Tag Archives: Hillsborough Justice Campaign

Justice, though the heavens fall

I was lucky, or unlucky depending on your perspective, to begin my legal training when it was considered Quite The Thing for everyone involved to know a little Latin. Quoting the correct words at the judge at the correct time would demonstrate that you knew your stuff and were one of the gang. Latin maxims and terms were scattered through the language of law degrees like Roman coins in the English countryside.

Thankfully saner counsel prevailed and, by the time I started venturing into courtrooms, Latin had been put to one side in favour of a legal process where the non-lawyers might stand a chance of understanding what the heck was going on. Most of the maxims I had learned gradually slipped out of my head through lack of use. But there is one phrase that stuck, although I doubt I could give you the correct pronunciation. It is this:

Fiat justitia ruat caelum

and it means, ‘let justice be done, though the heavens fall’, neatly summing up that right must prevail and damn the consequences. In a battle between procedural correctness and what is morally right, the latter should always win. Throughout history, commonly during the anti-slavery and civil rights movements in the UK and US, judges have invoked these words to give legitimacy to their actions when doing something the rulebook forbids, but which can be universally accepted as right.

These words apply perfectly to the Hillsborough inquests and the families’ long fight for justice.

The inquests relating to the deaths of the Hillsborough victims (at the time numbering 95 people, as 22-year-old Anthony Bland was still on life-support) were initially delayed while the Taylor Inquiry was ongoing and there was a possibility of criminal proceedings. Once LJ Taylor’s Interim Report was published, the inquests resumed. However, because the Director of Public Prosecutions was still determining whether criminal charges would be brought, certain of the usual inquest procedures were changed.

The Coroner decided to hold a general inquest into the circumstances leading to the disaster, followed by ‘mini-inquests’ dealing with the specific facts relating to particular victims, with a small group being considered in each session. Perhaps most unusually for an incident of this nature, the evidence would not be challenged under cross-examination, instead being presented as fact to the families. The opportunity to ask further questions was denied as the evidence could not be examined further.

An additional controversy was the Coroner’s decision not to hear evidence from after 3:15pm on the day of the disaster, as he reasoned that by that time ‘the real damage was done’ and death was inevitable. Crushing was given as the sole cause of death for all 95 victims. The 3:15pm cut-off time – chosen because the first ambulance arrived in the stadium then – meant that medical personnel did not give evidence at the inquests. A verdict of ‘accidental death’ was returned by the jury.

The families have, understandably, always found that impossible to accept, yet an application for Judicial Review failed and the Stuart-Smith Scrutiny of evidence did not recommend that the inquests be reopened. Anne Williams in particular, the mother of 15-year-old Kevin, faced with inconsistencies in the witness statements of those who last saw her son alive and the expert pathology evidence, has repeatedly sought via applications to the Attorney General to have his inquest reheard and death certificate amended. All applications were denied, citing a lack of new evidence.

Liverpool fans knew that the release of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report meant that the journey was only part of the way over. The truth is now finally revealed, but the unravelling and overturning of the many contentious decisions made after the disaster has hardly begun. And a stunning blow was to follow, as Anne Williams – having been so much a part of the fight to expose the Hillsborough cover up – announced she has terminal bowel cancer.

In a recent article for Well Red magazine, I wrote that:

for many of us, the steps that follow [the publication of the Report] will take place in locations where we have little influence, as inquiries and inquests are reopened, criminal investigations and legal processes resume.

Yet perhaps that isn’t completely the case. Anne Williams’ supporters are petitioning the Attorney General to bring forward the date of the reopened inquest into her son’s death because of her illness. At the time of writing, it has over 35,000 signatures – enough for a response from the Attorney General’s Office. So far, that response has not been favourable.

Please, if you are eligible to do so, do not let that response dissuade you from signing the petition. 100,000 signatures are needed to force a debate in the House of Commons, which could be vital in speeding up the process so that Anne may live to see its outcome. Fair and balanced Hillsborough inquests are already 23 years overdue and further delays are inexcusable. While the procedures may say one thing, the right thing to do lies in the opposite direction and so – as it seems unlikely that the heavens will fall – Anne Williams deserves justice. She and the other families have deserved nothing less since April 1989.

If you are able to, please sign the petition today. Confirmation will be sent to you by email, with a link you must click for your name to be added. Thank you for your support.

