|December 22nd, 2011, 01:56 AM||#81|
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Hillsborough Debate Continued...
17/10/11 8.48 pm
Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): Let me begin my contribution today by thanking all those Members of Parliament who supported the call for this debate. The Hillsborough disaster occurred when I was eight, but few other events have had such an impact on my life, or that of my community. It is a true honour to represent my home town, and I am thinking today especially of all those who have been affected. I pay tribute to those who have travelled here today to listen to us. My only hope is that we can do justice to their commitment, and live up to their example.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) on leading the debate today. On the 20th anniversary of Hillsborough, I sat with my family in the Lower Centenary stand at a packed Anfield, and I listened to him lead our mourning as the lord mayor of Liverpool. I was taken aback then at his bravery in describing the impact of Hillsborough on his life, and I was deeply proud of him, although I did not know him. Little did I know that, just over a year later, we would both join this place and become friends—and I am really glad we have.
I also place on record the thanks that many of my constituents have asked me to bring to my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham). Their leadership in government led the way to the Hillsborough independent panel being brought into existence, and their support has meant a great deal. I thank the Home Secretary for her words today, which have demonstrated her encouragement of today’s motion and full transparency, which is what we want. I thank Members, particularly those from Sheffield, for their contributions today and for their solidarity.
The motion we are debating today is essentially about the truth. That is what we want. For all those affected by events on 15 April 1989, we want to get to the truth—the truth uncensored, the truth without redaction, the truth with no questions left to answer. I want to say on behalf of my constituents why the truth matters so very much. To answer that question, I need to go back to the day itself.
As I said earlier, I was an eight-year-old girl at the time. It was about then that I started to go to football matches and, like many young children, I learned about the wonder of football—the atmosphere, the beauty, the skill on display—and I learned to stay close to my family and not get lost. On the occasion of the FA cup semi-final at Sheffield Wednesday that April, I was at home. Luckily, I was sat in our front room in our house in Bromborough with my dad—and I can still see the look on his face now, because he knew what was happening. Football fans all over Britain knew. They were watching on TV, listening on radios from other football grounds. Thousands and thousands were gripped with horror as bodies were pulled out of the pens in the Leppings Lane end of the Hillsborough ground, and thousands prayed for the safety of those being carried across the pitch on cheap advertising hoardings for stretchers.
The awfulness of that day sunk in over the weeks and months afterwards. It was the worst possible shock. As Alan Hansen, on the pitch playing for Liverpool that day, has said of the disaster,
“the number of broken hearts is incalculable”.
Sadly, for many I have spoken to over the years, there has been a grim recognition of how this could have happened. In the 1980s, football fans were broadly deemed by some to be scum. The relationship between supporters and the police was frequently poisonous. There was a culture of disrespect for fans.
As the interim Taylor report itself pointed out:
“Over the last few years, hooliganism at and associated with football matches has strongly influenced the strategy of the police. In their plans and management they have concentrated on averting or containing threats to public order...it has led to an imbalance between the need to quell a minority of troublemakers and the need to secure the safety and comfort of the majority.”
Yet this was something new in the scale of the horror. In the weeks that followed, people poured into Anfield to show their respects, and everyone wanted answers. Everyone wanted to know how on earth this could have happened.
Well, from a practical perspective, we do know why 96 people died and hundreds and hundreds suffered. We know it because Members have said it, but I want to say it again for clarity. The interim report of the Taylor inquiry, immediately after the disaster, found that police error allowed too many fans into too small an area of the ground, and an absence of effective leadership exacerbated the suffering caused. Despite problems of ground safety, different decisions could have been taken on that day.
As my neighbour and right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) commented, because of two terrible processes that happened straight away, both in the immediate aftermath and in the years that followed, we are still frozen in those early stages of grief in the awful horror of it all, unable to come to terms with it. That is why we need the truth now. The first awful process was the appearance of stories in newspapers which took the good names of fans who were at Hillsborough on that day and threw them in the mud. One newspaper in particular made untrue allegations of specific behaviour by fans that had simply never happened. Those newspapers took people who were suffering in a manner that few of us here can imagine, let alone have experienced, and ripped apart their dignity. Not only did those affected have to suffer physical and mental injury; they had to witness their honour being attacked as though they were the lowest of the low.
