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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  • Comment number 269.

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

  • Comment number 268.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    "Liverpool fans were "in no way to blame" for the disaster, he said" - BBC article quoting Sir Norman Bettison

    For the comments on here still trying to suggest otherwise in the face of all common sense and experience and whats been said.

    I think he might know more about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    @35 In its summary the panel said the Police Federation, 'supported informally by the SYP Chief Constable', sought to develop and publicise a version of events derived in police officers' allegations of drunkenness, ticket less fans and violence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    264. mistilteinn

    Well said.

    Some of the appalling comments on here stems from user IDs that used to be on 606 who support a northwest team. Their spite & hatred of liverpool FC and its supporters goes beyond all reason. Sections of their support for this club have even sang awful songs about hillsborough.

    I hope all decent fans will distance themselves from such pathetic human beings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    Spot on, Mark.

    I have read comments today, still, that say 'for someone to fall at the front, someone at the back must push...'
    All I can think is that these people would have considered it far too infra dig to have ever stood on the terraces at a football match. Thus their ignorance.

    Don't feed the trolls......

  • Comment number 263.

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

  • Comment number 262.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    Damned good analysis, Mark.

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    Further to stanilics point..

    After the conversion to Christianity the English accepted the need to give up the duty of the Blood Feud and accept "The King's Peace". But the Blood Feud tradition passed down through generations notably in the "Danelaw" regions where the need to get revenge rather than justice lived on for a long time.

    It is indeed time for an English Peace.

  • Comment number 259.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    I wish people would learn the difference between *causing* an event, and *failing to prevent* an event. The police completely failed to prevent the disaster. But they were not physically forcing people forward. (Uncontrolled) crowd behaviour was the root cause of the crush. Just because crowd behaviour is predictable, it does not absolve those pushing forward of responsibility..

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    The oldest standard in English law is that when someone is killed there has to be an accounting. It is also reasonable to expect the accounting be conducted in an honest and thorough manner. This has not happened to date so is well overdue.

    I too noted Straw's cheap shot. He knows well that some provincial police forces have possessed strangely feudal attitudes for a very long time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    254. WunderfulBBC

    Many thanks, You are a gentleman Sir. I apologise again and cetainly not be so quick to judge - well I will try ;)

    I'm sure those who are still suffering will appreciate your extremely kind words also.

    I'm going to wind my neck in and go for a walk ;)

    Having to wait 6 minutes to post this now..... zzzz

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    253. WunderfulBBC

    Sorry then for biting your head off. Just some seem to be reveling in that point.

    The venue was unsafe, compounded by awful police decisions. The police dealt with issues like these consistently for years.

    So if you went bungee jumping to a national provider who you were told was safe by them, that werent & it snaps, because they used the wrong rope - are you to blame too?

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.


    Absolutely no apology necessary, but thank you very much, anyway.

    At the end of all this, we all owe a huge debt of gratitude, and admiration, for the way the victims' families have conducted themselves in pursuing the truth.
    To lose people, AND then be subjected to lies, cannot be understood by us.
    Now, justice must be done, AND it must be seen to be done.
    Nothing less will do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.


    I have only made the (minor) point once: the rest are in response to other people's replies.
    And I never said the police were justified.

    And, since we are referring back, please also note what I wrote under Post 239:-

    "39.-y-"It was NOT the fault of Liverpool fans. They really were blameless"
    I agree with your first sentence"

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    250. WunderfulBBC
    "and it should be permissible to debate every factor"

    I apologise for my over-zealousness in some postings if seemed harsh

    Having listened to the familes, watched documentaries, tv,
    articles/ part read the report I was disgusted & had to choke back tears

    The police do a hard job, but they should not lie & slander those who were victims to shift blame

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.


    Your own words (244) "I never said it was a major factor, but why else was a gate opened?"

    If its not a major factor (appears there are quite a few) then that implies if it is a factor at all it is a minor one? So why keep re-iterating?

    The police were responsible for public safety

    If the police were justified in opening the gate- why did they try and say fans forced it open ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    No-one now (that I know of) is trying to justify what the police did (IMHO their first mistake was insisting that Liverpool had the Leppings Lane end).

    But were there no fans at the ground without tickets, or absolutely no fans inside the ground without a ticket?

    I suspect it was a factor - not as significant as others e.g. the turnstiles - and it should be permissible to debate every factor.


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