Photo from the Liverpool Daily Post

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Well Red magazine Issue 16

A captivating image from the incredible tribute from Everton at their match with Newcastle, which took place shortly after the publication of the report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel. It was the perfect choice for the cover of the latest issue of Well Red, the independent Liverpool fans’ magazine.

Issue 16 contains reflection on the disaster and the contents of the report, as well as the government and media responses to it.

I also contributed an article, about my hopes that the report’s publication can bring to an end sick terrace chanting, regardless of which club it is directed at. Take a look and let me know if you agree or otherwise!

The magazine is out now in Merseyside newsagents and can be ordered for you by your local one if you aren’t lucky enough to be in the area. Alternatively, there is a digital version available for iPad, iPhone and Android devices here.

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‘Cracker’, To Be a Somebody by Jimmy McGovern

For all the many words written about the Hillsborough Disaster in the last 23 years, some of the most powerful have come from the Liverpool writer and playwright Jimmy McGovern. His 1996 drama about the disaster is being repeated on British TV at the moment but, before watching it, I wanted to go a little further back. McGovern also wrote the criminal psychologist show ‘Cracker’ and the episodes that make up the story ‘To Be a Somebody’ – screened two years earlier than ‘Hillsborough’ – are worth tracking down if you haven’t already seen them.

Robert Carlyle’s performance as Albie Kinsella, the Hillsborough survivor struggling to cope with his father’s death from cancer, allows McGovern to explore reactions to the disaster from a number of different perspectives. He shows us the police struggling to decipher the significance of Kinsella writing the numbers ’9615498′ in his victim’s blood at the scene of their murders, a brazenly nasty journalist insisting that she as only freelanced for The S*n her conscience is clear, while Albie asserts that:

We’re getting treated like wild animals. And, yeah, one or two of us start acting like wild animals and the cages go up and ninety-six people die.

There are many details here which, while familiar to football fans in general and Liverpool fans in particular, must have shocked when broadcast on a popular, national, primetime show just five years after the disaster. The intervening years have seen them lose none of their impact. Viewers are reminded exactly how grim the early nineties were for large parts of England, our sympathies constantly provoked and confused.  We are led to feel desperately sorry for the grief which has destroyed Albie Kinsella’s family and those of his victims, yet disgusted by the journalist’s joy in instigating a bidding war for the story of her encounter with the killer. Despite telling his wife that he enjoys police work, psychologist Fitz almost gleefully tells a roomful of Manchester’s finest that Albie has:

got to kill 96 people in revenge for Hillsborough, and if there’s any justice in this world, most of them will be coppers.

Words that will return to haunt him later in the story. This was always one of the strengths of ‘Cracker’, that the police officers and title character were as flawed and three-dimensional as those they were seeking to lock up. As McGovern explains in this 2008 interview with journalist Paul Du Noyer:

 I always say the thing about ‘Cracker’ was that it was post-Hillsborough, that was the key thing for me. The way contempt for a huge sector of humanity could lead to something like that.

That mistrust and disquiet threads through the tale, perhaps most noticably in the family of a murdered shopkeeper. Of course, a major difference between drama and reality is that while McGovern’s story has the trauma of 15 April 1989 turning a gentle man into a murderer, many of those traumatised by what they witnessed on that day instead turned the anger in on themselves and died by their own hand. Others still live with the psychological effects of the disaster:

Hillsborough took away my life. It is hard to cope with sometimes. It is the first thing on my mind in the morning and the last think about when I go to bed. Every day, 365 days a year.

It is running through my head like a video tape: people screaming for help but that help never arrives – they were in pure pain and agony, that’s what goes through my mind most of all.

According to McGovern, following the screening of ‘To Be a Somebody’, members of the bereaved families asked him to help tell their story, which he did to great effect in ‘Hillsborough’. These episodes are then an invaluable prelude to that perhaps more complete story, but as drama they stand alone – as testament to what Stephen King calls,

the truth inside the lie

of fiction – that it often does as much as a factual report to illuminate and inform. It is arguable whether the Hillsborough Independent Panel report would have been commissioned without the campaign by the families which Jimmy McGovern’s writing did so much to assist. This is television at its best, controversial but not for the sake of it, challenging and ambitious in scope, disconcerting and disturbing, yet always compelling and intelligent without losing its capacity to entertain. And so I am reminded, once again, of George Orwell’s words:

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

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‘Bollocks – no one would have been killed!’

