The Government’s Hillsborough Documents Must Be Made Public
What, the inevitable question that will now be repeatedly asked will say, are they trying to hide? A little over two decades has passed since the Hillsborough disaster, and still no-one has been brought to account in any meaningful way for what happened on the fifteenth of April 1989. Since then, discourse on the subject has ranged from what we all know and understand on the subject – that this was a failure of crowd control, a failure of policing and basic safety – to the innuendo-laden and frequently hate-driven perpetuation of a pack of lies that was spread shortly after it occurred. Against such a backdrop, it is hardly surprising that those that lost loved ones may have been unable to find true closure on English football’s worst, most savage disaster.
The innuendo was driven, of course, by The Sun newspaper, which printed a tableau of lies in the form of one of the most shameful single articles ever written by a British newspaper. We don’t need to rake over them again at this stage, but it may be worth pointing out that it has been persistently rumoured in the intervening years that the sources for the newspaper decided would pass for a story – and it was a “story”, in a more literal sense of the word than the newspaper would admit for many, many years – were unnamed police sources and a Conservative MP. The editor of The Sun at the time was Kelvin McKenzie, whose involvement in the story can only be seen as bordering on strange, to the extent that he even retracted his initial apology for the behaviour of his newspaper at the time, claiming that “Rupert Murdoch told me to”. Few on Merseyside would have been that surprised when the systematic law-breaking of The Suns sister newspaper, the News Of The World, was thrust into the public sphere this summer. For the people of Merseyside, the whole edifice this arm of News Corporation has been a moral vacuum for more than two decades.
The issue at hand, however, may not be anything to do with the tabloid press. The point, however, is that we do not know. At the end of July, the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, ruled that documents revealing the discussions held by Margaret Thatcher about the disaster were in the public interest. It was, perhaps, a ray of light for the families of those that died that day. Perhaps now, more than two decades on, the relative of those that died could find out a little more than the platitudes offered to the press at the time about what exactly was going on at the heart of the government at the time of the disaster and in its immediate aftermath. The BBC had made a Freedom of Information request for the papers two years ago, but this was refused by The Cabinet Office. The BBC, however, requested that the Information Commissioner’s Office review the request, and Mr Graham found in favour of the documents being released, and also criticised The Cabinet Office for “unjustified and excessive” delays in releasing them.
We might, perhaps should, have expected that this should be the end of the matter. These documents will offer a window into what was happening at the heart of government at the time of the disaster, and should be released into the public domain. The government has, however, taken the decision to appeal the decision through the Information Tribunal. It is worth pointing out that to simply label this as party political expedience may turn out to be wide of the mark. After all, it could easily be argued that the Labour Party, had it wished to score party political points and if there was information in these documents that would specifically be embarrassing to the Conservative Party, they could have released them themselves. This, however, is all speculation and the truth of the matter is that these papers must, in the name of openness and in the name of perhaps allowing the victims of those that died a little closure after all these years, be made public.
The decision to appeal the ruling is, in some respects, possibly as embarrassing as anything that the papers could actually make public. What, as we said at the beginning of this article, have they got to hide? It may or may not be unfair to suggest that anyone has got anything to hide. The only way, however, that we will ever know now is if this appeal is rejected, and the government’s attempt at vindication on the subject, that, “”The Cabinet Office absolutely agrees with the principle of providing information to families about the Hillsborough stadium disaster, but we believe it is important that any release of information should be managed through the panel’s processes and in line with their terms of reference”, sounds feeble, to say the least. As Paul Nuttall, the UKIP North-West Member of the European Parliament (and, as such, not a man that those of us that write this site would often agree with) said in response, “Revealing the facts on Hillsborough is hardly a matter of national security, it is a matter of natural justice.”
We will find out in several weeks whether the government’s appeal has been successful. In the meantime, it is critical that we, as supporters of the game, show our support for ensuring that these documents are made public. After all, Hillsborough was a disaster that could have happened to any football club, and to any set of supporters. With the benefit of hindsight, the Hillsborough disaster was something that could have happened to any of us and perhaps we, as supporters, didn’t loudly address the issue of safety at football grounds loudly enough in the years prior to 1989. As such, Hillsborough happened to all of us. All it required was time. And now, more than twenty-two years after the lives of ninety-six people were killed in the act of simply doing what we all did every week then and what we all do every week now, it is time for this part of this story to be pushed out into the open.
You can sign a petition in support of the ICO’s decision here.
You can follow Twohundredpercent on Twitter here.