Hillsborough: Full Exposure Required

by | Dec 22, 2016

News of “another” Hillsborough documentary may have installed “Hillsborough fatigue” in observers of the on-going fight for justice for the 1989 stadium disaster victims, the 96 who died and families, survivors and witnesses whose reputations were thrashed to divert blame from police. I had an inner monologue on whether “Hillsborough fatigue” was insensitive terminology and wearily wondered “what now?” before Peter Marshall’s 48-minute film “Hillsborough, Smears, Survivors and the search for truth,” the December 12th episode of ITV’s current affairs series “Exposure.” The excellent film had the answer, “new evidence about what happened next” in “a tragedy still untold,” even after the recent inquests into the deaths exonerated supporters and excoriated police.

The most disturbing and revelatory new evidence concerned matchday referee, Ray Lewis, a genial, well-liked referee’s observer at many matches involving my team, Ryman League Kingstonian, with the “fun” bonus of being “from Great Bookham,” a genuine piece of leafy Surrey, rather than an ideal fictional “new town” purpose-built for referees. In May 1989, Lewis dictated a statement to a West Midlands police superintendent which referenced a “mixed” group of fans. “Good-humoured,” he told Marshall. But the “typed-up version…changed the word ‘mixed’ to ‘pissed.’” It seemed inconceivable that the gently-spoken Lewis could use “pissed” in a statement to police…especially after he said it on-camera. Said camera showed Lewis’s dictated statement. The handwriting was appalling. But the superintendent’s near-hieroglyphic version of “mixed” could never have been honestly-mistaken for “pissed.” The written word clearly had five letters…and none were “p.”

This exposed blatant material alteration of a witness statement by police to change its meaning specifically to parallel their narrative. “It’s been placed in there, possibly, to give support to police actions,” Lewis ventured hesitatingly, harsh words from such a mild-mannered figure. Maybe for some, nothing in Exposure’s previous 42 minutes justified the on-going fight for full justice for the smeared survivors of its title, as other evidential concerns were more complex. However, I’d love to hear them explain what happened to Lewis’s statement. “I’ve made a number of films about Hillsborough but I’m shocked about what we’ve found now,” Marshall said. This included discredited evidence about two major “smear stories” against Liverpool fans in the immediate aftermath.

In a scenario familiar to Scottish readers, the journalistic hard yards were done by diligent research from “internet bampots.” One social media name, “Tenacious Kennedy,” may initially have sown doubt in the research’s credibility. But his and others’ work removed that. The first smear concerned Liverpool fans shouting “Throw her up here and we’ll fuck/fix her,” as a corpse was carried away with her clothing lifted, exposing her breasts (“an alleged remark used to smear 25,000 Liverpool fans.” Marshall noted). South Yorkshire police inspector, Gordon Sykes, “admitted the story started with him” but called claims that he had fabricated it “absolute nonsense.” Supportive “evidence” emerged from local resident Cherry Daniels and well-known, if hardly well-respected, leading football administrator Dave Richards, who was on the pitch that day. Both accounts matched the Sun newspaper’s lurid reporting on their now-discredited “The Truth” front-page.

However, Daniels, it emerged in 2014, was “the daughter of…David Sumner, the chief inspector who’d been on duty at Hillsborough (and) the line manager of…Inspector Gordon Sykes.”  Sumner, Exposure reminded us, was a “Hillsborough denier” even after due legal process gave his theories a thumping: “I do not accept the verdict of the jury…(or)…that the Liverpool supporters were completely innocent because they weren’t.” (A tired, tiresome argument. Football supporters from Liverpool attended an FA Cup semi-final in Birmingham…THAT…VERY…DAY and no-one died. Were fans any different there? I bet Sumner doesn’t know). And concerns with Daniels “evidence,” an eavesdrop on two Liverpool fans recalling the remarks, were easily exposed. A nearby South Yorkshire police constable and a steward heard nothing. And Richards’ “detailed description of the woman’s clothing didn’t match any of the seven women who died.” The film-makers contacted Richards. Their letters “were returned unopened.”

Exposure also examined Daniels’ disclosure of her familial link to the Hillsborough police. On-screen documents revealed that “in…1989 and 2014” Daniels “fully disclosed the relationship…(and)…was informed on (both occasions that it) was not relevant.” The 2014 disclosure was to West Midlands police (currently “under investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC)”). They also called the relationship irrelevant. The IPCC interviewed Daniels but found “no record in any investigation of her disclosing the relationship.” It emerged “only when the inquest jury was absent.” And leading Hillsborough justice campaigner Phil Scraton testily called this “crucial evidence…compromised by the relationship between the evidence-giver and the police,” asking “who knew that and didn’t declare it?” The inquest coroner said the relationship “does not mean that she lied.” But Exposure’s concerning revelations must surely be key to on-going investigations. As Daniels herself posted on Facebook, “it is the culture of the service and the hierarchy/politics that arrange cover-ups.”