One of the first things to strike me on starting to read the report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel was, that although I considered myself to be knowledgeable about the causes of the disaster, there was much still to learn. The panel’s incredibly thorough research doesn’t begin with the disaster involving Liverpool fans which took place on 15 April 1989, but instead takes the 1946 crush at Bolton Wanderer’s ground Burden Park – which killed 33 and injured hundreds – as its starting point. By doing so, the report’s authors clearly set the events of April 1989 in the context of a series of fatal incidents which took place at UK football grounds in the post-war period.

This has the effect of making the 1989 disaster somehow less unique, while still deserving of its dubious ‘honour’ as the country’s worst ever loss of life at a football match. It appears against this background as less of a freak occurrence, one which took the police, club officials and footballing authorities by surprise, and more as something that was predicted by many and therefore should have been better anticipated and thus avoided.

That is especially true in light of events at the same ground, on the same terracing, just eight years earlier. Spurs fans were well aware of the potential for supporters getting into serious difficulty, following their own experience of an FA Cup Semi-Final at Hillsborough against Wolves in 1981:

Spurs fans faced the prospect of a pain that Liverpool fans eventually had to suffer. Those at the front were bruised and battered well before kick-off and realised quickly they simply could not escape as things got worse. Some still speak of the crowd being packed so tight that their feet were off the ground as they moved.

As noted by the Spurs fans, the reason why there are no memorials to the victims of this earlier FA Cup game is that the police reacted much more promptly to the crushes. In a move that caused Sheffield Wednesday Football Club (SWFC) officials to express their anger in a debrief with police after the game, as it made the ground ‘look untidy’, fans were permitted to sit on the perimeter of the pitch, as shown in this video:

SWFC Chairman Bert McGee didn’t contain his anger at South Yorkshire Police’s (SYP) response or his disbelief that a fatal situation could have occurred, using the words from the title of this post [quoted on p. 64 of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report]. The report states that this disagreement lead to a souring of the relationship between the club and SYP which would have consequences for the day of the disaster and its aftermath.

If the club was certain that the risks were being over-stated, one important group was less convinced, but disregarded. Football fans themselves knew very well that being herded onto terracing in numbers that rarely conformed to stipulated safe capacities, to be fenced into pens with unsuitable crush barriers and tiny perimeter gates, was asking for trouble. As fanzine When Saturday Comes noted in 1989:

Complaints about safety and comfort were ignored because they were being made by supporters. Official action will be taken now, because the same points previously raised by fans are now being made by the government and the media. Their stupidity and cowardice over a long period of time allowed Hillsborough to happen.

There has been an unprecedented show of solidarity since the report’s release from fans of other clubs, with good reason. Spurs have reasons to count their blessings, as well as Nottingham Forest – our opponents on 15 April 1989 – who know that they could easily have been allocated to the Leppings Lane terrace instead of the safer Spion Kop end. Forest knocked out Manchester United in the quarter finals while we went past Brentford to secure our place at Hillsborough. Everton and Norwich City played the other semi-final that took place that day at Villa Park and so it is fitting that the ‘Merseyside United’ tribute by Everton at their game on Monday this week was one of the most moving.

From the first chapter of its report, the Hillsborough Independent Panel makes clear that the seeds of the disaster were the unheeded warnings of earlier games at other grounds as well as at Hillsborough itself. The summary is stark:

The risks were known and the crush in 1989 was foreseeable.

Despite the many warnings, as kick off approached at 3pm on 15 April 1989, fans in the Leppings Lane central pens were once again in harm’s way:

This time, there would be no ‘untidy’ yet lucky escape.

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Hold your head up high

Everyone who knows even a little about the Hillsborough Disaster knows the name Jon-Paul Gilhooley. Whether because he was the youngest victim, aged only 10 years old, or because of his younger cousin, another little Huyton lad who didn’t die young and grew up to be Steven Gerrard. The Liverpool captain has spoken of the effect of losing Jon-Paul on his life and that of his family:

It was a difficult time to know that one of your cousins had been at the game and had been tragically crushed. Seeing the reactions of his mum, dad and family helped me drive on to become the player I have developed into today.

For me, Jon-Paul Gilhooley’s name always stands out on the Hillsborough memorial, not because he is more important than any of the other 96 people who were killed, but because I was one year older than him on that sunny day in April when Liverpool fans came from all over the country to watch a football match and not all made the return journey. For a city and many beyond it, life would never return to how it was.

