Liverpool, said 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.” That comment refers to the deaths of 39 people at the Heysel stadium in Belgium, when Liverpool fans charged rival supporters before the European cup final in 1985.
In the note, Sir Kenneth also expressed his concern over the way Liverpool’s own ground had been turned into a “shrine”, and complained about the “morbid” way the press concentrated on pictures of bodies. There was widespread anger in Liverpool after the South Yorkshire police blamed drunk and ticket-less supporters for the disaster, fuelled by coverage in The Sun newspaper. The Taylor report, which was published following an official inquiry, made it clear that the disaster was caused by the South Yorkshire force and their failure to control the crowd.
Andy Burnham, Labour MP for Leigh in Greater Manchester, told the BBC “These papers seem to confirm what we’ve believed for many, many years – that immediate attempts were made from the highest levels to shift the blame onto the supporters and away from the police.” The Merseyside Chief Constable, Jon Murphy said the force had been made aware of the existence of a document – but added: “It is inappropriate to comment any further on its content.” He said the force understood the “profound impact” of the 1989 tragedy and continued to extend their deepest sympathies to those involved.
The Hillsborough Independent Panel, set up three years ago, is reviewing classified government and police records relating to the disaster. Last year, the Information Commissioner said it was in the public interest to release the documents in full, and the Government said it would publish its files through the panel. However, victims’ families have now discovered the papers aren’t expected to be made available until the autumn.