The second smear was that Liverpool supporters stubbed out lighted cigarettes on the body of a police horse on crowd control outside Hillsborough, claims methodically dismantled by the wonderfully-named Professor Derek Knottenbelt OBE, from Glasgow’s Weipers Centre Equine Hospital. On 23 April 1989, a Sunday Times newspaper article “The Truth” (0/10 for originality) contained the allegations, which were “accepted as” a “despicable act of a hooligan whether in drink or not” by Lord Justice Taylor’s official report into the disaster. However, Exposure revealed that the original South Yorkshire police press office log said “PC David Scott’s horse” was “subjected to such threats but they were not carried out.” This point, shots of the log showed, “was not released” to the local Sheffield Star newspaper, although Marshall’s narrative did not reference this.

Five days after the Sunday Times story, Scott, “in contrast to the police log,” said he had “inspected my horse” and found “several lumps…consistent with lighted cigarettes stubbed out on his body.” The film also quoted evidence from Phillip Webb, a farrier (a horses’ hooves carer) who, on April 18th, reported “14 distinct burns…consistent with cigarettes being put out on…and…maliciously twisted into his skin.” Knottenbelt was “puzzled by the sequence of events,” Marshall understated nicely. Hillsborough “was not a farrier event,” Knottenbelt said. He found it “implausible” that a farrier could see what he reported “at three days.” And “that surprises me” was his response, usually alongside derisive laughter, to Scott’s, Webb’s and any grooms’ failure to call in a vet, or photograph the injuries, “(which) every single court in the land demands.”

He also vehemently refuted a West Midlands police claim that “the horse’s movements…suggested he was injured or in discomfort,” insisting: “That animal is not in distress, I don’t care what anybody says. There is nothing to suggest (the horse) has been subjected to anything to be honest.” Fan Frank Wilson had complained to police about Scott’s behaviour, a narrative the documentary pushed with footage of Scott “lashing out at fans outside the turnstiles.” Wilson said he “was told” that “because of what happened to the horse, the officer wasn’t charged,” although he didn’t specify who said this. Exposure’s attempts to obtain the “other side” of this story met with familiar stonewalling. Scott had “spoken to the IPCC and was making no further comment.” And Webb “didn’t respond to our letter.”

The film then covered “old” ground – the ‘combative’ witness interview techniques of West Midlands police, the “independent” investigators of South Yorkshire police’s Hillsborough operations. But it was still disturbingly revelatory. Even Marshall himself found that his own statement to a witness “hotline” contained “not a single word about my main complaint, the reason for my call, the failings of South Yorkshire police.” Other survivors were lied to about people dying in the tunnel, about being “the only one of 4,000…unhappy with how they were interviewed” and about being in the Socialist Workers Party (jeez) but not at the match (“I gave you my match ticket.” “You could have found that in the street”). Worse still, officers were more concerned about whether a friend of victims Inga Shah and Marian McCabe had been “shagging them.” “They said that?” asked an incredulous Marshall of Inga’s daughter Becky, who recounted the tale on-camera. Again, I’d love to hear it explained how that helped police with their inquiries.

Exposure frequently referenced the IPCC investigation “into what they call an alleged cover-up,” the findings of which are due next month, with the Crown Prosecution Service “deciding on possible charges next year.” These investigations were the excuse for the police forces to, ahem, “decline to comment.” And faith in the “I” of the IPCC is collapsing. South Yorkshire police’s chief constable David Crompton fully apologised in 2012 for the disaster and the “disgraceful lies” about fans. But at the inquest, police lawyers said the jury should not be informed of this apology and repeated the discredited allegations against Liverpool fans and others. They also kept secret Crompton’s specific instructions to lawyers. And the IPCC ruled that while some legal teams “clearly caused distress among those affected by the disaster,” questions about fan behaviour “were infrequent and did not suggest…a calculated approach (or) a criminal or misconduct offence.” They failed to explain why such questions needed asking.

The IPCC also found against press officer Hayley Court who claimed she was told to “spin” evidence briefings to journalists in the force’s favour, again including discredited allegations against fans. South Yorkshire police inspector, now Met Police commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe’s false claims (plural) about making statements to the Taylor inquiry were deemed, ahem, “unfortunate mistakes.” And Ray Lewis revealed that an IPCC investigator “felt” the change to his statement “was a genuine typing error.” Combined with the above, the IPCC investigator’s ability to produce such demonstrable rubbish destroys their claims of “independence.”

We may think we’ve heard it all about Hillsborough and be prone to “Hillsborough fatigue,” especially as some justice has been achieved and survivor Kevin Cowley could say on-camera: “I feel proud now, for the first time, that I can…say ‘yeah, I was at Hillsborough.’” But Marshall admirably demonstrated why the fight for full justice must continue. The smears have “shaped” survivors. Professor Peter Rankin, “now an eminent neuro-psychologist,” said: “If your most significant experience is invalidated by someone and (you are) not believed by the rest of the world, you have to fight for that to be corrected otherwise you don’t really exist as a person” I recently wrote, about another football-related campaign encountering official obfuscation: “If (campaigners) had long-entered ’sledgehammer-to-crack-nut’ territory, that was hardly their fault. And the resistance to their simple question only shows how right they were to ask it.” Hillsborough Justice campaigners have more, and more important, but equally simple questions. Even after £80m worth of criminal investigation. The resistance to their simple questions only show how right they are to ask them…and to continue until they get the answers.

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