As children at the time of Hillsborough, we saw our fathers and mothers – always so together and in control – left grief-stricken and powerless in the face of police and politicians’ lies. We learnt to hide our anger at playground taunts and jokes because we had to prove we were better, weren’t hooligans in embryo as they said we were. Even young Liverpool fans knew not to trust what it said in the papers, years before the Leveson Inquiry.

We saw inquests run in a way to bring shame on the worst totalitarian regime, witnessed a report by a senior judge confirming what we all knew, ignored by those that had called for it. Watched private prosecutions falter, allowing the senior police officer on duty at the ground that day to retire and spend more time with his pension. Through it all, we heard the chants from the ignorant at the other end of the ground, telling us: you did it, if it wasn’t for you we could stand, more of you should have died, you killed them.

The high-profile idiots get the media attention: the unrepentant ex-editor, the Prime Ministerial wannabe, the quiz show panel member. All prepared to use the hidden evidence and official obstructions to sound controversial and elevate their own notoriety. But actually, far worse are the everyday morons who say it to your face. One of the first conversations I had on arrival in Japan was with a fan of some no-mark club who told me ‘there were hooligans at Hillsborough though, weren’t there.’

Now imagine hearing that, hearing that you are wrong, to blame, paranoid or mawkish for 23 years, even as you try to mourn. As you try to recover from the loss of your child, parent, cousin or friend. That has been life for the Hillsborough families since the day of the tragedy.

So emotions on Tuesday were heightened. By midway through the morning here, with the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report still hours away from release, a number of news reports had already brought tears, especially this one telling of a family coping with the treatment of their seriously ill son, injured at the disaster. It seemed incredible that the families were moving closer to getting the answers they deserved, after so many setbacks.

It was afternoon in Japan when the first reports began to come through, at first shocking news – worse than even imagined – about blood alcohol tests done on Jon-Paul Gilhooley and the other child victims. Then it all followed swiftly, the Prime Minister apologised, then Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, South Yorkshire Police, so many apologies that after 23 years with none, the head began to spin. Even the S*n and its ex-editor tried to get in on the remorse,  offering too little too late.

If in fact it ever resided in Wapping, ‘The Truth’ belongs to us now.

Too many years have passed for this to really count as a victory. The Prime Minister spoke of new evidence but later amended his statement to acknowledge that all of this information had been known at the time, but deliberately concealed. It didn’t feel like a day for vindictiveness, but I felt glad that the PM at the time, Margaret Thatcher, was alive to see the scheming she must have approved fall so completely apart. I hope someone showed her the headlines.

Of course, the campaign doesn’t end here. Now the evidence is revealed, there must be reviews, reopened inquests, amended death certificates, fairer inquiries and hopefully, prosecutions to come.

But they did it. They did it for you: for all of the 96. Your mums and dads, brothers and sisters, cousins, wives, husbands, loved ones, friends – even your children – some of whom were only tiny when you were killed. They fought for you and never gave in, these ordinary yet somehow superhuman people took on the whole establishment and got them to admit what we all knew. They lied.

As our song tells us: at the end of the storm, there’s a golden sky. So long cherished as an idea and a shared goal, on Tuesday 11 September 2012, the clouds finally parted.

Justice for the 96.

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When you walk through a storm

One day soon, within my lifetime I hope, the tone of my annual posts about today’s anniversary of the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster will change from an update on the Hillsborough Justice Campaign to a simple act of remembrance and sympathy with the families of the 96 people who died.

That day seems both closer – with The Hillsborough Independent Panel (HIP) chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool set to report on its findings in the autumn – and further away than ever, as another tide of misinformation washes over the city in the wake of Alan Davies’ spectacularly insensitive comments and the reaction to the reaction to them.

Alan Davies

The TV star decided to use a football podcast to talk about Liverpool’s position of not playing matches on 15 April in largely unsympathetic terms. Since the disaster the club has received special dispensation from The Football Association (FA) not to have their league games scheduled for the date, and in 2009 even the European ruling body UEFA were happy to rearrange a Champions League fixture for the club, noticeably without attracting the ire of Mr Davies. This year, however, another potential clash arose when Liverpool secured a place in the FA Cup semi-finals set to take place this weekend. The two matches were to be played on Saturday and Sunday, with the Liverpool v Everton game eventually arranged for Saturday lunchtime. This decision seemed to cause the comedian a great deal of upset:

Liverpool and the 15th – that gets on my tits that shit. What are you talking about, ‘We won’t play on the day?’ Why can’t they?