People may recall the pictures of newspapers being burnt in Liverpool at the time, but what they may not know is how those lies have echoed down through the years, and how they continue to be spread. I moved to London in 1999, fully 10 years after the disaster, and I was shocked then by how many people still believed the lies told about Hillsborough. They did not believe those lies out of malice, but no one had ever corrected them before. On many occasions I have had to explain what actually happened at Hillsborough, why the calls for justice still ring out, and why people will not “just let go”. Even today, we still see horrible claims repeated online, on websites. Those awful lies, which have been corrected any number of times, are still perpetuated. Often the people whom we correct are quite shocked, having simply assumed that football supporters were to blame.
I join those who support Sir Alex Ferguson’s call for the Hillsborough chants to end, which was highlighted by the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey). It is hugely important, and has emphasised the fact that the lies told about Hillsborough still have traction. However, given that not one person has ever paid a significant price for their dereliction of duty on that day—only the fans and the victims have paid that price —why would people think that anyone else was to blame?
That brings me to the second awful process that has brought us here today. Our justice system did not deliver, and has not been seen to provide a just account, for the families of those who died at or because of the disaster. No prosecutions have been brought against those who were responsible, despite the conclusions of the Taylor inquiry. The inquest process was flawed by the provision of insubstantial representation for families, and by a large number of other factors that undermine the authority of the verdict. Most seriously, as others have said, no evidence was considered about events after 3.15 pm on the day, so the actions of the police in the rescue operation, and numerous other crucial details that should have featured in a proper account, were not examined. The scrutiny of the evidence which took place in 1998 was likewise flawed, and private prosecutions did not provide conclusive verdicts.
The truth about Hillsborough has never been fully acknowledged. The truth about the causes of those deaths has not been put fully on the record in the way for which our legal system should allow. That is why, for 22 years, we have stood at Anfield and shouted for justice. It is why this campaign is supported by football fans from all teams, from all parts of Britain—as has been clear from what Members have said today—and indeed across the world. It is why I am trying to explain today why the full truth is so important to so many.
One of the most moving sights at the memorial service is the people who come wearing the colours of teams from far and wide to show their support. In every year that has gone by, our voices calling for justice have become louder. Each year, the numbers attending Anfield on the anniversary are larger. If there is anyone left in the country who thinks that the campaign for justice will just fade away over time, let me tell them that they are very wrong.
In my constituency, the Unilever companies in Merseyside installed a permanent memorial to all victims of the disaster. It sits in a beautiful and peaceful part of Port Sunlight Village, providing another space for reflection and a marker of the indelible effects of 15 April 1989 on our community. The strength of our community, and our commitment to justice, will not fade.
The motion calls for full access to Government papers, unredacted and uncensored. Release of the Cabinet papers—which, thankfully, we have heard the Government support today—is an important step on the road towards a full account, bearing witness to a heartbreaking disaster. No evidence should be kept hidden, even that from the highest levels of Government. What we have asked for today—and, thankfully, succeeded in gaining—is the support of parliamentarians for a full and unrestricted account. Parliament should back this motion because general Government policy has already been changed in that Cabinet papers are kept private for 20, rather than 30, years. We have already waited 22 years for the truth about Hillsborough, and we cannot wait any longer. This is a straightforward matter of letting those affected know precisely what happened—of telling in respect of every locus where decisions were taken, what happened and why. Only then, when we know the truth, can we have justice, and can we hold up an account and say, “This is the truth. This is how our loved ones died. May such a thing never happen again. Their memory will never leave our hearts.”
|February 5th, 2012, 09:52 PM||#84|
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dont buy the sun
|February 5th, 2012, 10:45 PM||#85|
Join Date: Jul 2007
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look your missing the point its a principle.
its was the sun that printed it under the headline banner the truth.
sky tv wasn't even invented in 89.
even though Murdoch later brought sky tv
our 22year boycott remains simply on the sun, in order not to dilute it.
and its editor of the time Calvin mackenzie.
if we feel this is the right thing to do. that's what we,ll do,
if its ok with you.
|February 5th, 2012, 11:26 PM||#86|
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|February 22nd, 2012, 05:55 PM||#87|
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PC Debra Martin 'coerced to change Hillsborough notes'
'People need to realise there are two statements, my original and this horrible copy that has been done.'
