Hillsborough papers: Thatcher's concern about police criticism by Taylor
- 12 September 2012
- From the section UK Politics
Margaret Thatcher had concerns that a report into the Hillsborough disaster constituted a "devastating criticism" of police, newly released papers show.
The then prime minister made the remark in response to a civil servant's memo about the conclusions of the Taylor report into the 1989 tragedy.
The memo said then Home Secretary Douglas Hurd intended to welcome the "broad thrust" of the report.
But the PM urged him to welcome its "thoroughness and recommendations".
The details are contained in previously unpublished cabinet papers about the disaster, in which 96 Liverpool football fans lost their lives.
David Cameron issued a "profound apology" on Wednesday after an independent report into previously unseen documents showed the police had failed to do enough to help victims and had also tried to blame Liverpool fans.
'Enormity of disaster'
Among the new documents released on Wednesday was a memo from a senior civil servant to Baroness Thatcher about the interim report into the tragedy by Lord Justice Taylor.
She was told the August 1989 report had found that the chief superintendent in charge at Hillsborough had "behaved in an indecisive fashion" and senior officers had infuriated the judge by seeking to "duck all responsibility when giving evidence" to his inquiry.
The memo made it clear that Mr Hurd thought South Yorkshire Chief Constable Peter Wright would have to resign, adding: "The enormity of the disaster, and the extent to which the inquiry blames the police, demand this."
And it added: "The defensive, and at times close to deceitful, behaviour by the senior officers in South Yorkshire sounds depressingly familiar. Too many senior policemen seem to lack the capacity or character to perceive and admit faults in their organisation."
The report, the memo added, would "sap confidence in the police force" and could encourage aggressive behaviour by fans who would feel "vindicated" by its conclusions.
But in a handwritten note, Mrs Thatcher made it clear that she did not want to give the government's full backing to Lord Taylor's criticisms, only to the way in which he had conducted his inquiry and made recommendations for action.
She wrote: "What do we mean by 'welcoming the broad thrust of the report'? The broad thrust is devastating criticism of the police. Is that for us to welcome? Surely we welcome the thoroughness of the report and its recommendations - M.T."
The prime minister had already been warned the interim report was "very damning" of police but attached "little or no blame" to Liverpool fans.
The papers also provide detail about the logistics of Baroness Thatcher's visit to Sheffield on the day after the Hillsborough disaster, and her attendance at a memorial service in Liverpool, but do not reveal what briefing she was given by South Yorkshire Police.
The papers also show the government briefly considered withdrawing from the 1990 World Cup in Italy in response to the Hillsborough tragedy.
The possibility was discussed by a government committee amid fears that the tournament would provide a "natural focus" for hooliganism.
In a letter to Mrs Thatcher in September 1989, the then deputy prime minister Geoffrey Howe said it would be "premature to reach a firm view" on the team's participation.
But he wrote that should England pull out "the likelihood is that the determined hooligans will make their way to Italy anyway and find a different cause to champion".
England went on to reach the semi-finals of Italia 90.