Do they play on the date of the Heysel Stadium disaster? How many dates do they not play on?

Do Man United play on the date of Munich? Do Rangers play on the date when all their fans died in that disaster whatever year that was – 1971?

I understand – Hillsborough is the most awful thing that’s happened in my life in terms of football. It’s one of the worst tragedies in English peacetime history but it’s ridiculous this, ‘We refuse to play football on this day anymore’.

Every interview he’s [Kenny Dalglish] given this season he looks like he wants to headbutt the interviewer. This tight-mouthed, furious, frowning, leaning forward, bitter Glaswegian ranting, ‘Liverpool FC do not play on April 15th’.

Yet Liverpool’s desire to avoid playing on this date is no attempt to wallow in the self-pity we are often accused of by outsiders. Instead it is out of respect to the families of those who died, many of themselves fans or season ticket holders at the club. Today, as every year since, there will be a memorial service at Anfield and our senior players and club staff will attend. Like many Liverpool fans, I can’t imagine caring about the result of a game played on the 15th. It is a day when our thoughts are elsewhere. To believe the myth of melodramatic Scousers is to demonstrate a complete lack of awareness of the key issues of the Hillsborough Disaster and its aftermath, which ensure that it remains a raw subject, despite the passage of 23 years.

1989

Facts which are already starting to be lost in the fog of time and misinformation include these. Full details are available – along with audio clips and video footage – at this excellent and informative site. For the match, an FA Cup semi-final, Liverpool had been allocated the smaller end of Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium, despite being widely accepted as having a larger travelling support than opponents Nottingham Forest. Transport delays between Sheffield and Liverpool meant that as kick off approached, many fans with tickets were waiting outside the ground and the build up of the crowd around the small number of turnstiles created a bottleneck that lead to crushes. Everyone who has attended a popular sporting event or music concert has probably experienced the fear and pressure of a crowd building up which you are unable to escape. A request to delay the start of the game was denied and eventually the police took the decision to open the exit gates to allow faster access to the stadium.

This allowed fans to escape the crush outside only to find a much worse one waiting for them. The central pens of the Leppings Lane stand were already nearing capacity, but with no stewards positioned to direct people towards the less crowded side areas, another – fatal – bottleneck was created. Inside these central pens, people were dying of suffocation within shouting distance of members of the emergency services. Some managed to climb out, others tried to break down the fencing with their hands to relieve the pressure. The authorities’ response was to send in reinforcements to contain this ‘pitch invasion’.

The victims

In a moving tribute created for the twentieth anniversary of the disaster, the football club’s website featured the photographs, names and ages of those who died. They are a cross-section of Liverpool’s population, of any city’s inhabitants. A third of them were under the age of 18, the youngest – current club captain Steven Gerrard’s cousin – was 10 years old (a year younger than I was at the time). Two teenage sisters were killed. Friends died together, a boyfriend and girlfriend were among the dead, as were an uncle and nephew, while one family lost two sons.

One victim was on a life-support machine for four years after the disaster; he never recovered. Surviving family members speak of bereaved relatives dying in later years, having never got over the shock of losing their loved ones in such circumstances. There have been a number of suicides, including that of a man who sold his ticket to a friend who died and a Nottingham Forest fan unable to come to terms with witnessing the sight of bodies being laid on the pitch.

The aftermath

The police response as the disaster unfolded was severely lacking and later criticised by the Interim Taylor Report as ‘a failure of police control’. Placing crowd control above safety led to shocking tales from survivors of escaping the carnage, only to be pushed back into the pens by police officers. Ambulance crews were denied access to the ground as the police told them it wasn’t safe to enter due to crowd trouble. Few of the injured were admitted to hospital, with reports of fans trying to resuscitate the dying and people being taken to a makeshift morgue while their lives could perhaps have been saved if they had received medical attention.

‘There was no organised response there at all… There was nobody in charge, no plan, no organisation at all… There was no resuscitation equipment there… The scene was just absolute chaos.’

- Dr John Ashton, Professor of Medicine at the University of Liverpool, who was at Hillsborough.

