ALL week I’ve wanted to write about what’s happened. But what to write about something as big as this? This, of course, is Hillsborough. Or more precisely the revelations that came from the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report. Where to start?
On reflection I’ve decided to try and go through some of my thoughts from before, during and after the release of the truth. The Truth, more or less, as we’ve always known it. But now it’s in black and white, now it can’t be denied, and now it turns out it wasn’t the whole truth. The whole truth was worse than we thought.
Before the release of the report I’d been unsure what to do on the day itself – to go to the cathedral and wait outside or not, to go to the vigil or not – and I’d been unsure of what the release would bring. We knew it would be massive, but massive what? Disappointment? Relief? Anger? Just massive? Probably the latter. It’s difficult to think of a report in my lifetime that has come close to bringing this kind of impact. But maybe that’s just me. Maybe that’s just from where I’m standing.
I know I watched the two documentaries shown just before the release but I really can’t remember which one was which, or very much from either of them. That’s no criticism of the two programmes; it’s a reflection of how everything that happened since has filled my head completely.
I know a South Yorks policemen gave his side of the story. It was interesting, from what I remember, but now I want to go and find out what his statement said, whether it was one that changed. Maybe it won’t be searchable – lower ranked policemen’s names have been redacted from the report, or at least I think that’s what was said.
I also know the author of The Sun’s despicable front page full of lies came out of hiding to give his side of how his story went. He blamed it on his then boss; he claimed it was only the headlines that were bad. I know I wrote something for Anfield Road that morning, Tuesday, reminding him (if he was reading) that the story was disgusting and disgraceful without the headlines. 23 years on and either his memory failed him or, a phrase that will be used a lot from now on about Hillsborough, he lied.
He had 23 years to put the record straight. He had 23 years to go out, off his own back, and get the truth out there. But he kept that gob of his tightly shut until it got to the point when he was going to be uncovered and would have nothing to hide behind. He wasn’t the only one, although he was the only one to pre-empt his cover being blown this week.
The day before the report was released I’d spoken to a number of people and the feeling was much the same. Almost excited on one hand, unbelievably fearful on the other. Whatever the feeling was, I doubt there’s a word for it. One person likened it to being about to become a dad for the first time, something I’d agree with but perhaps with the addition of not knowing anything at all about how that birth might go and what might happen to the child or its mother. Excitement mixed with fear and a knowledge that your role in it could only be to try and provide support to those who were directly involved, whatever happened. Preparing for the worst but hoping for the best.
I’d decided that on balance I’d be better off near the TV and the internet for the revelation of the report itself, better to be where I could try and share news with others than to be outside the cathedral helping swell the numbers of those who went there to show their support.
I waited for news.
Then I started to get news ahead of the official release to the public. The families were being told what the report contained before anyone else, only fair, only right. But what it contained was so massive, so ground-breaking, that cathedral was never going to contain it. I was given the news and it was clear I was expected to let this news be known. So out it went, on Twitter, as I struggled to take it in.
Lives could have been saved. It was later on that I found out how many, but lives could have been saved. We’d already suspected this, but now it was on the record, it wasn’t down to theories and evidence that the authorities were forever trying to dismiss.
Testing for alcohol. Kids were tested, the deceased were tested, we knew this and were disgusted by this. But now we found that even the survivors had been tested – without their knowledge. And on top of that we found that where blood tests came up negative for alcohol the police were illegally accessing their national computer to see if those caught in that crush had a criminal record.
Then I was told there’d been a concerted effort by South Yorkshire Police to revert the findings of Taylor at the inquests.
Next it was the South Yorkshire Police Federation who got a mention. They’d been involved in an organised effort to get their side of the story, or their version of events, out to the media. They had leaked those despicable lies to Irvine Patnick, the Tory MP. And –as we knew – it was Patnick who leaked them to the press, including MacKenzie. MacKenzie was described as a ‘mere conduit’ of those lies. Of course MacKenzie was the only editor not to either question the claims from the off or show them to be unfounded soon after.
