WRITTEN on the day of the verdict from the latest inquest, this was first published on New Statesman’s website.
IT IS important on days like today to remember that we can’t expect one correct response from the thousands of people touched by the national disgrace which is the Hillsborough Disaster but can only hope for many human ones. Since April 15, 1989 so many people have responded differently to what the events of that day set in motion. The most we can ask of ourselves is to be human and to allow others to be human in their own way. This process has been so long running and has involved so many different aspects of society that all human life is here.
Even now there are no neat endings. Even now the process is on going. All we can say is there just needs to be humanity. Yet even in this inquest, it was in short supply from some, for example the South Yorkshire Police and Yorkshire Ambulance Service who fought tooth and nail to avoid adverse findings from the jury. Unlike them all we can attempt to do is be gentle and accept there are few right answers, just people doing their best.
For instance, it is important to remember that a very small number of the families aren’t even represented at the inquest. A number of the survivors would just wish to put it behind them. They just wanted to get on with their lives after the cataclysmic event. This is very human and a perfectly understandable response.
For some of the families and survivors today’s verdict is enough. It’s the end of the road, the wrong righted, the times of death confirmed. It is time to move on and get beyond this. This is very human and a perfectly understandable response.
For many others of the families and survivors today’s verdict is a step on the road. The pressure will now come onto the IPCC, Operation Resolve and the CPS to see charges handed down, to see the process through to its conclusion in a courtroom. This is very human and a perfectly understandable response.
And for some, that event that will never be enough. Even that will never be enough for what happened twenty seven years ago and what went on to happen in the days, weeks and years that followed. For some there will be no respite from this, there will be no rest from the anger and the grief and the shame they were forced to feel. There will be no release. There will be no action which will ever bring peace, not after all the suppression and the sidelining of their truth, their truth which transpired to actually be The Truth. There is no end to this. This is what miscarriages of justice do. This too is very human and a perfectly understandable response.
Today, two incontrovertible facts have been made clear again: Firstly, that the 96 people were unlawfully killed. Secondly, that the behaviour of the Liverpool supporters did not cause the disaster. Further, what has become crystal clear through the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report, through this inquest, and what will become even clearer with the IPCC and Operation Resolve report expected by the end of the year, is the extent to which all these very human people were aggressively, endlessly dehumanised. Before, during and after the 15th April 1989.
The preparation of the semi-final and the response to the disaster – the immediate disaster, was inhumane. This is what the unlawful killing verdict means. The response to the disaster – the days, weeks and years that followed the 15th April 1989, did nothing but dehumanise those who had suffered: dehumanised the families bereaved; dehumanised those in the Leppings Lane end who survived and saved others when those there to protect them wilfully failed to act; dehumanised a city trapped in collective grief. The dehumanising started and it simply didn’t stop, not for years, decades.
All this has become crystal clear.
It was pretty crystal clear all along if we can be honest with each other. But this is what dehumanising people does. What dehumanising people does is obscure what should be crystal clear and instead say that it doesn’t really matter, that they turned up late, that they turned up drunk. That they robbed the dead. And then that they have a chip on their shoulder. That they are a self-pity city. That they are always the victims. Always the victims. It is never their fault. They weren’t one of us. There were one of them.
Dehumanising people doesn’t just happen over night – it isn’t a cataclysmic event; it caused a cataclysmic event, it obscured a cataclysmic event but it isn’t one itself. It is an erosion and a corrosion and it needs the circumstances to work. The Enemy Within. Managed decline. Orgreave. An attitude hammered home day after day after day for a decade and beyond towards working class people and football supporters and a city allowed the dehumanising to occur.
There is this line around Hillsborough that is often uttered by those within Liverpool — “they picked on the wrong city”. It’s a good folk story to tell ourselves. Like many such lines it is both completely true and absolutely false. Liverpool can organise, yes. Liverpool will fight and this was a fight led by Liverpool’s women, Liverpool’s mothers who simply would not ever let the lies lie. They wouldn’t stand for it. For those who have campaigned aggressively today is another day of vindication, another day where their tenacity and bravery has to be applauded.
But they picked on the right city as well. The city was the softest target of a decade which had been set up to create and pick off soft targets. The dehumanisation happened and was allowed to happen to a city because those undertaking it knew so many nationwide would allow it to go on. To go on and on. This isn’t just about a right wing government and a corrupt police force back then. The past isn’t another country, let’s not kid ourselves. The targets remain soft in this country – they are just less visible.