The blame game

People had hardly begun to bury the dead before the cover up began. By the instruction of senior officers, comments unfavourable to the police operation were removed from police constable’s statements, as one handwritten instruction quoted by The Guardian notes:

‘Last two pages require amending. These are his own feelings. He also states that PCs were sat down crying when the fans were carrying the dead and injured. This shows they were organised and we were not. Have [the PC] rewrite the last two pages excluding points mentioned.’ [Emphasis added]

Key witnesses were not called at the inquests or cross-examined, instead police officers read out summaries of evidence of where and when people died.

Before that, and while the city of Liverpool was still numb with shock, as funerals were taking place and the pitch at Anfield became a sea of flowers and scarves left in tribute – including by Everton fans – along came Rupert Murdoch (proprietor) and Kelvin MacKenzie (editor) of the S*n newspaper, with what they considered to be the real tale of Hillsborough. As Liverpool manager (both in 1989 and again today) Kenny Dalglish remembered in his autobiography:

The press coverage was difficult to comprehend, particularly the publication of pictures which added to people’s distress. There was one photograph of two girls right up against the Leppings Lane fence, their faces pressed into the wire. Nobody knows how they escaped. They used to come to Melwood every day, looking for autographs, and that photograph upset everyone there because we knew them. After seeing that I couldn’t look at the papers again.

When the S*n came out with the story about Liverpool fans being drunk and unruly, underneath a headline ‘The Truth,’ the reaction on Merseyside was one of complete outrage. Newsagents stopped stocking the S*n. People wouldn’t mention its name. They were burning copies of it.

The Hillsborough Justice Campaign

People wondering why the Hillsborough Justice Campaign needs to exist after so long and following a number of official inquests and inquiries in the past should know that many of the families still do not know the full details of what happened to their relatives. Key questions still remain unanswered.

It is important to note that the campaign is not a historical one. This is an ongoing desire for justice for people like Anne Williams, who has evidence that the information presented at her son Kevin’s inquest was false. The coroner ruled that all victims were dead at 3.15pm – but medical personnel present at the makeshift morgue in the ground have testified that 15-year-old Kevin was alive at 4pm.

People like John Glover, quoted in this BBC story, now dying of cancer, but who wants to know what happened in his son Ian’s final hour. Since April 1989 there has been a concerted effort by South Yorkshire Police, the Thatcher government and the S*n newspaper to spread disinformation about the disaster to allow the victims to be painted as deserving of the treatment. And now the campaign is taking great strides forward – the recent parliamentary debate and the decision to release all classified Cabinet papers to the HIP inquiry – all of a sudden people like Alan Davies are popping up to condemn our inability to ‘get over it’.

Today’s anniversary

What is perhaps most saddening about the Alan Davies storm is how fans of other clubs now seem to view Hillsborough and the fight for justice as a uniquely Liverpool issue. Never mind that all fans are kept safer as a result of the change in attitudes to policing large crowds or the improvements to stadiums made after the disaster. Let’s not forget that the support received by Liverpool from fans of other teams – including our at times bitterest rivals Everton, Manchester United and Nottingham Forest – has been outstanding. But there remains a core of people who believe that Liverpool whinge about this too much, that we need to move on and renounce the ‘mawkish sentimentality’ of marking this occasion. I believe that they are wrong.

Late last night, while researching some of the points I make here, I had a frank but well-reasoned exchange of views on the subject with a writer I very much admire, Ben Six of Back Towards The Locus. In the comments below the post, Ben echoes this article by Times journalist Tony Evans, noting that Davies’ comments are not the real controversy. As Evans writes:

why, 23 years on, do we still not know the truth about a police cover-up that reached Cabinet level?

So today, as we remember those fans who went to a match and never came home, those who mourn them and the people whose lives are still scarred by the events of 23 years ago, let’s try to put the mis-spoken words of idiots out of our minds. It is all consistent with what Liverpool MP Maria Eagle has called the ‘black propaganda campaign’ orchestrated by those responsible after the disaster. Instead, fans of all clubs should come together to ensure that the 96 families – along with everyone who loves the passion and joy of attending football matches – do not have to wait too much longer to discover ‘The Truth’ of Hillsborough.

