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 109.

    This is it mate.Have sent my condolences at comment 100.However when we Manchester United played semi finals at Hillsborough in 1976 & 1977,or anyone else for that matter pre 1989,no trouble.However when LFC arrive in 1989 there is.Another point is how come Nottingham Forest supporters were able to enter the stadium without doing harm to anyone except LFC? Very interested to know?

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    @85 Spot on tiger87. Strange how you don't see decades long campaigns costing millions of pounds and getting more publicity than the terroist attacks of 7/7 about Heysel either....

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    There appears to be little room for debate on this forum, to which I only signed up today. 23 years ago, there was no debate: it was the fans what done it. Now it is the police and the YNWA sloganeers will brook no dissent. There is still no debate. Disagree with people, get called a hater, or a "troll". It is unwise to cherish confrontation over enquiry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Set the record straight! As a S/T holder at LFC of 20 Years travelling the country and Europe need to be honest and say I've turned up to games after a few scoops as the same with very many travelling supporters from any team enjoying match day. I want to make it clear we're not whiter than white and yes of course fellow fans had been drinking that day Cont...

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    There were lots of people who have been cited as being culpable and should be punished. Mark was right about the culture of the time as far as the authorities are concerned, but he has forgotten about the fans' culture.
    Why were there cages in the first place? Was pushing and shoving part of their expectation amongst the crowd? Did they expect to be controlled safely whatever they did?

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    @ SSPX

    seriously come on evidence to say it wasnt football fans , This is not about LFC Man Utd rivalary its about 96 people who died at a football match, Look at the footage and ask yourself how did the place get so crowded, who was in control, then ask yourself ,FA semi final day, ticket for behind the goal, would you have a few pints, sign a few songs, arrive 30 mins before KO expect to die

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    @100: eh, the report that was issued yesterday bu an independent panel is everyone's evidence. Are you a bit lacking in mental ability to get what this means? How do you think the families of the deceased feel about people like you still attempting to spread lies about what happened?

    Anyway, still waiting on your evidence... What's that? You have none? Thought as much, troll.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    @94 - give it a rest. This is not about football tribalism despite you trying to steer it that way. Even the haters on Red Cafe have grasped this. Why can't you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    @99Andy. I could not agree more. If serious crimes were committed by way of perversion of the course of justice, or perjury, then charge the perpetrators, but those with agendas should not be pandered to, no matter what.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.


    Oh yeah! And where's your evidence to say it was'nt.Yes as i thought all hearsay.As for the 96 deceased,Requiscant In Pace to them all.They did not deserve what happened to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    I was at another ground the day of the tragedy, and the when the news broke of problems at Hillsborough the reaction of the crowd was " not Liverpool fans again" this prejudice was real. All hooligans of that ere have as much blood on their hands as the police.

    What we need to do now is put the matter to bed, not a witch hunt

    Our thoughts are always with the families of those that died

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    @94: still waiting on some evidence from you. Don't United fans sing about Hillsborough? Football clubs all have their moronic elements - you should know that. Anyway, stop avoiding the issue and give us evidence to support your theory.

    Or are you just trolling to upset people? Could you be that sick?

  • Comment number 97.

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

  • Comment number 96.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    @58. (went off for my dinner, sorry for gap) I'm sorry, I don't understand your post. Knock at my door? No. Have I been to a football match? Yes, hundreds, as I said in the post you were replying to. would I like to join you? I don't know what you mean. Would the gates have required opening if people had queued in an orderly fashion? No. Does that answer your questions?

  • Comment number 94.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Jack Shaw was absolutely spot on.

  • Comment number 92.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.


    they took my comment down about sspx cos it broke the rules but he can write any junk and get in on here ! makes you laugh.

    I know people will always differ in opinion on things but people like him do it in such the wrong way even if they did have a valid comment/argument.

    Anyway I dont want to waste anymore words on them, so night to all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    @ sspx and the rest of the trolls, I suspect that you are all sad Sun readers and believe every word they publish. Just how many times have the Sun got to apologise for their defamations before you wake up to the truth, the Sun is a comic for the unintelligent trying to look smart,(they really only buy it for page 3), the intelligentsia won't waste their money.


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