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 169.

    It's easy to forget just what football crowds were like back in the eighties. It wasn't lazy stereotyping that led to police concentrating on crowd control to the detriment of safety, it was bitter experience. Fans of many clubs, liverpool included, created that environment and despite the obvious failings of the authorities, must share some of the blame.

  • Comment number 168.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    157. Sspx

    Thanks for that comment. Lets just draw a line under it.

    To others still ignoring the major issues.

    At a football match 96 people died, many more suffered and are still. It shouldnt have happened.

    Its taken 23 years of fighting to get here and it shouldnt have either.

    The authorities were RESPONSIBLE for crowd control and safety.

    End of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    So for Norman Bettison to say that fans made the policing job outside worse, well I have news for you Norman, that's what crowds do, particularly when a team is well-supported. But surely he would have known that, after all, isn't it part of his job? It's what the police were paid to do. BTW the Forrest fans had the large end of the ground so thats why they had no problems

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    hi NellyP, if the gates had remained closed, where would the crush have been then, and who would have carried the blame, football fans (not just Liverpool fans) love to have a pint then get to the ground at the last minute and rush about like idiots, been there and done it, Hillsborough was a disaster waiting to happen, Police and late fans all played their part in it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    when you go to a football match, particulalry away, you go where the police direct you. Everyone is keen to get into the ground and where there are a lot of people queueing and the time is getting on because you have been allocated a portion of the ground with limited access the sign of a opening gate is an opportunity to make it in before kick off. (cont'd)

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    Police statements should never have been changed and appropriate action must be taken. However, away from that we mustn't forget what football was like in the 80's. A small but significant minority attended to cause trouble and as a result we had fences, cages and other disasters like Heysel. All of which go some way to putting context on how the authorities dealt with events like Hillsborough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    Eddie, our fans were no different to any other in the land in the 80's the ground was not fit for purpose, the policing was beyond negligent ive watched my team all over the world i know are fans are not whiter than white but no worse than any other. Obviously you feel your better qualified, than the INDEPENDENT panel was in their findings

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    @159 how can anyone be 'blinded' by a factual report written by an independent committee? Or are you yourself blinded by a prejudice that was so successfully sewn by an establishment that happily and falsey deflected blame to the fans?

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    Eddie, this disaster wasn't caused by a few people climbing over gates or walls! It happened because the gate got opened and twice the safe capacity flooded into those pens. The fans are not to blame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    Hi "thepugs", seems to me you are blinded by reports, I suggest you get hold of some old TV footage and watch those fans climbing over the gates/walls, and then tell me some of them did not contribute, I have all ready agreed that the police should take some of the blame, but so should some of the fans,

    and for the record I have been to several semi finals including one at Hillsborough,

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    Police open a gate - An unfortunate piece of bad policing with terrible consequences.

    Police lie to deflect blame - A criminal act.

    Police make up stories to demonise and add credibility to their lies - An act of vindictive cruelty to those suffering the most extreme anguish. An act of evil born out of desperation to save their own skins.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.


    I agree.Time to give it up.You know my viewpoint.Whatever football team you support mate,wishing you the best for the season ahead.Requiscant In Pace to the 96 victims of Hillsborough.

    Mufc Cockney Reds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    "The families of de Menezes, Tomlinson and Duggan will have their own views." What does this mean? The 1st was truly awful but occurred during one of the greatest threats in modern times. It was only a miracle this didn't happen more given we were suddenly facing suicide bombers. The 2nd was not guilty in court and a gun was found at the 3rd.

    80's Hooliganism set the context for Hillsborough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    Get Thatcher in the dock. I don't care how senile she is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    Like talking to a wall talking to some of you lot.

    Read the report before you comment 150.

    We know, for a fact, the police covered things up. We know, for a fact, that the Spion Kop end DIDN'T have the same access problems, and DID have a greater capacity than Leppings lane.

    Again. Read. The. Report.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    149. Sspx

    Steve, you do know that there is a law coming into force about internet trolling etc. Please give it up, it is quite sad. I'm sure that the many decent Man U fans would distance themselves from you.

    And you will get found out one day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    @ Eddie #146: Interesting that's what you saw. I saw Liverpool fans trying like hell to get out of there by any means necessary. The fact is that they were let in, all at once, through the gate to the wrong pens. How were they supposed to know what was going on? They were there to watch a game of football, for Christ's sake. Nobody was supposed to be at risk of dying.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.


    obviously you've never been to a semi final

    and to dumb to digest yesterdays findings

    time for another idiot to go to bed

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    i see the a exit gate was opened, 2 many fans there, still think it was a terrible accident,police cannot be totally to blame, the forest fans didnot have a problem, margaret thatcher not to blame for cover up


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