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Never Buy The S*n

I have been reading and enjoying Steven Baxter’s excellent ‘Musings Of A Monkey’ this weekend. In a chapter he describes as hastily cobbled together, but which I would call a very astute summary of the phone hacking scandal of Summer 2011, he makes the point that the subsequent closing of the News of the World so celebrated at the time was only:

speeding up the merger between the weekly and Sunday operations.

At the time the idea was officially scoffed at, but what a difference a few months makes and now the new S*n on Sunday should be in Britain’s newsagents ready for when they open in a couple of hours. Today also sees Liverpool take on Cardiff City in the Carling Cup Final at Wembley.

Regular readers of ten minutes hate may remember this post and this one, detailing the ongoing campaign by Liverpool fans to boycott the newspaper for the lies it told – under a banner headline declaring them to be ‘THE TRUTH’ – about the Hillsborough Disaster.  Full details of the paper’s lies and the fan’s campaign are available here.

Today, any day, but especially on this day: Liverpool fans ask you to remember the 96 families still seeking to know the truth about the deaths of their loved ones. Regardless of the team you support, whether you will be rooting for the Reds or the Bluebirds, don’t put money in Murdoch’s pockets.

As Billy Bragg tells it:

Tabloids making millions betting bullshit baffles brains
And they cynically hold up their hands if anyone complains
And just say “Well, we’re just giving the people what they want”
Well they’re crying out for justice, people crying out for justice

Allow your brain to remain unbaffled by bullshit.

Never buy the S*n.

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The truth

It is difficult to imagine the emotions that the families of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough Disaster must be feeling today, at the news that all government papers – including uncensored cabinet meeting minutes – are to be made available to the independent panel chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool.

The dignity with which the families have fought the official version of events, while coping with the sudden and shocking loss of their relatives, is an inspiration.  It is perhaps testament to their bravery that many of the MPs who spoke in Monday’s debate on the release of the papers were fighting back tears.  Although with emotions running so high, it was also fitting that Labour MP for Walton in Liverpool, Steve Rotherham opened his address by saying:

I have been careful not to base my account of events on emotion. I have ensured that I have clear and referenced evidence to support all my contentions.

He went on to talk about what the release of the papers will mean to those who have been campaigning for justice:

Misdirection, obfuscation and damned lies were all used as smokescreens to deflect attention away from the guilty. Institutional complacency and gross negligence, coupled with an establishment cover-up, have added to the sense that there was an orchestrated campaign to shift blame from those who were really responsible on to the shoulders of Liverpool fans. Many myths have been perpetrated about the events of 15 April 1989.

It is incredible that the families of the 96 have had to wait 22 years for these smokescreens to lift, and with an estimated 300,000 documents to be released there is still a long road to travel, but I hope that with this announcement we move another step closer to finding out the real truth of what happened that day.

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Hillsborough: another year passes

I was a little kid in 1989.  Smaller than some of the ones I now teach, a bit of a geek, perhaps too fond of my Kate Bush cassettes, spending school holidays watching Star Wars on video over and over again with my brother until we could recite whole chunks off by heart and knowing that Liverpool Football Club would always be the best in the world.

I hadn’t been to Anfield yet but thrillingly, my Dad had taken my brother to Wembley the year before.  And although that trip had literally ended in tears, I was promised that this year if we got into the FA Cup Final, it would be my turn.  I couldn’t wait.

Of course, it wasn’t to be.

I never imagined that 22 years later we would still need to be writing about what happened on 15 April 1989 in any other terms than as a memorial to those who died and to mark the date’s passing.  I couldn’t have known that the families of the 96 victims killed in the Hillsborough Disaster would still be searching for answers to crucial questions about what happened to their relatives, without which I am sure they can have no hope of finding peace.

I don’t like to use the word justice. I prefer to say that we want the full truth, and accountability. Even now, it would make a difference, alleviate some of the hurt and betrayal we have suffered for 20 years

Margaret Aspinall, Hillsborough Family Support Group, quoted in the Guardian in 2009.  Her 18 year-old son James died in the disaster

The scars caused by the events of 22 years ago are still raw and need attention if they are ever to heal.  Liverpool fan Mike Bracken wrote of his feelings of guilt and remorse at what he witnessed, in the Guardian’s extensive reports to mark the twentieth anniversary:

