CYRIL Irvine Patnick, Conservative MP for Sheffield Hallam at the time of the Hillsborough disaster who was criticised in last year’s report on the inquiry for blaming drunken fans for the tragedy, has died aged 83.
After 96 football fans were crushed to death during an FA Cup semi-final in April 1989, national newspapers quoted Sir Irvine saying he had told Margaret Thatcher during a visit to the ground, of the “mayhem caused by drunks”. He said police officers had told him that they were “hampered, harassed, punched, kicked and urinated on by Liverpool fans”.
But last year the independent Hillsborough inquiry set up by David Cameron said: “The source for these despicable untruths was a Sheffield news agency reporting conversations with South Yorkshire Police and Irvine Patnick, then MP for Sheffield Hallam.”
The disclosure caused new outrage on Merseyside with Labour MP John Mann calling for Sir Irvine to be stripped of his knighthood for his “shameful and disgusting behaviour”. The former MP was utterly repentant and issued an abject apology.
In a statement last September, he said he had been given “inaccurate, misleading and plain wrong” information about what happened at the time.
“I totally accept responsibility for passing such information on without asking further questions. I am deeply and sincerely sorry for the part I played in adding to the pain and suffering of the victims’ families,” he said.
Sir Irvine was born in Sheffield one of five children of Aaron Patnick, a general dealer known throughout Sheffield, and his wife Bessie, an enterprising Jewish family whose forebears had fled from Eastern Europe and settled in Yorkshire. He was educated at the city’s Central Technical School and Sheffield Polytechnic, before going into business as a builder and surveyor.
He entered politics in 1967 when he was elected to Sheffield City Council where he used his knowledge of run-down but habitable inner-city private housing to oppose wholesale clearance and redevelopment. Later he was on South Yorkshire County Council after it was formed in 1974.
In 1987, he eventually succeeded in winning Sheffield Hallam at the age of 58, having unsuccessfully stood for a Sheffield seat in 1970 and 1979.
His experience outside Parliament was to come into its own once at Westminster. His knowledge of local government and its finances saw him quickly become chairman of the Local Government Advisory Committee.
Mrs Thatcher then appointed him a government whip, followed by promotion to Lord Commissioner of the Treasury (senior whip) a year later. It was a role in which he needed all his powers of persuasion as Tory divisions increased over Europe and MPs became increasingly rebellious.
When he later joined the Environment Select Committee, he put his experience as a builder to good use.
He was also deputy chairman of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Select Committee. He left politics after losing his seat in the 1997 general election to the Liberal Democrat Richard Allan.
As a right-winger he was against sanctions on apartheid South Africa, voted to reintroduce the death penalty, strongly supported Section 28 and opposed reducing the age of consent for homosexuals. It was he who came up with the name ‘People’s Republic of South Yorkshire’ in reference to the policies of the Sheffield City Council when led by David Blunkett.
Sir Irvine was always deeply committed to the people he represented and was not to be underestimated, even when he was in opposition on the city council.
Both Mrs Thatcher and John Major recognised his talents and he became a respected member of the Conservatives’ national executive.
It was in 1994 that his service to the party was recognised when, under Mr Major’s leadership, he was given a knighthood in addition to the OBE that he had previously received..
Away from politics he was vice-president of Sheffield’s Kingfield Synagogue, life president of Sheffield Jewish Representative Council, and a former national vice-chairman of the British Maccabi sports and youth organisation.
He was also chairman of trustees of The Trust for Research into Freemasonry, a charity established to support the Centre for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism at Sheffield University.
He is survived by Lynda his wife of more than 50 years, daughter Suzanne, and son, Matthew.