A former policewoman has claimed she was coerced into changing her evidence about the Hillsborough disaster.
Ex-special constable Debra Martin said she got a visit from two officers and pressured to change a written statement on the tragedy, which claimed 96 lives.
Ms Martin, on duty in the ground at the time in 1989, said her evidence related to the death of Kevin Williams, 15, at Sheffield Wednesday's ground.
South Yorkshire Police said the claim was not new and would not add comment.
MPs are debating whether a new inquest should be held into Kevin's death, after an e-petition to parliament reached the 100,000 signature threshold.
The original inquest in 1991 returned a verdict of accidental death on him, ruling that 95 of the 96 victims were dead by 15:15. A 96th supporter, Tony Bland, fell into a coma and died in hospital in 1993.
Speaking about Kevin's death, Ms Martin said: "He was still breathing at 3.15 (15.15)
"I stayed with him, I was definitely sure that between 3.50 (15.50) and just gone four o'clock (16.00) that is when Kevin died.
"He didn't die at quarter past three.
"I was wearing a watch, a perfectly good watch, it was working.
"Being a police officer, it's a watch you stand by."
Ms Martin told BBC News a female police officer and her male colleague visited her on a number of occasions and pressured her into making changes to timings she noted.
Ms Martin said: "The WPC was with a male colleague and they visited me at least three to four times over consecutive weekends.
"She treated me horribly and basically said I'd never been at Hillsborough so I said, 'Well, I've seen myself on film footage so I said sorry you're lying there'."
Ms Martin said the female officer who visited her told her of the remit she had been given.
"She basically said that she'd been told from people, that she'd got to do her job and that job was to tie loose ends up," Ms Martin said.
"I've always wanted to come forward and let people know there was a cover up. I never blamed South Yorkshire Police at all but when I'm looking at it closer now.
"Whatever has happened, it needs to come out, people need to realise there are two statements, my original and this horrible copy that has been done."
Kevin's mother, Anne Williams, contests the accidental death verdict at her son Kevin's original inquest.
Kevin, who was 15 at the time, was one of the Liverpool fans who died after the crush at Sheffield Wednesday's stadium during Liverpool's FA Cup semi-final match against Nottingham Forest.
Mrs Williams and her supporters say Kevin was still alive at 16:00.
His mother, from Liverpool, set up the e-petition urging the government to open a new inquest under section 13 of the Coroner's Act, wanting the accidental death verdict to be overturned.
|February 22nd, 2012, 08:23 PM||#88|
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|June 7th, 2012, 09:20 PM||#90|
Liverpool - Est. 1207
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From Digital Spy -
Liverpool - Unique Redefined
|September 10th, 2012, 03:18 PM||#91|
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Hillsborough and Battle of Orgreave: one police force, two disgraces
South Yorkshire police, who blamed Liverpool supporters for the disaster in 1989, had made strikingly similar blunders during the miners' strike in 1984, when 95 men were prosecuted for rioting – all were acquitted amid allegations of fabrication
They were two of the bitterest landmarks of the 1980s, but the connections between them have not previously been fully appreciated – the Hillsborough disaster, 23 years ago this Sunday, in which 96 Liverpool supporters died, and the "Battle for Orgreave" five years earlier, the most violent episode of the coal miners' strike.
Speaking to the Guardian, the prominent lawyer Michael Mansfield QC and the Merseyside MP and shadow cabinet minister Maria Eagle said they believed South Yorkshire police's conduct at Orgreave and in its aftermath, when it brought failed prosecutions against 95 miners, revealed a culture of malpractice with impunity that had not been remedied by the time the same force policed the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.
The similarities between the events have not been fully explored, they argue, but the links will help to inform the Hillsborough families' fight for some form of justice – the full truth about what happened to the victims, and accountability from those culpable.
The families hope that this will be a pivotal year for their campaign, as an independent panel of experts chaired by James Jones, the bishop of Liverpool, is examining 500,000 internal, official documents relating to Hillsborough, the majority from South Yorkshire police. The panel will write a report, due in the autumn, explaining what those documents add to the "public understanding" of the disaster.