Therefore let’s take today as another opportunity to be crystal clear and let’s keep being crystal clear: Hillsborough is a national disgrace. I’ve been asked to write this because I host a podcast around Liverpool and Liverpool Football Club, because I write about football. But Hillsborough isn’t about football, it just so happens that football is the thing that linked those 96 disparate lives, the thing that linked the thousands on the terraces – this thing of ours.
There are so many who should know better in this country, many who would subscribe then and now to a magazine such as this one, many who will have decided things can only get better in 1997, who will have presumed things must have gone wrong somewhere involving the supporters. Who will have assumed Hillsborough is a football tragedy and can be left over there. Who stood by as the biggest miscarriage of justice in British legal history took place. Because, well, “football supporters.” “Liverpool.” “Something a bit fishy but you know.” You know.
It wasn’t about football in 1989, it isn’t about football now. It is about the fact that dehumanising doesn’t just happen in moments, but can lead to deaths in seconds, can lead to lies for years, can ruin lives for lifetimes.
This is the essence of the national disgrace, of this verdict, of every single time Hillsborough comes clattering back into public view. Our nation did this to its own people. Not the odd bad apple of a police officer, not a rogue reporter or two, not individuals but instead institutionalised inhumanity.
Fuck me that was powerful.Well done.
Agreed. Nailed it, Neil.
There are so many tangents to this horrendous injustice.
I have been thinking about this and have come to the conclusion that in its purest narrative it is Love conquering hate. which is a beautiful thing.
The power of love was too strong for the truth to be denied.
All the people involved especially the families can be an inspiration for those all over the world being denied their humanity.
I stayed in a B&B in Nottingham once whilst working for a Chinese Car manufacturer. I got the impression my “boss” didn’t like scousers. But that might have been my inherent distrust of anyone outside of Merseyside. The prick wasn’t exactly friendly. So my working day was uncomfortable. But it wasn’t the first time or the last time I had had to deal with snide comments working in the Midlands.
The B&B owner was a Nottingham Forrest supporter and a mason, who delighted in telling me we caused the deaths through our “drunken loutish” behaviour. Over breakfast. He could not understand why anyone would turn up to a game without a ticket. And that this alone was indefensible.
It was the only B&B i could find that was clean and within a reasonable distance from the place of work.
9 months I put up with that twat and the twats at work until my girlfriend back home fell ill and I decided to cancel my contract of work.
Then the useless gobshite I had reported to “put the knife in” and put it about I was “unreliable” and “my work was poor”….all bullshit. The man was incompetent and incapable of communication.
This is the kind of shit I have had to deal with all my life as a 48 year old. Firstly having to work away because Liverpool is economically dead as far as engineering is concerned (my job) and secondly as a scouse LFC supporter. This is the shadow Margaret Thatcher, Bernard Ingham, South Yorkshire Police, The Sun, West Midlands Police etc have cast over the city and its people.
I have met some prize scum in my life.
I worked in Oxfordshire in April 89 on a building site. In the days immediately after the tragedy workmates from all over the country spoke to me to pass on their condolences and sympathy, this was heartfelt and it was as though, because I was a scouser they felt as though I could relay their concerns to the rest of my city. I found this very moving and was genuinely surprised that many expressed their relief that I was safe as they knew I occasionally attended games.
However, On the Wednesday following the disaster, I entered the canteen as usual to get my tea and breakfast and the packed room was silent, everyone reading their papers and nobody acknowledging my presence. On the table near the door was a copy of The S*n, nobody looked up at me, no condolences, no messages of sympathy, not a hello, what’s the craic? nothing.
The Sun is still stocked by many newsagents and all major super markets on Merseyside. My hatred of McKenzie is alongside Hitler and Thatcher.
some great pieces over the last couple of days here, thought provoking and moving.
having read the juries findings I am struck by a question though, although perhaps it’s just that I’ve missed the answer…..
thinking about the failures of the engineersand of Sheffield Wednesday, not reassessing the capacity following the introduction of the ‘pens’, not updating safety records or having a safety certificate etc.
my question is, this was an FA cup semi final, a showpiece event in the sporting calender worldwide, the event is run by the FA, they chose the grounds for the semi finals, did they not so due diligence? did they not ask for a copy of the safety plans/safety certificate etc before the match, weeks before when awarding this prestigious event to Hillsborough?
in fact, I find it amazing get they weren’t all over the Police/ambulance planning. wouldn’t you have been?
I’m left wandering how the FA seem room have escaped criticism? Sheffield Wednesdayand the engineers were named and had questions asked about them for the jury to answer, surely a 15th question could have been “did the football association exact it’s duties and event organisers to ensure that the chosen venue was a safe environment for fans?”
