By Andrew Redmond Barr
Investigations into the conduct of the police forces during the 1989 Hillsborough disaster are being reopened by South Yorkshire Police.
The South Yorkshire force was accused by an independent report of blaming innocent fans for the disaster, and is now voluntarily referring itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission for investigation.
The disaster, which killed 96 people in April 1989, was the result of overcrowding at the beginning of the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
Ex-Home Secretary Jack Straw has blamed Margaret Thatcher’s government for creating a “culture of impunity” in the police at the time, but also said he regretted Labour not pushing an investigation far enough during their 1997-2010 term in Downing Street.
“The Thatcher government, because they needed the police to be a partisan force, particularly for the miners strike and other industrial troubles, created a culture of impunity in the police service,” said Mr Straw.
“They really were immune from outside influences and they thought they could rule the roost and that is what we absolutely saw in south Yorkshire.”
One of Thatcher’s closest aides during government, Lord Tebbit, described the comments as “just very, very silly” and said the Thatcher government’s conscience was “clear” with regards to the police.
“I’m astonished that he should divert attention away from what we should really be talking about today, which is how we bring to book those police officers who perverted the course of justice by altering the statements of their colleagues,” he said.
“I was a Home Office minister for five years in the 1980s, I took through Parliament the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, the first time tape recorders and microphones were introduced in police stations to ensure that the police could not fit up defendants by inventing confessions.
“Our conscience is very clear on the police.”
South Yorkshire’s current chief constable said charges should be looked into. A total of 195 officers who still work for the force were on duty in Hillsborough during the disaster.
Former Conservative MP Sir Irvine Patnick, who was one of the named sources behind The Sun’s controversial coverage of the disaster has said he is “deeply and sincerely sorry” for his part in the scandal.
The Sun ran a headline claiming “The Truth” about the disaster, which made false allegations against Liverpool fans.
The Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, has said Sir Ivine Patnick’s knighthood “has brought the Honours system into disrepute” and has called for the knighthood to be stripped.
Sir Irvine said: “It is now clear that the information I received from some police officers at the time was wholly inaccurate, misleading and plain wrong.
“However I totally accept responsibility for passing on such information without asking further questions.
“So many years after this tragic event I am deeply and sincerely sorry for the part I played in adding to the pain and suffering of the victims’ families.”