After both Orgreave and Hillsborough, South Yorkshire police – under its chief constable, Peter Wright, who died last year – was accused of the concerted fabrication of evidence against the miners and Liverpool supporters respectively. After a substantial reform of the force begun by the chief constable who succeeded Wright, Richard Wells, the disclosure of the documents was initiated in 2009 by the then chief constable, Meredydd Hughes, in a spirit of greater openness over Hillsborough.
After Orgreave, South Yorkshire police claimed they had been attacked by striking miners, and prosecuted 95 people for riot and unlawful assembly, offences that carried potential life sentences. All were acquitted, after defence lawyers argued that police evidence was false, fabricated and that an officer's signature on a statement was forged.
Mansfield, who defended three of the accused miners, describes the prosecutions as "the biggest frame-up ever". Mansfield argues that South Yorkshire police, under Wright, had been "institutionally corrupt" and was still unreformed when the Liverpool supporters came to Sheffield for the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest.
Lord Justice Taylor, in his official report into Hillsborough, published in 1990, judged that mismanagement by South Yorkshire police was the prime cause of the disaster, yet the force relentlessly sought to lay the blame on the Liverpool supporters. A unit of senior officers, reporting to Wright, oversaw that case, ordering junior officers to rewrite their statements, to delete criticisms of the police's own operation and emphasise allegations that supporters were drunk and misbehaving.
In a parliamentary debate on Hillsborough in October, Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, argued that the police operation to blame football supporters at the Sheffield Wednesday ground was "truly shocking" and "transports us back to an era when football supporters were considered to be the 'enemy within' ".
That was the label famously applied by the then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, to the coal miners, on strike in 1984-85 against the planned mass closure of the mines.
Eagle, a long-term Hillsborough campaigner, has described that operation as a "black propaganda unit", conspiring to pervert the course of justice. She now says she sees "striking similarities" with the prosecutions of miners after Orgreave.
"There was a central unit working directly to the chief constable, peddling a story that was untrue, and fabricating evidence. After Hillsborough, the South Yorkshire police did the same, to blame the innocent victims of the disaster. I see this as a culture in which it was acceptable to lie and smear others, and they expected impunity.
"Only 23 years of effort by the bereaved Hillsborough families to get to the truth has stopped that black propaganda from succeeding."
The dominant images from the South Yorkshire police operation in a field close to the coking plant at Orgreave on 18 June 1984 are beaten into the national consciousness: police on horses charging into miners who had gone there to picket, and one police officer repeatedly hitting a miner (Russell Broomhead) about the head with a truncheon.
South Yorkshire police's response immediately afterwards was strikingly similar to its later conduct after Hillsborough: to brief the most senior politicians and the media that the miners had attacked the 4,000-strong ranks of police, many in full riot gear, and to say theofficers had only been defending themselves. In the House of Commons Thatcher described the miners' conduct as "mob rule".
Less well known is the outcome of the prosecutions of the miners – all 95 were acquitted after the police evidence crumbled in the first trial of 15 of them. In 1991, 39 miners were paid an unprecedented £425,000, plus costs, by South Yorkshire police to settle civil claims that included assault, malicious prosecution and wrongful arrest.
After Hillsborough, South Yorkshire police also briefed Thatcher, and the media, that misbehaviour by the Liverpool supporters had caused the disaster. Taylor, in his official report, dismissed that completely, judging the 96 deaths to have been caused by the negligence of the police, and appalling safety failures by Sheffield Wednesday football club and Sheffield city council.
Yet at the inquest in Sheffield, the police advanced their case against the supporters again, even more aggressively. The coroner, Dr Stefan Popper, ruled that he would hear no evidence on events after 3.15pm on the day of the disaster, so excluding the police's chaotic response to the disaster, which the force more recently admitted. The 3.15pm "cut-off" also deprived the bereaved families of discovering exactly how and when their loved ones died.
No police officer has ever been disciplined or accepted responsibility for the tragedy, deepening the families' sense of injustice.
In Orgreave, the miners' account of what happened, as related by one of those charged, Bernard Jackson, in his book The Battle for Orgreave, and in the documentary of the same title, was very different to that of the police.
