In Brief

Thatcher aides used royal baby to bury anti-nuclear protest coverage

Newly released files show Bernard Ingham urged prime minister to use photos of Prince William to combat CND

Margaret Thatcher's top advisers urged her to release photos of a baby Prince William to distract attention from a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) rally over the Easter weekend in 1983, official government papers reveal.

Newly released Downing Street files show that Thatcher's press secretary, Bernard Ingham, feared only "an assassination attempt on the pope" or "a North Sea blow out" could steal news attention from the protest and recommended the release of footage of William on his first trip to Australia.

"I think that Good Friday is a lost cause," he said in a Downing Street meeting. "This is the day when the CND chain will (or will not) be formed between Aldermaston and Greenham Common. It is also a day when there is not much sport.

"However, what would take the trick would be press and TV pictures, for the release on the evening of Good Friday and/or Saturday newspapers, of Prince William in Australia."

Consequently, when the Prince of Wales and Princess Diana landed at Alice Springs, "a rather grumpy-looking William was duly brought down the aircraft steps by his nanny to be displayed to the cameras, before being quickly taken back on board", says the BBC.

The papers also show that ministers feared protests might be so "widespread and powerful" they could stop US cruise missiles from being based at RAF Greenham Common.

An official assessment by then foreign secretary Francis Pym of the impact of the anti-nuclear movement reveals the mass protests came closer to halting the deployment of US missiles than many assumed at the time, says The Guardian.    

In a "personal and confidential" note, Pym warned Thatcher there was a risk of a mass movement and civil disobedience "so widespread and powerful that deployment of cruise missiles would actually become difficult or impossible".

A permanent "peace camp" was established by campaigners outside the RAF base in 1982, but the removal of nuclear weapons did not begin until the signing of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty between the US and the USSR in 1987.

The last missile left the site in 1991, with the campaigners staying until the perimeter fences were taken down in 2000.

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