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

'Don't give up on us,' police tell ministers

A typical day in a typical force has been calculated - and an increasing amount of time is being spent on public safety and welfare work.

Read full article

More on This Story


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  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Shame on EVERYONE involved in this cover-up, but most of all SHAME on Margaret Thatcher, her entrenched attitude that Liverpool fans were responsible for the disaster and total opposition to an open investigation of what happened on that day. Yesterday's Commons' apology should have come from Margaret Thatcher AND ALL her cabinet at the time. - I'm an Evertonian!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Amid all the understandable emotion for this dreadful event I ask two questions?

    1.Of course, the poor unfortunates who died were innocent-they were at the bottom of 'the heap'.Who was at the top?
    2.At about the same time, the Chinese were demonstrating in Tiananmen Square. Until the army opened fire,hardly a toe was crushed.Why?
    If we deny crowds are individuals, we will have these disasters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    I can't believe commenters are still trying to blame the crowds for what happened at Hillsborough. The fans were let in through the gates which led to the already-full pens. That is not their fault, nor were they to know what was happening at the front of those pens. The fault lies with the police who failed to manage the crowd and the club for having an unsafe stadium.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    44. Sspx

    trolls are out early tonight?

  • Comment number 45.

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

  • Comment number 44.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Excellent article by Mark Easton. The last four paragraphs are as pertinent a commentary as to where we are in Britain in 2012 as anything else that has been written about the tragedy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    @39. I don't understand what you mean. If you scroll up the screen and have a look at the helpful graphic just above this comments section, you will see that there was an enormous crush. This is the very reason why the gates were opened. If people had behaved in an orderly manner, nobody would have received so much as a sprained ankle.

    Am I mistaken?

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    I served the SYP for 30 yrs and I worked numerous matches around the county.I've been spat at,punched,kicked and surrounded by football hooligans who were intent on causing harm to me.
    I'm not saying SYP are blameless but I was told by a number of people that drunken fans were wondering around the City Centre just 20 minutes before the match started.Some of these people shoulder the blame

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    I was arrested by South Yorkshire police in 85, they changed 1 word in my statement (smoke to smack) and i was then remanded in custody by a police court (magistrates) for 3 months claiming i was a herion addict and would commit more offences (which i was not). I had to pay £150 for a psyco to examine me in prison, to prove i was not before i was granted bail.

    Jack Straw is correct.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    It is staggering that even after yesterday some very ignorant people still refuse to see the truth.

    @32 -It was NOT the fault of Liverpool fans. They really were blameless.

    @15 - the Taylor report and the HIP have both debunked the theory of ticketless fans turning up in large numbers.

    Liverpool supporters that day did far more than any of the emergency services in helping to save lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    It seems obvious there were three causes:
    1. A ground, Edwardian in design, effectively a trap.
    2. Police whose mentality of crowd control over safety prevented them from reacting properly.
    3. A massive crush of fans at the turnstiles.
    The disgrace of 1 and 2 are undeniable, but if everyone had queued in an orderly fashion NONE OF THIS WOULD HAVE HAPPENED.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Ref Jack Straw comment on police impunity. To those of us who were around in those days Thatcher had already politicised the police and used them as a weapon against any strkers or demostrators

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Finally the whole world knows what Liverpool has never doubted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    " 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"

    The SYPF represent the rank and file officers. It would appear that any alleged wrongdoing has been by Senior Police Officers who are not represented by the Federation.
    Its ACPO and the Supt's Association. you're after.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Only your opinion- The report says the fans are blameless.You are like the Sun of 1989-spouting the untruth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    To 32.

    I wasn't making an opinion. I was stating fact. Your opinion is worthless because it's parroting the line which was now proven to be a total falsehood.

    Plus, I have experience managing crowds outside a number of stadiums and if we'd opened up the barriers, any and every fan without a ticket would charge in. In that case, it would be my fault, not the fans who only want to watch a game.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    It's totally disgusting that you refer to this as a crusade to remove blame from Liverpool fans.

    That is your opinion which you are entitled too - I am also entitled to mine. There is a political undertone to all this and also an anti police / establishment undertone.
    Yes - as I said - the police were wrong - but Liverpool supporters are not blameless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    To Only an opinion but - You are wrong. I'm not getting into a debate with you, but please read the news stories & the report to understand why. Blame for the disaster is squarely at the door of SWFC, SWP & SYMAS for an unsafe stadium, total mismanagement of the crowd and for failing to respond properly to an emerging disaster.

    The ticketless fans theory is myth, manufactured in the cover up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    To 28.

    It's totally disgusting that you refer to this as a crusade to remove blame from Liverpool fans.

    I'm from Liverpool and I used to work security (with the police) at Selhurst Park, Plough Lane, Stamford Bridge and the old Wembley.

    Ticketless fans ALWAYS turn up to games and the trick is, you don't open the gates and let everyone in. At Hillsborough, the police did the opposite.


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