This was followed by news that the coroner sounded like he, to put it bluntly, couldn’t be arsed to do all 96 inquests. He questioned the need for 96 post mortems because he decided without them that they must all have died of the same cause. This would have been illegal.
And news then that, at this stage, could easily have been the most upsetting for many of the families and survivors. Norman Bettison, who later became Assistant Chief Constable of Merseyside Police, was shown to have been party to the lies being spread by the likes of the Police Federation. He was at meetings where the strategy was being set out to pin the blame onto the fans.
The panel made it clear. Multiple factors were responsible for the 96 deaths. The fans were not responsible. It didn’t stop Bettison trying to claim they were, a claim he tried to weasel out of the following day.
The final message before attention turned to the Prime Minister, who was making a statement in Parliament ahead of the release of the report to the public was that: “The Panel has produced the report without any presumption of where it will lead.”
Up until this point it had been fairly easy to tweet what I’d been told and what I had heard. It was tweeted with anger, rather than sadness, as part of a desire that’s been getting stronger and stronger to help get the truth out there, to help get justice done.
But then, after watching some of the childish interplay that Parliament seems to consist far too much of, came the Prime Minister’s statement.
And what a statement.
We knew that the PM was going to say something. We probably expected it to be a carefully-worded apology that wasn’t actually an apology. We expected it to be meaningless, to be another fobbing off for the families and survivors.
It was the second time I’d watched coverage from Parliament in tears. The first time was the debate on Hillsborough that saw Steve Rotherham read out the 96 names of the dead and Alison McGovern battle, in vain, to keep the emotion out of her voice.
The tears are never too far away when talking about Hillsborough but sometimes it’s harder than others to keep them at bay. This time it was the following passage that made it impossible to hold those tears back any longer.
“Second, the families have long believed that some of the authorities attempted to create a completely unjust account of events that sought to blame the fans for what happened.
“Mr Speaker, the families were right.”
The families were right.
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was telling us, admitting to us, that the families were right all along. 23 years of telling people the police lied, the press lied, the establishment lied and now, finally, in front of the whole world we were being told.
The families were right.
He went on to talk about the findings about the use of the police national computer, the taking of blood alcohol levels from even the children, the changing of statements and the attempts to blame the disaster on false allegations of violence, drunkenness and ticketlessness.
Then came the numbers. 96 died, of those 96 “28 did not have obstruction of blood circulation and 31 had evidence of heart and lungs continuing to function after the crush.” The report said that 41 victims might have survived had they received the kind of care they should have been able to expect. And the panel found this “by analysing post mortem reports”. The same reports the coroner seemed to be unwilling to even get done, as if his mind was made up already.
41 people could have lived. 55 would have been an awful death toll in its own right and there’s no saying that the 41 would have made it – but they were never given the chance to. And even the ambulance service tried to cover up their failings. The ambulance service.
The Prime Minister then set out to apologise. Would it be a real apology?
“Mr Speaker, I want to be very clear about the view the government takes about these findings and why after 23 years this matters so much, not just for the families but for Liverpool and for our country as a whole.
“Mr Speaker what happened that day – and since – was wrong.
“It was wrong that the responsible authorities knew Hillsborough did not meet minimum safety standards and yet still allowed the match to go ahead.
“It was wrong that the families have had to wait for so long – and fight so hard – just to get to the truth. And it was wrong that the police changed the records of what happened and tried to blame the fans.
“We ask the police to do difficult and often very dangerous things on our behalf and South Yorkshire Police is a very different organisation today from what it was then.
“But we do the many, many honourable police men and women a great disservice if we try to defend the indefensible.
“It was also wrong that neither Lord Justice Taylor nor the Coroner looked properly at the response of the other emergency services.
“Again, these are dedicated people who do extraordinary things to serve the public but the evidence from today’s report makes very difficult reading.
