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

What is an English law?

How do we define an English law, when so much legislation has a knock-on effect for other parts of the UK population?

Read full article

More on This Story


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    Sorry my comment

    247. sprout_2001 was in reply to

    244. WunderfulBBC.

    Sorry, I cannot put things any simpler than that.

    Maybe its a failing ot mine or perhaps you should ask someone who is better at explaining (and has limitless patience that I can feel they might need ;) )

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.


    "If only fans with tickets had arrived, in a timely manner..."

    No. Fans arriving 30 minutes before KO were not admitted promptly because of the inadequate turnstyles and crowd control, leading to a dangerous build up and ultimately a fatal police error of judgement.

    THAT's the point.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    is it "none so blind as will not see" or "none so deaf as will not hear"?

    It will all come out, keep yourself availed.

    There were other options, and many other factors to consider before making such a potentially lethal decision.

    How can opening a gate to an already full section be a realistic option in this situation.

    And how can anyone try and justify it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    Mark wrote- "martyrs to the cause of British socialism".

    But British Socialism sold out to "German Socialism" in the 1890s- as Winston Churchill often pointed out in the 1920s..

    German Socialism meant State control as under Bismarck or Lenin, both leading to the totalitarianism of Stalin and Hitler as things drifted to World Chaos of 1932-3.

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    Sorry. Pressure of trying to be brief. In case anyone pulls me up.

    "Pointed out" in terms of the behaviour that was common when football was "not a matter of Life and Death" but "more important than that". .

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    "Unbelievable comments here still grasping that fans pushing was a major factor"

    I never said it was a major factor, but why else was a gate opened?

    If only fans with tickets had arrived, in a timely manner, then it is possible that the crush outside the ground would not have been so severe, and the mistakes made might not have had such serious consequences.

    That's the point

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    The historical context is also that the new industrial cities of Britain brought new concentrations of what Feargus O'Connor called "the warlike Scots and Irish" famous over the centuries for a culture of 'blood feud", blame and retribution.

    As others have pointed out the sense that "we was robbed" and the idea of "getting your own back" was prevalent in football tribalism.


  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    Unbelievable comments here still grasping that fans pushing was a major factor

    If you had been to a match in the '70s/'80s congestion & pushing of fans happened all the time. Fans did not push intentionally to harm those around them... its just dynamics of crowd behaviour

    Unnecessarily opening a gate, essentially forcing thousands more people into an already full area made harm/deaths inevitable

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    The police are "considering " action?
    Whats to consider you have the facts and crimes were commited?
    Get on with it but don't rest there follow the decisions right to the top, too many reports trying to limit the scope of whats to come.
    MP's rarely act without party consent.
    Papers routinely confer with gov on big stories.
    This is the start and everyone involved should face justice,

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    In the wider historical context it has always surprised me that Yorkshire propaganda against the emergence of the Liverpool-Manchester cotton economy- that undermined its own woollen one- has always been treated as Gospel. Wilberforce, MP for Hull ,saw people being reduced to a level "lower than the apes".

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    39.-y-"It was NOT the fault of Liverpool fans. They really were blameless"

    I agree with your first sentence, but there can be no denying that many club's fans (not just Liverpool's) go to a big match ticketless, in the hope of buying one or getting in somehow.
    I travelled home and away in the 70's & 80's, and saw at first hand the crush outside the game when fans arrive late, en bloc (incl me).

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    Two comments pulled due to a comparison with regard to the recent Rochdale pakistani's sex abuse cases.
    In my opinion the media reports were managed before the case came to court as ethnicity was withheld keeping the public in the dark about the problem.
    Police also had prior knowledge of offenders and victims yet it took two years to come out.
    How many victims could have been saved?

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    Easton earns multiples of the Prime Minister while in public service


  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    There 2 issues here, blame on the day and the issue of police changing statements. The second is illegal and those found guilty should be jailed.
    The stadium was inadequate and a death trap, yrs of football voilence had led to a police response that thought it was voilence all over again- as did most in the ground. But police didn't crush anybody, the fans did. The police failed to react quickly

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.


    Spot on, JP! Bravo! - I read your post before biased aunty removed it as being fit for public consumption.

  • Comment number 234.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    The role of the FA in the Hillsbourgh tragerdy is not being highlighted enough.
    A class action should be taken against them. Their incompetance and role in underming Liverpool Football Club has, in my view, been blatant.
    Now here is proof, go out and get them and hang them out to dry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    The BBC should apologise for employing Kelvin Mackenzie - he has only apologised to save his skin and is completely insincere. Please do not employ his services again BBC!

  • Comment number 231.

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

  • Comment number 230.

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


Page 2 of 14



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.