The miners said they were ushered into the field by police – a puzzling change from the normal practice of blocking access routes and turning them away. The police version of events was that the miners had massed together and launched a violent assault before the horses were unleashed. According to Jackson and the others accused, there was very little trouble before the miners were charged by mounted police, then by officers wielding truncheons and short shields. The miners' evidence was supported by the police's own official video, which showed groups of miners relaxing in the sunshine.
The miners denied misbehaving and said they were indiscriminately attacked by police. Several had serious injuries when they were arrested, including head wounds from truncheon blows, and one, David Bell, had a broken leg. They said the police had handed them back to other officers, who made the arrests and, in each case, two officers made statements about what the men were alleged to have been doing. One police constable said in court that 15 officers had significant parts of their statements dictated to them by two detectives on hand to marshal the evidence against the miners.
Under cross-examination by Mansfield and the other defending barristers, including Vera Baird, later a QC and Labour minister, many officers' accounts faltered badly, leading the barristers to argue that the accounts had been fabricated.
In the case against one miner, Bryan Moreland, a police statement was signed at the bottom by two named officers. Baird argued that one officer's signature was clearly not in his handwriting and had been forged. She requested that when the court adjourned for lunch, a handwriting expert be called to examine the signature, to which Judge Coles, presiding, agreed. When the court reconvened after lunch, it was announced that the original statement had gone missing.
Copies were nevertheless analysed by a Home Office handwriting expert, whose opinion was that the signature on the statement was not written by that officer. Moreland became the first of the miners to be acquitted, on 26 June 1985, when the prosecution declared it was not continuing with his case. The other 14 were found not guilty on 17 July, before an officer who had commanded a unit with truncheons and short riot shields was due to give evidence. Brian Walsh QC, prosecuting, said, after 48 days of the trial, that the evidence of who did what had been obscured.
"It would not be proper to proceed," Walsh said, asking the judge to announce not guilty verdicts.
The defence had not yet begun, which frustrated some of the men, who had wanted to tell their stories. Following the acquittals, Mansfield described the case as a "frame-up".
South Yorkshire county council's police committee recorded grave unease at the police operation. "Of particular concern," the minutes of its 5 August 1985 meeting state, "were the allegations of a forged signature on one of the police statements, and parts of other statements having been compiled and dictated by another officer. If true, these allegations amounted to inaccurate perjured evidence at the very least, and called into credibility … the chief constable."
Wright, however, consistently defended the Orgreave operation. In a report to the police committee on 25 September 1985, the chief constable explained he had planned a strategy of charging picketing miners with riot and unlawful assembly, after, he said, previous disorders at Orgreave.
"Discussions took place involving the chief constable, his senior staff and the county prosecuting solicitor," Wright wrote. "A chief superintendent well experienced in CID work [who is not named] was appointed and directed by the chief constable to organise the collection and collation of evidence, and the preparation of prosecution files, whenever the scale and nature of events at Orgreave so required."
On the fateful day, Wright said, "the evidence-gathering team comprised one detective inspector, one detective sergeant and four detective constables".
Wright described the police statements as having "a degree of superficiality" and being of "insufficient quality and quantity", but did not accept the evidence had been fabricated or dictated. Nor did he refer to the forged signature. He argued the officers had been tired from overwork and had had to make their statements too "expeditiously" on the day.
Several Labour MPs representing mining areas called for a public inquiry, as did Mansfield and one of the defence solicitors, Gareth Peirce, but no inquiry was held. No police officer is understood to have been disciplined for anything arising out of Orgreave, for either the alleged assaults on miners, or the allegations of fabricated evidence. It would be six years later, in June 1991, when, with little national reporting, the 39 miners were paid £425,000 by South Yorkshire police to settle their civil actions.
Mansfield and Eagle argue that a culture of malpractice and impunity, exposed but not remedied after Orgreave, was still in place four years later, on 15 April 1989, when South Yorkshire police was responsible for the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough.
In his report, Taylor identified as the "immediate cause" of the 96 deaths the failures of the match commander, Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, who had ordered an exit gate to be opened to relieve pressure outside the ground, but failed to direct the incoming supporters away from the tunnel leading to the overcrowded central "pens" on the Leppings Lane terrace. That, Taylor ruled, was a "blunder of the first magnitude".
