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.

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, Home editor Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 69.

    @SSPX: explain why, in the face of the report which gives us all the facts of what actually happened, you still cling onto your belief that the fans were to blame. Everyone is telling you the sky is blue and showing you the proof by trying to making you look up, yet you're refusing to open your eyes and see the truth. Are you actually a former editor of a certain tabloid newspaper?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 68.

    I was there in Sheffield that day and I saw many fans wandering around the Neepsend area of Sheffield coming out of pubs, Hillsborough stadium was a good 2 miles away, They needed rollerblades to get to Hillsborough on time. The build up of fans outside Hillsborough was not solely to do with the ground entry design. I am pretty certain about that...

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 67.

    Finally a proper journalist turns up on the web. Great article Mr Easton. I can only echo Propsman's comments.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 66.

    there are a few comments about heysel on here,my thoughts are that if any liverpool fan had been told deaths would of occured does anybody really believe that fighting would of took place,ive seen a lot worse outbreaks of trouble at a lot more matches,there was worse violence outside the ground earlier on that day from both sets of fans

  • rate this
    -10

    Comment number 65.

    @59.MoominMama

    I respect your opinion but i do not believe it.I do not believe these football supporters of Liverpool FC were not complicit and a accessory to accidental manslaughter.Heysel condemned them,and they would have been condemned at Hillsborough,if not for a conspiracy to pervert the truth to better the interests of other interested parties,i.e the Football League & FA of England.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 64.

    SSPX/InterestedProfessional/Sumoftheanswers

    They are just looking for negative answers back, just ignore them until they fade away.Their opinions don't matter and never will.

    All football supporters from all clubs round the world have done good/bad things since football began, but for people here that is not the point.

    Everyone should read the report to form an opinion then maybe post a comment

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 63.

    Easton

    What about cover up on the inquiry into the problems of Stafford Hospital - never seen you/ the BBC cover that?

    Soon forgotten? I wonder why?

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 62.

    @56
    Have you even read the reports? Are you aware that the police made monumental mistakes and then lied, blaming dead people and their loved ones for the deaths. Then they made up disgusting stories and fed them to the press in order to deflect attention from their own incompetence.
    When the 19 youngsters dies at the music festival in Germany, was that their own fault? Read the report.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 61.

    IntrestedProfessional... '' A ground, Edwardian in design ''

    The FA chose Hillsborough as the venue, If the ground was so unsafe and not suitable for such a tie. How bad must have some of the other grounds in the country been at the time? This very unfortunate incident could have happened anywhere...

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 60.

    @ 42 the HIP makes if clear that 'safety of the crowd admitted to the terrace was compromised at every level: access to turnstiles from public highway; condition & adequacy of turnstiles; management of crowd by SYP & SWFC stewards; alterations to the terrace, particularly the construction of pens; the condition and placement of crush barriers.....(cont)

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 59.

    @44 Sspx. The fans were not responsible for forcing 3000 people into an area which was only designed to hold 1600. This had already been identified in 1988 in a letter to messrs Croker & Moynihan from another fan who was also almost crushed. In fear of his life this fan left at half time. So who do you think was responsible? The Edwardian Architect, Sports Minister, or the ground officials?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 58.

    48. sumoftheanswers
    38 & 42. InterestedProfessional

    Are you expecting a knock at your door now?

    Have you ever been to a football match?

    Do you normally walk through a tunnel when the gates are opened for you expecting it to be full at the other end?

    Why arent these brilliant observations of yours mentioned or being hid behind by the guilty?

    I think we all know why- would you like to join us?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 57.

    I think alot of people on here don't have any valid comments.
    I wasn't there so I don't have any valid reason to give my opinion.

    Now the public has proper information of what happened within the day and the investigations in the last 23 years,people can form their own opinions but STILL never know what happened that day.

    So some people here should keep quiet please.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 56.

    @50: it was a large crowd that moved irrespective of the wishes of those caught up in it precisely because people did not queue in an orderly fashion. I have been to hundreds of major events, old first division football matches, premiership matches, festivals, concerts etc. When people queue, they dont get injured.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 55.

    Look, read the report and listen to your PM and the other politicians, Bishops, police and emergency service members who now understand that a vile crime has been committed here.
    Don't come on forums like this to spew your vile rhetoric. We've had years of it. You've been lied to and you've swallowed it and still believe it in the face of the truth. Morons. Way past your bedtimes I suspect.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 54.

    Also, it had nothing to do with ticketless fans. There was room for all the fans there - just not in the two pens where they were herded. They needed to have been directed to the other areas. No one did that. That is not the fans' fault. It seems like most of the commenters here have not bothered to look at the report. Presumably they have already decided what happened. Like the SYP did.

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 53.

    What about justice for the 39?However as we all know that's conveniently overlooked and forgotten by all and sundry at Liverpool F.C.,which is why their media luvvies will never ask Juventus FC Supporters for their forthright opinions.

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 52.

    To all those who are still saying that the fans need to share the blame despite all the evidence to the contrary, you should ask yourselves, why is it so important for you to cling on to this belief? What do you gain? Why are you so reluctant to let go of your comforting prejudices even in the face of facts?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 51.

    “There are no morals in politics; there is only expedience. A scoundrel may be of use to us just because he is a scoundrel.” - South yorkshire police commenting on a local MP and a national "newspaper" editor

    Oh ok, it was actually Lenin, perhaps they paraphrased though?

    Cant believe some comments here still saying "some fans were drunk" still as some kind of excuse? shameful & not the point

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 50.

    @38. You suggest that people should have just queued in an orderly fashion, but this was a very large crowd not a supermarket checkout.

    I dont know if you have ever experienced being in a very large crowd like that, but it moves like liquid regardless of the intentions of individuals caught within.

 

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