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Thatcher Documents on Hillsborough Misinformation Leaked

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According to documents seen by the BBC, Margaret Thatcher was informed that the chief of Merseyside police and other high ranking officers blamed Liverpool fans for events at Hillsborough soon after the disaster which took the lives of 96 supporters in 1989. It's one more piece of the puzzle for those still demanding the full truth over twenty years later, yet despite that no release of behind the scenes information is a bad thing for those seeking justice, there is more than a hint of the political in these latest revelations.

In the simplest terms, it's a leak that seems intended to cast Thatcher in a more positive light than the average Liverpool fan would be inclined to see her in, laying as it does at least a portion of the blame at the doorstep of those who aided in misinforming the Prime Minister and other high ranking Tory officials in the days following the disaster. And in this particular case, it's a leak that paints the main villain as being Sir Kenneth Oxford, at the time Chief Constable of the Merseyside police.

In a show of solidarity with his institutional brethren in the days following this disaster, Oxford reported to one of Thatcher's policy advisors that his belief was that the presence of Liverpool supporters without tickets was a key factor, and one that was being overlooked in a rush by many to blame the authorities. Meanwhile, other high-ranking members of the Merseyside Police reportedly reinforced other popular mistruths, including that drunk fans were the ones to blame for the deadly crush.

Of particular note, the leaked briefing detailing this had been marked with Thatcher's initials, with key phrases such as "drunken Liverpool fans" underlined. It seems likely, then, that these reports from senior members of the Merseyside police provided a kind of character witness of Liverpool fans for the government, helping to ensure that those at the highest levels of power would view the victims in the worst possible light while being inclined to give the South Yorkshire Police every benefit of the doubt when they made similar claims.

That the opinions of those in charge of a police force that had nothing to do with the policing of Hillsborough and who had no first-hand knowledge of the disaster should not have had any place in setting opinion or policy in the Thatcher government seems clear. That they would also choose to accept the opinions of a few local Liverpool officials whose view of events were in line with what soon became the official view on the matter is also telling, as the words of Oxford and a few others stand in contrast to widespread reports that most Merseyside police officers vehemently disagreed with attempts to paint Liverpool fans as criminal when they had been the victims.

As such, today's revelations hardly get to the root of the matter—and it is quite clearly a leak that intends to shift at least some of the blame away from Thatcher herself. Still, it is at least one more piece in the puzzle, though one that for anybody at all interested in getting to the truth of the matter instead of playing politics twenty years on only gives further cause to demand the full release of all related documents.

Beyond events in the immediate aftermath, further leaked documents confirm the Thatcher government's attempts to use Hillsborough to support their efforts to deal with the hooliganism in football by treating every fan as a potential hooligan. In particular, there was a desire at the time to use the disaster as justification for pushing through legislation that would see every football fan who attended a match registered and required to carry an identification card, and on that front various aids of Thatcher are known to have labeled Lord Justice Taylor—the man leading the inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster—as being particularly "unhelpful" in the matter. Thankfully, his refusal to lend political support to the government's plan eventually led to the idea of special identification for football fans being dropped.