Hillsborough: Result of lazy 1980s prejudices


The families of the victims want fresh inquests and criminal charges

If Wednesday was about truth, today is about justice. The report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel opens up a new path down which the campaigners are set to march.

There is now a very real possibility of prosecutions of police officers or others found to have been involved in the systematic amendment of key statements to the original Taylor inquiry in 1989. A case could be made that this was an attempt to pervert the course of justice, trying to airbrush out the evidence of potentially criminal negligence.

It seems likely that the attorney general will apply for the original inquest into the tragedy to be quashed and a new one opened. Were that fresh hearing to come to a different conclusion to the accidental death verdict recorded at the time, that might also open the way to criminal prosecutions.

There have been suggestions that Sheffield Wednesday FC and the city's council might face allegations of corporate manslaughter, were it to be demonstrated that they were criminally negligent in failing to protect the fans that fateful Saturday.

Jack Straw: Thatcher's government created a "culture of impunity" in the police force at the time

The former Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw said on Thursday it was "a matter of great regret" that he did not do more during his time in office to investigate the claims of the Hillsborough campaigners, while arguing that it was the Conservative Thatcher government which had created a "culture of impunity" within the police.

Interestingly, a letter from Mr Straw among the 450,000 pages scrutinised by the independent panel suggests he was not immune to that culture. He wrote to the then Attorney General John Morris in early 1998, just as Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's report was due to recommend no new inquiry into Hillsborough. Below is an excerpt.

1998 letter from Jack Straw to John Morris

PDF download 1998 letter from Jack Straw to John Morris[53.7KB]

Referring to the amendment of statements by South Yorkshire Police, Mr Straw said: "There are bound to be questions, however, about whether anything in this process might amount to misconduct of a criminal or disciplinary nature. Lord Justice Stuart-Smith considers it would not. It would in theory be possible to instigate a further police investigation to confirm this conclusively, but I think the outcome would be a foregone conclusion, and I do not consider that such an investigation should be instigated."

The disaster and its despicable aftermath were the consequences of lazy 1980s prejudice: that football was the preserve of yobs and drunks (this was an era when managing football crowds saw public order put before public safety) and that Liverpool was the city of rebels and chancers, with a reputation for harbouring a grievance.

It was useful for the authorities that there was a grain of truth in these simplistic portraits, caricatures that could be exploited by those engaged in official calumny.

Mark Easton on the devastating verdict on the police and emergency services

Even 10 years on when New Labour was looking to challenge what they saw as the crusty old establishment, the home secretary dismissed Liverpool's desperate pleas for a judicial inquiry.

Today those frames of reference have completely altered. Football, for all its faults, has won its reputation as "the beautiful game" and Liverpool can proudly boast it is a city of European culture.

The Hillsborough disaster and the fight for justice is now a tale that will be woven into the folk history of our islands. But it is a narrative that will be adapted to fit two competing liturgies.

More on the Hillsborough papers

Names and ages of the victims on a memorial

For some, it represents a rare and famous victory in the epic struggle of the down-trodden working class against a corrupt and contemptuous elite. In parts of Liverpool and beyond, the dead of Hillsborough will be held up as martyrs to the cause of British socialism.

For others, the story is about the spirit of the individual against an arrogant state machine, the citizen who takes on the system. Through this prism, the 23-year long march for justice for the 96 will be held up as a victory for British liberal values.

There is always a tension between citizens with a grievance and an establishment safeguarding its authority. The question is, perhaps, whether official promises of openness, honesty and accountability from our public institutions are more credible today than they were back in 1989.

The families of Jean Charles de Menezes, Ian Tomlinson and Mark Duggan will have their own views. The hope must be that in 2012 our systems are better at ensuring that truth will out and the path to justice will be short.

Arrows show direction of crowd into stadium 1430-1440: Several thousand Liverpool supporters are gathered outside the ground at the Leppings Lane end. Decrepit turnstiles mean admission to the ground is slow.
Shows crowd surging through gate into pens 3 and 4 1450: Pens 3 and 4 on the stand's lower terrace are full. Their official combined capacity was 2,200, though it is later discovered this should have been reduced to 1,600 as crush barriers did not meet official standards.
Crowd surges through newly-opened exit gate 1452: Police order Gate C - a large exit gate - to be opened to alleviate the crush outside the ground. Around 2,000 supporters enter the ground and make for a tunnel leading directly to pens 3 and 4.
Crowd continues to fill pens 3 and 4 1459: The influx of fans caused severe crushing in pens 3 and 4. Fans being climbing over fences to escape. It is later estimated that more than 3,000 supporters were admitted to the central pens, almost double the "safe" capacity.
Fans trying to get out of pens 3 and 4 1500: Match kicks off. Five minutes later, a crush barrier inside pen 3 give way, causing people to fall over. Supporters climb perimeter fences or are dragged to safety by fans in the stand's upper tiers.
As before, crowd trying to get out of 3 and 4 1506: Match stopped by referee. Some 730 people are injured, 96 fatally. In the chaotic aftermath, supporters desperately try to resuscitate the injured.
Mark Easton Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    'Lazy prejudices' is too simplistic. The 80s had been marked by many football disasters & hooligan incidents from Heysel to Bradford, Chelsea to Luton, etc.The football clubs & authorities had totally failed to get their act together to drag the game, especially the stadia, into the modern era. That was the context. Football refrorm & new stadia were at least one positive outcome of Hillsborough.

