Margaret Thatcher faced a personal bill of £1,789 from the Foreign Office to pay for the costs of the operation to find her son, Mark, after he went missing for six days in the Sahara when he took part in the Paris-Dakar rally.
The Downing Street file also shows that the prime minister and her press secretary, Bernard Ingham, were concerned that Mark might be unable to resist an offer from a newspaper to buy his exclusive story.
Thatcher, then 28, took part in the punishing rally in January 1982 with few preparations. He drove a Peugeot 504; Anne-Charlotte Vernay was his French co-driver, and the mechanic, also French, was Jean Garnier. Their car broke an axle 250 miles from the Algerian oasis city of Tamanrasset. The race organisers did not know the whereabouts of the trio.
The newly released Downing Street file confirms that it took four Algerian aeroplanes and a helicopter and three French aircraft to find Thatcher. His father, Denis, flew out to help the search and an RAF Hercules was diverted to the area. It was six days before he was found, alive and well.
During that time messages of concern had flooded into Downing Street from Ronald Reagan, François Mitterrand and Indira Gandhi, among others. Reagan told her: “Our hearts are with you.” Thatcher replied: “Thanks for phoning Ron. Love to Nancy.”
When the question of the cost was initially raised with the prime minister after her son’s safe return, she wrote on 12 February 1982: “I must pay the £1,191. We can therefore say that no extra cost has fallen on the British taxpayer. To who do I make out the cheque?”
She did not forget to ask for a receipt from the Foreign Office when the final reckoning came through at £1,774 as it passed on to her the cost of putting up a Swiss rally driver who had been the last to see Thatcher when he broke down.
It was, of course, not the whole cost faced by the British taxpayer for rescuing him. The original Foreign Office estimate was £2,359, but the bill was whittled down on the grounds that much of the cost of airfares, telephone calls and telegrams could be regarded as official diplomatic or consular activity.
The cost of flying Denis Thatcher out to Algeria was met by Lord Laing of Dunphail, one-time president of United Biscuits, former treasurer of the Conservative party and a close friend of Margaret Thatcher. Laing accompanied Denis, flying him out in his United Biscuits corporate jet.
The Algerians picked up the hotel bills, including a “liberal dispensation to all and sundry” of drinks after Thatcher’s arrival, which at one point the hotel manager declared to be “on the house”.
Six months later the Foreign Office asked the prime minister for a further £15.16 to pay the landing charges for the plane in which her husband had arrived in Algeria.
The PM, with Ingham, was worried that her son would not be able to resist a newspaper offer.
“It is absolutely crucial, in view of the expense run up in the search, that Mark resists every blandishment on the part of any individual newspaper to buy up his story. He must show no partiality, but deal evenhandedly with all in open press conference so that no one can level charges against him,” Ingham advised on 14 January.
The prime minister agreed that action should be taken to stop Mark selling his story.
Mark he told the Guardian in 2004 that the other rally drivers tried to help. “The others stopped too, took a note of where we were and went on. But the silly bastards, instead of telling everyone we were 25 miles east when they finished the section, they told them we were 25 miles west.”
Cabinet papers on spies, Michael Fagan, football and Keith Joseph
Soviet spies The Russians used civilian passenger flights to conduct secret cold war spying missions over the United Kingdom, according to the newly released cabinet papers.
Some Russian passenger aircraft would switch off radar transponders broadcasting their altitude before veering off their approved flightpaths to gather intelligence over sensitive targets.
In a memorandum marked “secret UK US eyes only”, the defence secretary, John Nott, told Margaret Thatcher that the RAF had been monitoring hundreds of Warsaw Pact civilian flights through UK airspace each month.
“One incident of particular interest took place on 9th November, when an Aeroflot IL62 made an unauthorised and unannounced descent from 35,000ft to 10,000ft just below cloud level, to fly over RAF Boulmer, a radar station currently being modernised. It subsequently climbed back to 37,000ft,” Nott wrote. He said that the same aircraft had flown over the American naval base at Groton, Connecticut, when the first Trident submarine was being launched, adding: “You will recall that as a result of this incident the president banned Aeroflot flights over the USA for a short period.”
Michael Fagan The cabinet was told on Thursday 15 July 1982 that the break-in in the Queen’s bedroom by an intruder, Michael Fagan, had been “primarily due to human error” rather than to any defect in Buckingham Palace’s security arrangements.
The home secretary, William Whitelaw, told the cabinet that division of responsibility for the security of the royal family, which had existed for many years with the approval of the palace authorities, would have to be amended.
“He intended to announce the appointment of a very senior police officer, whose selection he would personally approve, to take charge of the security arrangements for all members of the royal family,” the confidential cabinet minutes report.
Football The 1982 World Cup in Spain triggered tension in Whitehall. A letter to Thatcher’s principal private secretary, Sir Clive Whitmore, said that although Argentina was in a separate group to England, Scotland and Northern Ireland they might eventually meet. “Sports ministers have issued advice discouraging British sportsmen and women from competing with Argentine representatives either in the UK or in Argentina but have made no move in respect of meetings on neutral territory,” the note said.
The cabinet secretary, Robert Armstrong, argued that Argentina should withdraw. The competition began on 13 June; the war formally ended the following day. Scotland went out in the first round. Argentina was knocked out in the second round without meeting a UK team.
Sir Keith Joseph When Downing Street’s family policy group asked cabinet ministers for ideas to “renew values in society”, the then industry secretary, Sir Keith Joseph, bemoaned the “sharply rising trend in young irresponsible parents, with the least mature from the least good homes”.
He proposed a series of “short scare films” to deal with the problem of teenage pregnancies: “One possibility – delicate and fraught with risks – would be to try to use, in connection with pregnancy, the approach used in connection with cigarette smoking – that is fear,” he wrote to Thatcher in a policy paper.
John Sparrow, head of the cabinet’s thinktank, the Central Policy Review Staff, told Thatcher: “Sir Keith is on important but sensitive ground”, which seems to have halted its progress.