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UK Confidential Monday, 1 January, 2001, 00:45 GMT
Hain faced prosecution
Peter Hain with another anti-apartheid demonstrator, 1970
Peter Hain (left): Campaign concerned government
It may seem like ancient history now, but in the UK of 1970 the movement against Apartheid South Africa was only just starting. And documents disclosed today reveal that the government considered prosecuting the movement's leader - the now Labour minister Peter Hain.

In 1970, Peter Hain and others launched what they believed was a small campaign to disrupt the year's Cricket tour of the UK by the South African team.

But it didn't just result in the tour being cancelled - it brought the movement to the attention of the international media and led to such consternation that the Cabinet considered taking action against its leaders.

The papers released today show that Harold Wilson's government considered charging the then 20-year-old Hain with conspiracy - a charge that could have left him in jail.

But the files also reveal another possibility - that Hain and others were under secret service surveillance from MI5.

"Radical elements"

At one Cabinet meeting, the then home secretary James Callaghan told his colleagues that they needed to separate moderate opponents of the campaign from the "more radical elements".

These radical elements "were believed to have been in touch with extremist coloured organisations".
Peter Hain protesting in London
Protests: Caught media's attention

The campaign against the tour had brought pressure on the UK from abroad, with a threatened mass boycott by African and Asian nations of the impending Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.

On April 30, James Callaghan told the Cabinet that he intended to send a "firm reply" to a letter from Hain demanding assurances that the police would not adopt "discriminatory methods" in dealing with any protests.

The ministers agreed they must rebut any "insinuations" that the police would not be even-handed.

Rather ironically, they then went on to discuss what pre-emptive legal action could be taken against Hain and other protest leaders.

According to the minutes, "It was suggested that if evidence came to light suggesting the Stop the 70 Tour organisation or other bodies opposed to the South African tour were concerting plans to interfere with cricket matches against the South Africans, this might lay them open to prosecution for conspiracy, even before such plans had actually been put into operation.

"It was therefore important that nothing should be said in correspondence with Mr Hain or any other of the parties concerned which might prejudice this possibility."

Panic in government

With Hain's campaign apparently willing to break civil laws to maintain the pressure against the Tour taking place, the atmosphere in Government was charged.

Peter Hain today
Peter Hain today: Foreign Office minister
The then junior defence minister Roy Hattersley rebuked the Chief of Staff of the Army's Northern command for lending barbed wire coils to Yorkshire Cricket Club to reinforce its defences against attacks - something which breached military regulations.

At the same time, the Prime Minister set up a secret committee to work out if it would be possible to ban the South African cricket team from entering the UK.

Callaghan relaxed

Despite political pressure mounting from the Conservatives - who would form a new government within weeks - Home Secretary James Callaghan appeared relaxed.

"Although some members of (the MCC) would die in the last ditch rather than call the tour off, there are almost certainly those whose only desire now is to get off the hook - especially if the Government can be made the scapegoat of cancellation," he wrote to Wilson.

"Our present object, therefore, is to intensify the pressures by all the unofficial means we can find in the hope that the nerve of the Cricket Council will crack."

With an election looming, Wilson wasn't so sure.

An official wrote: "The Prime Minister said that he had been going over in his mind the question of sending for the Cricket Council to urge them to call off the tour. The danger was that this might result in a rebuff."

Callaghan was eventually persuaded by the PM to confront the Cricket Council. On May 21 they complied with the government's wishes.

Campaigner's suspicions

Reflecting on what happened at the time, Peter Hain, now the Foreign Office's minister for Africa, said that they knew how much the government wanted to get rid of the campaign.

"We knew that we were under surveillance," he told UK Confidential.

"Our phone was tapped and I think that we had people on our committee and in our meetings who were probably agents of one sort or another.

"What started off as a very small protest campaign ended up being a campaign that went right to the top of the British domestic political stage and also an international political matter that reached into the heart of the Commonwealth relations."


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