  • Comment number 28.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    It is one thing for something terrible like this to have happened,but for the authorities to defame the victims to cover for their own failings is a very hard thing indeed to comprehend.Self-serving lies and prejudice.Too much is kept secret for too long and secrecy stops due process from being as effective as it should be at the time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    As Thatcher was told that police evidence was not credible and did nothing, surely she is as guilty as the police and should stand trial

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Finally the truth is out, if anyone is in doubt or denial about Thatchers wonderful 1980's look no further it was as corrupt as is possible to be I know I was there and saw through her straight away before she ven came into power

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Shame on South Yorkshire Police for becoming the real criminals of that tragic event since in 1989. Now prosecutions of the Police and other emergency services should follow and nothing should be held back,otherwise how can the public ever trust the Police in general and as individual officers again?

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Besmirching their people's names is standard police operating procedure when it comes to deflecting blame. They did it to Stephen Waldorf and they did it to Colin Stagg.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    @15 David Turner- I cant believe you are still trying to blame the fans Some fans did turn up late-the reason was that there was major traffic problems on the motorway that day, not because of some conspiracy to break in.They did nothing wrong.Further, ticketless fans were judged to be insignificant in causing the disaster.READ THE TAYLOR REPORT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    The truth has finally been revealed - What i find most disturbing in the raft of profuse apologies in the last 24hrs is the absence of any apology from the South Yorkshire Police Federation for their past members role in the instigation and continuance of the cover up over the last 23 years along with the denigration of the victims/liverpool fans. Shame on them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I lived in a poor area of Sheffield for 16yrs during which I had 1 burglary, 6 attempted, 2 scooters stolen, my reg plates nicked & was the victim of 2 hit/runs. Each time SY police did naff all. My lodger was punched in the face by a neighbour & SYP said no crime had been committed! However, they did turn up over a stolen jacket at a pub in affluent Dore. They treat the working class like dirt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    At the 1985 Bradford Fire enquiry, Justice Popplewell said that perimeter fences should not be installed around football pitches, as they would prevent evacuation onto the pitch in an emergency. This recommendation was completely ignored. If the fence hadn't been there no-one would have died. The whole police emphasis was on crowd control and not on public safety.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    At last the truth is out, but the delay of 23 years is yet another indication of the contempt in which ordinary people are held by the British establishment. Dead, slandered, and then denied justice for a generation. If it weren't for the tireless efforts of the families there would still be no honesty. And this belated outcome is no thanks to Straw-see his letter to the AG. We deserve better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Why should Thatcher get away with her culpability? If we can prosecute retired Police officers for this, why should she get off scot-free. If yesterday was about "truth" and today is about "justice", then tomorrow must be about witch hunts and Monday about compensation (methinks this was the aim originally!).

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Hillsborough will not be closed until the victims, their friends and relatives receive justice; that is, compensation. It's too bad compensation cannot replace the relatives/friends that were taken.
    I just hope there is nothing more being covered up, that all facts are on the table. The victims deserve this as well; they should not be left with a question in their mind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    As much as I am pleased that the facts are now out there for all to see it still angers me that Liverpool FC refuse to admit that a portion of their supporters didnt help proceedings that day. As somebody that was in attendance in 89 it was without doubt that many turned up late or without tickets FACT. But this seems to be dismissed...why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    @ 9. WunderfulBBC
    It's already been reported that the Police insisted on Liverpool fans being shoved in the Leppings Road end as it was an easier job to get them in and out of the stadium.

    Justice still needs to be done, whilst we have finally found out the truth, those responsible should be tried for man slaughter & perjury. As if that will happen...

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    "It happened on Thatchers watch, not labours. If anything Blair could have opened the files earlier and incriminated her when he was in power."

    The point I was (poorly) trying to make, is that Labour had many opportunities to seek justice, but failed, and that can hardly be blamed on Thatcher (unless one attributes all wrongdoing to an easy target who can no longer defend themself).

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Clearly the police should not have fabricated evidence, but it will be difficult to seperate out exactly who did or was pressurised into amending what. Simply going for the officers who did the writing, won't catch the real culprits, being those who may (and I can only say may) have pressed them into doing so. This will be a minefield, but one that needs sorting, for the sake of the future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    9. WunderfulBBC
    On the day that the search for justice begins, former Home Secretary Jack Straw passes the blame onto Thatcher.
    No wonder the victims' families never got justice during Labour's time, if this sort of comment is anything to go by.
    It happened on Thatchers watch, not labours. If anything Blair could have opened the files earlier and incriminated her when he was in power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    If the police fabricated evidence, surely there have to be prosecutions.

    Mind you, I don't recall anyone blaming the victims. It was more a question of the push from other fans from behind, wasn't it?


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