Duckenfield, with the disaster unfolding, lied about the opening of the exit gate, saying Liverpool supporters had forced it, a version that was initially broadcast on television before being corrected. A videotape of CCTV footage went missing on the night of the disaster, from the locked control room at Hillsborough, a theft for which no culprit was ever caught. However, the CCTV footage that survived showed the gate being opened from the inside on Duckenfield's order.
The following day, the police themselves briefed Thatcher that the disaster had been caused not by their own failures, but by drunk Liverpool supporters. The media, most notoriously the Sun, carried smears against the supporters, citing senior police sources, which Taylor later ruled to be without foundation.
The South Yorkshire police operation to avoid blame for the disaster, and to allege misbehaviour by the supporters, was maintained as a corporate task by senior police officers, overseen by Wright. Junior officers were ordered to rewrite their statements from the day, to remove criticism of the police's operation and emphasise misconduct by supporters.
The police presented that case aggressively to Taylor's inquiry, then to the inquest that followed, where the jury, to the families' enduring dismay, returned a verdict of accidental death. No police officer was ever disciplined for the failures that led to 96 deaths, a perceived lack of accountability that forms the core of the families' 23-year campaign.
In the parliamentary debate last year, Burnham and his fellow Merseyside Labour MPs, Steve Rotheram and Eagle, described South Yorkshire police's post-Hillsborough operation as "a brutal campaign to set public opinion against the supporters", "a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice" and "an establishment cover-up". The home secretary, Theresa May, did not dispute those interpretations, and maintained the coalition government's commitment to full disclosure of all police and public documents, via the independent panel, to the families first, then the public.
"The families of the 96 deserve the truth," May said.
Margaret Aspinall, the chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group whose 18-year-old son, James, was killed in the disaster, said she and other families knew very little about the earlier Orgreave events.
"We sent our children and loved ones to a football match," she said. "We entrusted their lives to the care of those policemen. I never dreamed South Yorkshire police had been involved in such things during the miners' strike. This puts the jigsaw pieces together: it helps me to understand what happened, how they treated us."
According to Professor David Waddington of Sheffield Hallam University, an expert on public order policing who was at Orgreave as an academic observer, Wells and Hughes oversaw a process of reform, aiming to win back public faith with a less confrontational approach to policing.
"As a result of the Orgreave and Hillsborough debacles," Waddington wrote recently in the journal Contemporary Social Science, "tremendous harm was done to the reputation and public standing of [South Yorkshire police] due not only to the misconduct of their officers, but also to corresponding attempts to divert responsibilities on to the victims."
Hughes's initiative to release all the force's documents relating to Hillsborough is viewed as part of the effort to be seen as more publicly accountable. Andy Holt, deputy chief constable for South Yorkshire police, who is overseeing the disclosure, said the force has decided not to comment on Hillsborough until after the independent panel reports. The force has not yet named the senior officers who orchestrated the changing of junior officers' statements.
Holt said the events at Orgreave were part of the force's history and because of the passage of time, he was unable to respond.
Of the Hillsborough families' campaign against the lies that deepened their grief, Aspinall said: "The deaths of our loved ones, then the cover-up and failure of anybody to accept responsibility for the disaster, has been torture for us – 23 years of torture. Now we are hoping for some truth, and accountability."
|September 14th, 2012, 02:05 AM||#93|
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|September 14th, 2012, 05:42 PM||#94|
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Here are two petitions from Liverpool Council for Bettison and Patnick to be stripped of their Knighthoods, please sign and share on Facebook,Twitter etc.
Aerials installed Liverpool
|September 14th, 2012, 08:20 PM||#95|
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Couldn't agree more Paul. Not only stripped but sent down frankly.
|September 15th, 2012, 02:24 AM||#96|
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Liverpool John Moores to 'consider' Bettison fellowship
|September 15th, 2012, 01:22 PM||#98|
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This documentary is a few years old, but it's educational to watch, now that the biggest cover up in British legal history has been exposed.
|September 17th, 2012, 01:09 AM||#99|
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Triumph of truth over power
The obvious reaction to the report of the independent inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster is to say that it's shocking. But, in one sense, it's not shocking at all. The Independent Panel have merely confirmed what not just the families of the dead but any thinking person has long suspected about the behaviour of the South Yorkshire Police and the cover-up which followed.
