Straw puts blame on Thatcher for cover-up
CONSERVATIVES ROUNDED furiously on former Labour minister, Mr Jack Straw, who yesterday laid some of the blame for the cover-up into the Hillsborough football stadium disaster at the door of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
The independent inquiry into Hillsborough published on Tuesday showed that Mrs Thatcher feared the impact on South Yorkshire police, and the police generally, of criticism from the original Taylor investigation into the tragedy, which left 96 dead.
In addition, it was clear that Downing Street under Thatcher knew that some of the police statements made at the time had been falsified, or doctored – with one official then describing such conduct as “depressingly familiar”.
In its findings, the investigation pointed to one Cabinet document where Mrs Thatcher “expressed her concern that the ‘broad thrust’ of the Taylor Report constituted a ‘devastating criticism of the police’.” However, it is clear that many of Mrs Thatcher’s opinion were formed when she visited the morning after the tragedy – where she, too, was told by police that Liverpool fans were to blame for causing the loss of life.
Before the Taylor report was published – one that blamed the police, but which did not expose the extent of the cover-up by senior officers, the prime minister was warned that “senior officers in command were defensive and evasive witnesses”. “Neither their handling of problems of the day nor their account of it in evidence showed the qualities of leadership to be expected of their rank,” she was told, apparently by then home secretary, Mr Douglas Hurd.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Straw said Mrs Thatcher, who had relied heavily on the police to break the miners’ strike in 1984, had encouraged many in uniform to believe that they were exempt from punishment.
“The Thatcher Government, because they needed the police to be a partisan force, particularly for the miner strikes and other industrial troubles, created a culture of impunity. I think the police service (thought) they really were immune from outside influences.
“They thought they could rule the roost and that is what we absolutely saw in south Yorkshire,” said Mr Straw.
Mrs Thatcher is now suffering from dementia and frail, leading some Conservatives to believe that the Straw attack was unfair – given that the investigation did not isolate her for blame.
“Police habitually behave in a tribal fashion and they cover up for each other. That Conservative government did more to open up what happened in police stations than any other government,” said former Conservative minister, Mr David Mellor.
Meanwhile, former Conservative MP Sir Irvine Patnick, one of those most deeply involved in blackening the names of Liverpool fans, last night issued a full apology for his role in briefing journalists and other MPs. Saying he was “appalled and shocked” by the extent of the police’s deceit, he accepted he had passed on “wholly inaccurate, misleading and plain wrong” information “without asking further questions”.
However, his apology did nothing to stem calls that he should be stripped of his knighthood, led by the Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, though No 10 Downing Street insisted such decisions are made by an independent committee and not by the Prime Minister.