Remembering when Tony Blair's government didn't order an inquiry into Hillsborough 'because of links to Rupert Murdoch'

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[Image by CNN]
Tony Blair’s Hillsborough role has been highlighted once more (Picture: CNN)

Tony Blair’s refusal to order an inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster has been highlighted once more, after criminal charges were brought against six individuals connected with the tragedy.

It was announced today that six individuals have been charged over the incident. The most high-profile of those being the then South Yorkshire Police match commander David Duckenfield, who has been charged with manslaughter by gross negligence of 95 of the 96 Liverpool FC fans who died at the FA Cup semi-final.

The decision follows decades of a tireless commitment to seek out the truth – and, ultimately, hold those responsible to account – by campaigners who have long felt that successive governments ignored their pleas.

But the renewed focus on the disaster has led some to recall how the Blair Government refused to order an inquiry into the tragedy – reportedly in part because of the party’s close links to Rupert Murdoch.

In June 1997, a month after coming to power, the Labour Government ordered a fresh inquiry into the disaster by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith.

Jack Straw, the then Home Secretary, felt there was no need for a new inquiry, but that a judge should give such a ruling the necessary independent authority.

Mr Blair reportedly wrote in response to Mr Straw’s memo: “Why? What is the point.”

In February 1998, Mr Justice Stuart-Smith rejected any grounds for prosecutions.

In 2012, Andy Burnham said of the decision: “I was very proud that Labour fulfilled the manifesto commitment [to take a fresh look at the tragedy]. But looking back there might have been a factor of a new government not being used to holding civil servants to account properly.

“I don’t know the man [Stuart-Smith]. I never met him. I never heard from him his reasoning. It had all the feeling to me of an Establishment cover-up.

“Whether it was Stuart-Smith not wheedling out all the information or whether people didn’t co- operate with him, I don’t know. It felt to me that the Establishment closed ranks to frustrate Stuart-Smith, or he didn’t want to fully expose things.”

And three years later, Mr Burnham reportedly suggested to journalists that the Blair Government had dropped the inquiry as a favour to the media magnate.

“I wouldn’t get back into a situation where the Labour party and the leader of the Labour party is going on bended knee to certain newspapers, because I think in the end I think that gets you into difficulty,” he said.

“It seems there was a decision to leave it alone. And I don’t know all of the background to all of the decision-making but in 1998 after the [Justice] Stuart-Smith inquiry, a decision was taken to draw a line under it and leave it in that position and it was better not to carry on looking into it. Events have shown it was the wrong decision.”

He did not directly name Mr Blair as responsible for the decision.

Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper had backed Mr Blair during the 1997 election.

The paper’s coverage of the tragedy has been heavily criticised over the years, and many Liverpudlians still refuse to buy the paper.

The Sun has since apologised for the front page, in which it said Liverpool fans had urinated on rescue workers and officers and pickpocketed victims.

The paper has also firmly denied any suggestion influence was put on Mr Blair to drop any inquiry, describing them as a “nonsense conspiracy theory”. It has said it has “always cooperated fully with the Hillsborough Inquiry and has provided evidence and testimonies to the panel”.

At the time, Mr Blair refused to comment on the speculation. Yahoo News has contacted his representatives for comment.

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