What is shocking is to see the details set down in black and white. The inaction of the police as 96 people went to their deaths. The revelation that 41 people survived longer than had been stated at the original inquest, meaning they might have been saved given more prompt action by the emergency services. The evidence of a cover-up of such systematic thoroughness that over a hundred witness statements painting the police in a less-than-ideal light were altered. The fact that the lies which appeared in The Sun had been supplied by a Tory MP and police officers.
And the testing of the blood of the dead, a 10-year-old boy among them, to see if it contained alcohol. Why? Presumably someone somewhere thought the information might come in handy. But when you read about the blood of a dead ten-year-old boy being tested for alcohol or about the South Yorkshire Police frantically checking to see if any of the dead had criminal records so they might be posthumously smeared, it is clear that we are not talking about simple incompetence when it comes to the behaviour of the authorities during and after the Hillsborough deaths. We are talking about vileness, we are talking about hate, we are talking about evil.
It is impossible to understand what happened in Hillsborough without placing it in the context of the times. The Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher, in her 11th year in office, was animated by a Manichean worldview which saw politics in terms of friends and enemies. H-Block hunger strikers, the Argentinian junta, left-wing Labour councils, Arthur Scargill and the miners had all been seen off.
Just prior to the Hillsborough disaster, football fans had loomed largest in the collective demonology of the Conservatives. Sports Minister Colin Moynihan was ubiquitous in the media at the time, peddling a line on football hooliganism which slid perilously close to the en masse demonisation of the game's followers. It was proposed, for example, that all football followers should have to carry ID cards. A Sunday Times editorial of the time described football as "a slum sport played in slum stadiums increasingly watched by slum people". The Economist described the game as "irredeemably tied to the old industrial north, yobs and slum cultures of the stricken inner cities."
This climate made it likely that sooner or later disaster would strike. But a couple of extra explosive ingredients were needed to produce a disaster, and a cover-up, of the magnitude experienced at Hillsborough. The first was the identity and nature of the police force involved.
Just four years previously, after a titanic 11-month struggle, Thatcher's government had finally broken the striking National Union of Mineworkers and forced its members to return to work. The key element in the victory was the granting of unprecedented powers to the police. And no police force employed these powers with as much relish as the South Yorkshire force.
The strike's most infamous episode was the violent confrontation in June 1984 between police and miners at Orgreave Coking Works, just six miles from Sheffield. Ninety-five miners were subsequently charged with public order offences but their trials collapsed and the charges were dropped. In 1991, the South Yorkshire Police paid over half a million pounds in an out-of-court settlement to 39 of the miners. In a prophetic echo of the way in which the Hillsborough victims would be smeared, the BBC manipulated its news footage to show a charge by mounted police occurring as a reaction to violence by miners when the opposite was the case. Seven years later, it would apologise for "inadvertently reversing" the footage.
Parallels between the miners' strike and the Hillsborough disaster were drawn by Sheila Coleman of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, who commented after the publication of the report that "it's always been our argument that the cover-up was payback time, Margaret Thatcher's way of thanking South Yorkshire Police for the way they managed the miners' strike."
And former Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw pointed out that, "The Thatcher government, because it needed the police to be a partisan force, particularly for the miners' strike and other industrial troubles, created a culture of impunity."
Skilled in cover-up, high on its own perceived invincibility and fresh from waving bank notes in the faces of striking miners who were struggling to feed their families, this was the force which confronted the Liverpool fans that fatal day. It is perhaps not surprising that they felt confident of getting away with their behaviour by smearing the victims. Hadn't it worked before?
The disdain of the police for the fans can be seen in the statement by Paul Middup, secretary of the South Yorkshire Police Federation, just two days after the tragedy: "I am sick of hearing how good the fans were."
How can you explain such hatred, let alone the alacrity and apparent glee with which The Sun published its slanders of the dead? Well, you need to look at the status of Liverpool as a particular bête noire for the Tory party. This stemmed to a certain extent from the stand-off between the city's left-wing Labour Council of the early to mid-80s and the government. The Council defied government instructions to carry out spending cuts and continued to do so, under the slogan 'better to break the law than break the poor', until councillors were legally disbarred from office.