I was young at the time and so maybe they did have criticism and it was ‘sorted’ at the time in whatever way (as all the other issues could have been if the lies/cover up hadn’t taken hold)
just a thought…
This is forming part of the two on going investigations further reading here.
“An ongoing Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) inquiry into possible police misconduct is expected to report within a year and is pursuing 10,000 possible lines of inquiry. A second inquiry, Operation Resolve, is examining the circumstances surrounding the planning of the match and the day of the disaster. The Crown Prosecution Service has said it is in close contact with both inquiry teams.”
So Sheff Wed, Sheffield City Council and the FA would fall under the 2nd investigation, Operation Resolve.
The findings of the inquest have proven Unlawful Killings but it does not automatically mean that prosecutions will follow it means the CPS can use that finding along with the other two investigations that are currently on going to make a call to see if they feel any other body for example The FA should be brought to court.
I think what you’ll find is that at the time the FA caveated their responsibility with a clause in the contracts awarding semi finals to clubs such as Sheff Wed that all the responsibilities that you mention are the responsibility of the club not the FA.
That said I’m guessing a bloody good lawyer could argue that despite that caveat the FA should have a checking procedure that all the relevant certificates are in place their end prior to an event taking place.
thanks Brian, that makes sense.
I lived down south from 94 through to 2014 and will move back there in time. Besides the genuine footy / sports fans and people who say are interested in such matters no one gives a fuck, no one is reading the detail to extent we are. For 27 years there has always been an edge of scepticism around the actual truth, even now despite the decision I guess for some there always will be.
Many have said “nothing surprises me anymore with this.” and then Duckenfield gives his statement and what he says is just beyond the pale. How the people in the court that day held onto themselves in those moments when he told the court what he didn’t do in the days leading up to the game and on it is beyond me.
“Where were you between 12pm and 2pm”
“Don’t know, can’t remember”
How is that even possible
I hope one day this sits in UK history as Nixon was to Watergate, I hope all the brilliant work done by the families, fans and supporting journalists etc isn’t lost but actually forms the basis of study of how ordinary people took on the state and won. In 30 years time when some kid is studying politics, social economics, or journalism and asks what should I be looking at have someone say “You want to be a serious journalist you need to be looking at this.”
I only hope now that the state doesn’t do what it’s done in the past and close rank and file to protect it’s own or throw someone under the bus as a token gesture. I guess for those closer to it than I this is going to form an element of closure and this might be enough. Fair enough who could argue against that but for those who want to see people held to account and in the dock then now’s the time to keep the pressure on. Even if your a thousand miles away you can Email your MP, re tweet one of the many newspaper articles, share a Facebook page and so on.
I think you’r right, although the blanket coverage (Inc the excellent bbc and guardian) over last few days will have made a few of the ‘not carers’ care a bit more.
my partner is no kind of sport fan, and generally avoids the news also, however she read and excellent piece in the Guardian that I shared on fb yesterday and came home with lots of questions and comments like “but how could that happen” and “I can’t believe it’s taken so long” she had heard of Hillsborough of course, new football fans had died but not how many and had thought it sad but had no need/interest in knowing more until she discovered The Truth. she didn’t have a bad view of the fans, just didn’t know and didn’t follow sport etc and so was ‘out of the loop’ I guess a lot of people will fall into that category, but less than did on Tuesday
I’ve ben thinking about the verdict for the past couple of days, trying to take an objective view on how I feel about it – and I have to say I am confused.
1) The people that carried the fight are latter day saints, and the courage and class they have shown has set new benchmarks for what man-kind is capable of
2) Likewise those that where to ‘blame’ that ‘covered up’ that targeted the victims and the families of victims, have they set a new benchmark for what ‘man-kind’ is capable of
My challenge is, does this verdict represent a complete breakdown in the very fabric of our society.
I am so confused about sharing ‘air’ with the people who acted negligently, and not specifically at the time of the disaster – but those who after have acted without humanity, without remorse, with cold ruthlessness to basically lie or cover up – and by doing so tried to blame others.
So what next? Does Hillsborough change the way in which society operates, does it change the way we govern our leaders or public bodies, does it change legislation or law.
Hillsborough may not stop future disasters or deaths from occurring, but it has to be the catalyst for fundamental changes in the way these types of situations (God forbid) are investigated and managed…
I am still confused – I don’t know the legacy, but may be its too soon. All I know that if there isn’t a legacy that changes the way we do things then… well we may as well stop.
