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 229.

    217. ScottNYC

    "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt." Abraham Lincoln

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    Weather it be the 60,s the 70,s, the 80,s or the 90,s people should have been able to trust the to police to protect them and to be honest with them. This report proves how SYP let down the people in their duty and as a result people died, then how they tried to protect themselves with a cover up.

  • Comment number 227.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    Disasters like this are born of multiple decisions often taken in good faith individually at different times which combine to cause the ultimately horrific outcome.
    I fear this affair will never truly be over because some wish for retribution rather than justice and cannot see the difference in the two, and unless what happens conforms to their view will never be satisfied.

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    Football was to blame- fanaticism deliberately fostered by mighty commercial enterprises run by corrupt businessmen, tolerant of violence on the pitch and the terraces until public condemnation forced changes.And most as bad as the rest.The 60s-80s encouragement of blind false loyalty and warfare against opposing fans sold seats and merchandise.To ignore that is wrong. And who pushed?

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    Hindsight and politics. Anyone old enough knows how savage football was at times and why the police thought as they did.And that public safety measures were nothing like as good as now.And that the FA chose an uncertificated ground.By all means prosecute for cover ups, but the original mistakes are about more than individual police officers. The FA has a lot to answer for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    11. Lies fed to newspapers, government and FA - SYP, Council & MP's
    12. Fatalities/Injured and families treated as guilty - SYP
    13. Inquest FAILED to take all evidence into account
    14. FAILURE by the then government to get to the truth
    15. Jack Straw FAILED to actually scrutinise papers properly
    No - nowhere does it indicate that any of the supporters were in any way to blame, at last THE TRUTH

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    6. Ground not fit for purpose - SWFC and Sheffield City Council responsible but FA culpable - their game, their choice of venue!
    7. Liverpool FC complained about the conditions in '88 they were dismissed, FA, SYP
    8. Police assumed crowd trouble - took too long to realise!!
    9. Emergency incident plan not put into place, SYP, SWFC, FA Ambulance.
    10. MINORITY of fans may have been drinking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    1. Roadworks delayed fans - one of those things.
    2. 6 turnstiles? Pleease! FA, SWFC, SYP culpable
    3. Ticketless Fans?? No evidence and IF so why were there no ticket check on the way to the ground like '88 - SYP!
    4. Crushing outside - delay the start, reduce panic SYP, SWFC, FA!
    5. No signs to the outside pens - where were the stewards and SYP to direct fans safely like '88? SWFC, SYP

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    I witnessed it all that day as a neutral from Sheffield. My work friend failed to show with my ticket so I walked aroung the ground and straight into the Leppings Lane End.. it was just before the KO. there were no police at the exit gate that all the Liverpool fans had entered through..the horor then unfolded before my eyes.. nobody has asked for my statement either

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    People of Liverpool ... never .. ever .... let the Sun forget what it did.

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    I was not at Hillsborough but as an American who attended many football matches in England around this time I was appalled at the condition of the grounds and the attitude of the police. Football fans were treated like animals--the word "pens" in your graphic is exactly correct. Pen the animals into their cages was the attitude at the time. I am delighted justice is finally being served

  • Comment number 217.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    I made a perfectly polite, reasonable and pertinent point in comment 214. It has been removed, I can only assume because it was considered under the House Rules to be "likely to ... offend".
    Pointing out self-evident facts in this matter is hence forbidden, in case it hurts some people's feelings.
    So much for the quest for truth. You disappoint me, BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    While we judge by today's mores, it is worth considering the divisive political climate of 1989. Football was hated and, thanks to Derek Hatton, Heysel, the BBC's Boys from the Blackstuff and Bread, Liverpool was a pariah city. In contrast, the S Yorks police had led the fight against Scargill, so were heroes in Whitehall . It is why it suited to blame the fans and exonerate the authorities.

  • Comment number 214.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    remember it was at a time were the police, tory gov & murdochs NI, were in cohoots crushing working class resistance to the destruction of their communities & livelihoods, to unlease unregulated free market capitalism. they thought they could get away with anything. The recent hacking/banking scandals are the legacy. as always the truth has to wait for years & the damage to peoples lives is done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    210 Chaz. Right. But justice can and does move slowly. Justice is still en route for the liars and fabricators.

    I make NO EXCUSES for the authorities, however the conduct of certain 'fans' of many clubs during the 80s did no favours to genuine football fans, and may have been a factor influencing the thinking of the authorities on duty at Hillsborough.

  • Comment number 211.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    You can't move for apologies and apologisers since the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel. The police have a lot to answer for, but the lies were upheld by politicians and powerful institutions of the state. 23 years is a long time to see justice done. We need to do better.


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