“Mr Speaker, with the weight of the new evidence in this report, it is right for me today as Prime Minister to make a proper apology to the families of the 96 for all they have suffered over the past 23 years.
“Indeed, the new evidence that we are presented with today makes clear that these families have suffered a double injustice.
“The injustice of the appalling events – the failure of the state to protect their loved ones and the indefensible wait to get to the truth.
“And the injustice of the denigration of the deceased – that they were somehow at fault for their own deaths.”
And then the apology that I never expected to hear:
“On behalf of the Government – and indeed our country – I am profoundly sorry for this double injustice that has been left uncorrected for so long.”
And for the survivors who had to contend with post-traumatic stress disorder having tried in vain to save lives, to have survived themselves with the dead all around them, before finding themselves blamed for something they didn’t do:
“Today’s report is black and white. The Liverpool fans ‘were not the cause of the disaster’.
“The panel has quite simply found ‘no evidence’ in support of allegations of ‘exceptional levels of drunkenness, ticketlessness or violence among Liverpool fans’; ’no evidence that fans had conspired to arrive late at the stadium’; and ‘no evidence that they stole from the dead and dying.’”
Getting “The Truth” was part one of the battle. What happens next is that action is taken based on that truth, rather than the lies and the partial truth used to decide on previous courses of action.
The apologies that followed from those involved in various parts of the conspiracy were hollow. MacKenzie waited until he was cornered to apologise. If he ever appears on any TV show again, ever gets the opportunity to write a newspaper column again, that TV company or newspaper can expect a boycott as strong as the one against the Sun, one that has gone on for 23 years and continues even now.
The Sun did apologise, finally, but most Liverpool fans and campaigners for justice and truth won’t have seen it. I haven’t. Their chance to apologise came and went at various stages over the past 23 years. Waiting until cornered and unable to wriggle out of it is not the time to make an apology that means anything.
The FA didn’t even comment until the next day. Their comment lacked an apology. By lunchtime the pressure on the FA was such that its head decided to make his own apology. But the FA were culpable in that disaster, the organisation acted in a way that helped to lead to 96 deaths and did nothing to help the families get justice. They claim they and the game have changed and learned much in the past 23 years. They clearly haven’t learned enough.
The FA’s chief executive at the time was Graham Kelly. He decided not to tell the FA committee deciding on the FA Cup Semi Final venues that year about a message he’d had from Liverpool expressing concern about the club getting that end of the stadium. Kelly didn’t even tell the committee meeting about the concerns raised by Liverpool. Why not? He won’t talk about it. He won’t apologise. The lack of condemnation by the current FA shows how little that organisation has changed.
Norman Bettison continued to try and defend himself. He even tried to say fans made it harder for the police, completely ignoring what the panel – and the government – had said this week. He later apologised for that – but again, what’s an apology worth when it comes from someone forced into a corner? And why does he continue to say things that seem to contradict what he’s said in the past and what the evidence from the panel suggests he’s done and said in the past?
The South Yorkshire Police federation, in particular Paul Middup, should definitely be hanging their heads in shame. Middup’s conduct at the time was a disgrace and it’s little surprise that the rat has yet to surface. He seems to have been one of the main sources for Irvine Patnick who told the papers the sickening lies. It was someone by the name of Sykes who came up with some of the most despicable lies, the product of an extremely sick mind, spread by others whose minds were sufficiently capable of believing them.
It’s been a week of anger, tears and shock but it’s also been a week where anyone fighting what seems to be a lost cause can now find inspiration. They may not always have agreed with the way they went about it but 96 families, countless survivors, three support or campaign groups, certain politicians, many members of the media and numerous individuals have gone out of their way to see this day happen.
And if you were a part of the cover-up, a part of the smear campaign, a part of the reasons for the disaster ever happening there is one thing you can be sure of, whether you’ve made a belated apology or hidden in silence hoping it’ll all go away.
They’ve not finished yet.