It took more than twenty-three years but the truth finally became public about the Hillsborough disaster today, and its capacity to shock remains as undiminished as ever. The families of those who died, who have fought tooth and nail for the full story to be made public, finally realised their wish today with the release of 450,000 new documents relating to the events of the fifteenth of April 1989, and for many individuals who felt that they might have washed their hand of all of this today will be a rightly uncomfortable day. Justice might not necessarily have arrived yet for the ninety-six innocent people that were killed in the act of watching a football match that day, but the truth – the full, unedited, horrible truth – is now out there, and this can never be undone.
The headlines – if we leave David Camerons apology out of it all for a moment – make for grim, grim reading. What has been confirmed today beyond any reasonable doubt is that so many stories that some had sought to trash over the last two decades were firmly embedded in the truth of what happened that day, and that there was a systematic cover up of the shortcomings of those that had blundered so badly which extended from the police to the press and even, perhaps, the judiciary. In order to try and get a handle on todays revelations, here are the headlines as they stand at the moment:
- Of 164 police statements taken witnesses on the days of the disaster, 116 were amended to remove any comments that were critical of the South Yorkshire Police.
- The weight of importance placed upon blood alcohol levels was inappropriate, and fuelled “persistent and unsustainable assertions about drunken fan behaviour not supported by evidence of moderate patterns of drinking unremarkable for a leisure event”. Blood tests were taken from the dead to see if they had been drinking, and police record checks were run against those that hadn’t with a view to “to impugn the reputations of the deceased.”
- Documents show that allegations against Liverpool supporters were filed by White’s News Agency, a Sheffield-based company, and that these were based on meetings held over three days between agency staff and several police officers, together with interviews with Irvine Patnick MP and the South Yorkshire Police Federation Secretary, Paul Middup.
- The original pathologists’ evidence of a single unvarying pattern of death was based on a false assumption, but it remained the basis of a coroner’s imposition of a 3.15pm cut-off on evidence to the inquests. It led to the mistaken belief that an effective emergency service intervention could not have saved lives. In some cases death was not immediate and the outcome depended on events after 3.15pm.
- 41 people had the potential to survive the 3.15pm cut-off, but it is impossible to say how many of these would have survived.
No matter to what extent we might have been expecting such findings – and much of what we have heard today has been discussed in hushed tones for some years – it is impossible to not be shocked by such a cover-up. Indeed the speed with which this all happened could even lead one to believe that a degree of premeditation may have been involved in it all. Whether this was the case or not is something that we may never find out. The result of it all, however, was the same – the dehumanisation of the dead and those that had sought to help them, the hopelessly flawed inquests and the years of outright lies being repeated as truths by supporters of other clubs in order to score petulant, childish and grotesque points over the supporters of Liverpool Football Club. Insult layered upon injury layered upon tragedy.
Yet the tragedy of Hillsborough was a disaster waiting to happen, and the behaviour of those that day was perhaps a reflection upon the attitudes of many towards Liverpudlians and football supporters at the time. That this country should have become one in which such demonisation and inhuman behaviour could have been carried out and that the lies in the press could have been believed by as many as they were believed by is a matter that should, perhaps, give us all pause for thought. Over decades, a policy of containment only from all sides led to football grounds being death traps, and nobody heeded the warnings. Nobody took any notice when similar incidents took place on the same during the 1981 FA Cup semi-final between Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Nobody listened to the complaints of Liverpool supporters regarding overcrowding on the same terrace in 1988.
Nobody listened, nobody cared and, when ninety-six people lost their lives as a result of this, the very people charged by society with ensuring that events such as FA Cup semi-finals pass off safely couldn’t only not cope with what happened on the day, but also sought to blame the dead and injured for their own fates. The lies were allowed to fester, not only with with the dissemination of repugnant rumour and gossip on the day itself and the presumption of guilt on the part of the dead, but also through a smear campaign carried out through the nations biggest-selling newspaper. The “shocked bobbies revealed how they were kicked and punched as they gave victims the kiss of life” were lying, and their lies were gladly swallowed by a newspaper which apparently placed political favour giving above common decency.
We’ll come back to a more thorough investigation of the report once we have had the chance to read it in full, but for now we’ll say this much. All of the work of the families and the campaign groups over the last twenty-three years has been vindicated today. While todays news is, at last, a hint of truth, no justice has been served today and it is to be hoped that all concerned with this monumental cover-up are called to account in the most appropriate of manners for what they did, and that those who lost family and friends will finally get the opportunity to find some peace from this most terrible of events. Those that have willfully closed their eyes and ears to the tragedy of Hillsborough can do so no more. The truth is now out there, but the battle for justice continues.
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