PS Andy Burnham was great, and his acknowledgement of Theresa May was class.
I totally endorse points 1 and 2 that you make.
I think that the question you ask about the verdict representing a breakdown in the fabric of our society is the most pertinent one that I have heard made by anyone.
The events of April 1989 happened because they were allowed to happen. The cover up happened because it was allowed to happen. The truth is out, not just because of the tireless work of the latter day saints, but because it has been allowed to happen.
Who allowed these events to happen? What agenda allowed these events to happen? Who allowed the truth to come out? What is the agenda today?
Theresa May spoke in Parliament and said “Clearly the jury’s determination that those who died were unlawfully killed is of great public importance”
The Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police was suspended!
Are we in a new age of openness, accountability and honesty? Are we about to see a whole range of miscarriages of justice overturned and exposed? Are we on the verge of a new utopian society? Have I missed the revolution? I hope so, but will not hold my breath.
Who was the government in 1989 and who is the government today?
Since 2010, what changes have we seen to public housing, the NHS, the legal system, education?
We have seen the removal of bureaucracy, red tape, centralised control, financial restrictions to produce more effective services that meet local needs. (Supposedly).
Who do you think is next on the agenda for reform of this government and Theresa May?
In a speech to The Police Federation in 2014 she made comments that brought gasps from the rank and file police officers in attendance, when she said.
“The Federation was created by an Act of Parliament and it can be reformed by an Act of Parliament. If you do not change of your own accord, we will impose change on you.”
Without the fight for 27 years the families would not be in the position they are in today.
But everyone should be aware that things happened for reasons in 1989 and thereafter and things happen for reasons today, tomorrow and the next day.
RIP The 96
May be its too raw still to make any objective opinions.
We are all to a greater or lesser degree public servants, regardless if by employment, election or the fact we live here.
Who do you trust?
How many countless thousands are suffering elsewhere because of cover ups and lack of accountability?
I don’t necessarily blame anyone for the tragedy, I doubt no one set out with the intention that people would die, but they did, and no one was held accountable – or accountability was placed on the easy victim… Well they underestimated those victims.
just don’t know how some people sleep at night, I suspect very well. And that’s just not what the human race is here for…its just too fundamentally wrong, just too anti-human, just too unbelievable.
I feel ashamed that I share the same species…
Catharsis : purification of emotions through extreme change resulting in restoration.
This is what I expected to feel in the aftermath of 9866 days of absolute injustice being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the cold light of day. The scale of the vast, deliberate, calculated web of spin, half truth, evasion and absolute falsehood that has been forced upon the 96. Upon those left behind by those unfortunate souls. Upon the city of Liverpool and in Sakho’s recent phrase – the country of Liverpool FC ( we know what he meant ) is quite simply breathtaking. The ramifications for the establishment are extreme. This was a systematic response to preserve the status quo. The entire ruling class, not just the police closed ranks. Now there MUST be Retribution and Restitution. And it must be seen to be done.
However I wasn’t prepared in anyway for the maelstrom about to be released.
Instead of just one I’ve gone through a range of emotions. Joy. Fury. Sorrow. Regret. Relief. Sympathy. Admiration. The whole gamut. Like a lot of people I think I just boxed my emotions as a coping mechanism. They’ve all come rushing out in the last day or so and I hope that for all involved this will be cathartic.
I was in my twenties in ’89. I’ve a wife and three teenagers of my own since.
I’ve wondered how the families have endured and thought of a Japanese word – Giri.
It means (roughly) duty or obligation. It’s often described as the burden that is hardest to bear. I think those left behind felt driven to pick up this burden out of love and devotion each and every day to ensure that their loved ones would have the Truth as their enduring legacy and NOT what the liars – all of them – tried to tell us it was.
For the rest of us it should be our burden, our duty to ensure that Retribution and Restitution is both swift and terrible.
Nailed it, Neil. As you said, soft targets have always existed. The Irish seemed to be on the receiving end in the 70’s. Scousers got it in the 80’s and now it seems it’s the turn of the disabled, the unemployed, the working poor and the Muslim communities. The media throw the shit, and people just lap it up because they’re too busy/too fucking lazy to question anything. Attitudes are gained by osmosis, from the constant media barrage of black propaganda, and from friends exposed to the same propaganda, who unconsciously reinforce these attitudes. As a country, we need to wake up and get our shit together.
The Liverpool Country does not seem such a bad idea.
National disgrace sums it up perfectly.
That’s exactly the word I was looking for in all the articles I’ve read about Hillsborough: Dehumanizing. Thank you.