The terrible images of dying fans being lifted over the fences on to the pitch are now well known – but at the back of those crowded pens, away from the cameras, I witnessed more horrors. Behind the West Stand, bodies were laid out behind and to the right of the tunnel. The injured lay with the dead. Unable to administer help or determine the extent of injuries, I panicked and vainly tried to attract help

He writes of the difficulties of coming to terms with the guilt of surviving when so many others didn’t, a common factor in post-traumatic stress disorder.  A number of suicides have been reported among those who witnessed the disaster, including one of a Nottingham Forest fan watching from the opposite end of the ground.  Sheila Coleman of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign notes:

Any feelings of relief at escaping the carnage of Hillsborough were very quickly replaced by feelings of guilt. In many cases, this guilt led to people suppressing the feelings they were experiencing – almost as if they had no right to label themselves victims

22 years later I still hear from fans of other clubs and people who should know better, that these fans indeed have little right to use that word.  They tell me that it was our fault, that we were hooligans, that we were drunk and fighting, and they refuse to listen to the facts.  The newspapers reported it that way, they tell me, so there must be some truth to the stories, there’s no smoke without fire.

And that is why Hillsborough still matters, as Liverpool musician Pete Wylie said in an interview with the NME.  Read the interview and then take a look at the comments below, where these same old accusations get thrown at us again.  That is why we can’t rest until we have Justice for the 96, until their names are completely cleared.  Until any taint of suspicion is removed from them, until it is acknowledged that the only ‘crime’ committed was one we have all been guilty of, that of attending a sporting event and putting our trust in the authorities to keep us safe and bring us home again.

Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool manager then and now, says that the release of new evidence may finally give the families justice.  I hope that he is right and that their campaign doesn’t have to mark too many more anniversaries.

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A right pair of Hunts

Maybe I wrote too soon.  No sooner had we heard an MP use the example of the Hillsborough Disaster to make an intelligent and reasoned comment about the media coverage of such tragedies then we had a couple of examples that dragged us right back into the gutter.

If Liverpool fans and others who take an interest in such things were feeling like congratulations were in order for the way the debate has been altered in the last 21 years, along came a couple of Jamie Reed’s fellow politicians to assure us that there is still a very long way to go.  First we had Sports Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s misinformed comments linking the disaster with hooliganism in a live TV interview, for which he has rightly apologised.

This was closely followed by Russell Hawker, Independent Councillor for Westbury West in Wiltshire, who waded in with his alternative take on what happened at Hillsborough, this time on Twitter.  He has since deleted the comments, but here is a screenshot:

Now we could be charitable here, as Liverpool fans so often are.  Perhaps hailing from another part of the country, especially one so far away from Merseyside as Wiltshire, means that Cllr Hawker could be forgiven for a lack in-depth knowledge of the topic.  So the Liverpool Echo got in touch with him to clarify.  He claimed to have read the Taylor Report, which unequivocally laid the blame for the disaster on the police.  Yet, as he told the Echo, he has his own view.

It is clear that Cllr Hawker is now using his original comments to prove that old adage about ‘no publicity’, having repeated them to the Echo and appeared on Radio 5 this morning to defend his right to make them.  ten minutes hate would never seek to deny anyone the right to make an absolute fool out of themselves and believes that the best way to deal with those who hold stupid beliefs is to give them the widest possible platform for broadcasting their stupidity to the world.

Of course, the danger is that, just as with that S*n headline, there will always be those who believe that they know the real ‘Truth’ of what happened that day.  Regardless of Lord Taylor’s efforts in his report, despite the fact that many of the dead were children and without concern for how it hurts the feelings of those still mourning and still fighting for justice.  This is why it is so vital to know the facts and to be prepared to counter alternative versions of the events of 15 April 1989.  Here it is:

The police were reckless about crowd safety, to the extent that their tactics had not taken into account a large concentration of late arrivals.  When a crowd built up outside the turnstiles, following a serious accident on the M62 which had caused traffic delays, the police decided to open an exit gate that should never have been opened.  They failed to monitor the numbers of fans gaining access to the central pens of the Leppings Lane stand.  There was no numerical control of fans entering, nor visual monitoring of the crowd’s density.

This is the only truth you need.  Those are the reasons why 96 football fans who would have been alive to see the scenes in Istanbul, cheer on Torres and all the other fun and heartache that comes from supporting our team, instead never came home from the match.

And until there is an end to people trying to advance any alternative reality, the fight continues.  Get involved.

Justice for the 96.

the truth

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