Thatcher's Hillsborough files must be released

Margaret Thatcher

The government has been ordered to make public documents revealing discussions which the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher held about the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster, where 96 Liverpool fans were killed and for which the police were later blamed.

The Information Commissioner has now ruled that releasing the files would be in the public interest.

His judgment states that the "specific content of the information in question would add to public knowledge and understanding about the reaction of various parties to that event, including the Government of the day, in the early aftermath".

'Unjustified and excessive'

This is in response to a freedom of information application made by the BBC over two years ago. The Commissioner also strongly criticised the Cabinet Office for its "unjustified and excessive" delays in handling the BBC's request.

The Liverpool supporters were killed in an appalling crush of fans within the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield, where the club was playing an FA Cup semi final. A subsequent inquiry held that the main reason for the overcrowding was the failure of police control.

Mrs Thatcher was briefed about the disaster in the days that followed it, and it was discussed at a number of meetings. The records to be disclosed include reports presented to her, correspondence between her office and that of the Home Secretary Douglas Hurd, and minutes of meetings she attended.

Some campaigners for the families of the victims have suggested that Mrs Thatcher sought to avoid the police being criticised.

'Diminishing case'

The meetings involved include a cabinet meeting. It is unusual for the Commissioner to order the disclosure of cabinet minutes, due to the need to protect the convention of collective responsibility.

The Commissioner argued that due to the reduction of the 30 year rule "there is a diminishing case for withholding information over 20 years old". Gordon Brown as prime minister pledged to reduce the existing 30 year period for making many state documents public, and the coalition government is starting to implement this plan.

In December 2009 the Labour government also set up an independent panel to review the documentation about the Hillsborough tragedy to assess what should now be made public. The Cabinet Office maintained that no material should be disclosed before the panel finishes its work, planned for next year. But the Commissioner discarded this as an irrelevant argument, since the panel had not existed at the time in April 2009 when the BBC's request was made.

The government now has to release the documents or appeal to a tribunal.

The Cabinet Office was recently compelled by the Information Commissioner, Chris Graham, to sign an undertaking to improve the way it handles FOI requests. Mr Graham took action against it because of the frequent severe delays in the Cabinet Office's handling of FOI applications.

Martin Rosenbaum Article written by Martin Rosenbaum Martin Rosenbaum Freedom of information specialist

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  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    You really need to get your FACTS straight about Hillsborough. A lot of your fellow Sheffield residents don't share your views, and a lot helped distraught and traumatised fans such as me. FACT the scenes outside the stadium was down to the police and their failures. FACT the deaths were caused by Duckenfield's failure to close off the tunnel. FACT the Taylor Report blamed the police JFT96 YNWA

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    @Sheffield_city Here's a thought,have you ever considered why there isn't more evidence on camera of what happened outside the stadium?
    Might it have been on the CCTV tapes that mysteriously went missing from the police control room on the night of the disaster? Maybe their whereabout could have been revealed in the 400+ statements made by SYP officers that were amended?

    Too MUCH blame?


  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    About time its been far too long.. Justice for the 96... Hope each and every piece of information is released. JFT96

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    @CNHedley I can't see any abuse regarding Sheffield_city's comments.
    There are comments relating to facts established by the official Taylor report but I wouldn't consider it to be undue criticism to make reference to those.
    Unfortunately, this is 'one of those' where people like myself that were nearly killed by police actions and defamed by their cover up just won't let things go unchallenged.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I cannot believe that it has taken so long to get this information out in the public domain. But, I have a very bad feeling that papers/ information will be "missing". There is still a very long way to go.
    Sheff_City: There is the Taylor report to start and if that was not enough, just look at the press and police in the last month to give you a hint. Please read up on it.


Comments 5 of 33



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