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Cabinet’s Hillsborough appeal to Information Tribunal sparks outcry

A hundred thousand people have signed a petition calling on the Cabinet Office to release documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act showing the advice to Margaret Thatcher at the time of the Hillsborough disaster.

Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, has ruled that the government must release papers presented to the then prime minister and minutes from cabinet meetings about the tragedy.

However, the Cabinet Office has now lodged an appeal with the Information Tribunal, which blocks the release of the documents in the short term, on the basis that a new inquiry has been launched.

The BBC made the original request in 2009 – on the 20th anniversary of the deadly stadium crush that killed 96 Liverpool FC fans.  When it was refused they complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Following the BBC’s request a new independent panel was set up to re-open investigations into the Hillsborough tragedy.

The cabinet has argued that is in the public interest to let the public inquiry take its course and has promised that all documents will be disclosed after the publication of the report next spring.

Martin Rosenbaum, the BBC’s freedom of information specialist, has said: “I have now looked more carefully at the terms of reference for this panel, and it is far from clear that it will actually promote the release of all the documents we asked for under FOI.

“Its planned programme of disclosures will exclude ‘information indicating the views of ministers, where release would prejudice the convention of cabinet collective responsibility’.”

However, Phil Scraton, lead investigator on the panel, told the Guardian: “The important aspect of full disclosure is that the families are the first to receive material from the panel and that it then goes more broadly into the public domain.”

As the petition now has over 100,000 signatories the issue will now be debated in parliament under the rules of the governments new e-petition scheme.

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