This was a source of grave embarrassment to the Thatcher administration, something graphically illustrated when the Prime Minister, on a visit to Indonesia, was greeted with chants of "Liverpool, Liverpool" by protesting students. And when the voters of Liverpool initially reacted to the stand-off by giving the Council an increased majority in the 1984 local elections, the right-wing media's attitude can be summed up by the infamous headline, "A majority of lumpens".
Colin Moynihan seemed to make a link between the government's battle with Liverpool Council and the one against football hooliganism, describing hooligans as "the effluent tendency" in apparent reference to The Militant Tendency, a left-wing group to which some of the councillors were linked. No other city drew as much ire from right-wing politicians and pundits alike.
Yet today it is the people of Liverpool who stand absolved by history and the powers that be of the time whose reputation is in tatters. And it's the tenacity of the families themselves and their determination not just to tell truth to power but to wrest truth from power which has won this victory. The very Liverpudlian qualities which the likes of Margaret Thatcher once disdained -- a distrust of authority, a powerful working-class solidarity and a bolshie refusal to take no for an answer -- helped the families to do so.
The vindication of the dead will be welcomed in Ireland because Liverpool has always had a special place in the affections of many Irish people. It can seem almost like an Irish city at times and the familiar Anfield banner, "we're not English, we're Scouse," sums up the extent to which people from Liverpool can feel at one remove from England, particularly as represented by London.
When the Liverpool players arrived in Rome for the 1977 European Cup final against Borussia Monchengladbach, they were surprised to find so few of the club's fans in the streets until they were informed that most of them had gone to visit the Vatican.
There is an unmistakable cultural linkage between Liverpool and Ireland and not just because Lennon and McCartney sound like a midfield pairing in an Ulster club championship match. Look down the list of the Hillsborough dead and you see names which attest to the long history of Irish emigration to Merseyside: Brady, Burke, Delaney, Gilhooley, Hennessy, Kelly, McBrien, McCabe, McCarthy, McGlone, McGrath, Traynor, Tyrell, Whelan.
And then you look at the ages of the victims, 70 of them were under 30, 37 were in their teens, John Paul Gilhooley was ten years old, and you can't help being filled with sorrow at the thought of them getting up that morning, filled with the excitement familiar to all of us who've gone to see our team in action in any sport, propelled towards their doom by a mentality which regarded football fans as animals fit only to be corralled, caged and crushed. After the previous year's semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough, Liverpool fans had complained of dangerous overcrowding. No-one listened. They were only football fans.
I wasn't surprised to hear that the families of the Hillsborough victims had recently travelled to Derry to meet relatives of those murdered by the British Army on Bloody Sunday. Because there are similarities between Hillsborough and Bloody Sunday -- the long battles of the relatives for justice being one and the attempts by the authorities to smear the dead being another.
Just as newspapers originally ran false stories claiming that some of the Bloody Sunday victims had been armed, The Sun published a pack of lies concerning the behaviour of Liverpool fans on the day. Yet though Kelvin MacKenzie is an appalling excuse for a human being, he did not make up those stories. They were fed to the paper by a news agency which had been given the information by Tory MP Sir Irving Patnick and senior police officers, among them the previously mentioned Paul Middup. There had been an appalling loss of human life and a horrendous amount of human suffering but their first priority was to cover the arse of the police even if this meant causing further heartbreak to the families of the dead.
Perhaps Sir Irving Patnick supplied this information on his own initiative and Tory politicians further up the chain of command had nothing to do with it. Perhaps. And perhaps as Kelvin MacKenzie and his minions laid out that infamous front page they may even have murmured 'gotcha,' and thought the police were going to come well out of Hillsborough with the dead fans indicted as thugs and barbarians. Instead this was a story too vicious for even the tabloid reading public to stomach.
It's easy to make a scapegoat out of MacKenzie but the key thing is that The Sun's most vicious attacks usually served a political purpose. And that purpose was to serve the interests of the Tory party. Three years later, after a general election campaign during which the paper ran its usual quota of vitriolic propaganda against the Labour party, the Conservatives thanked the paper for its role in their victory, prompting the famous headline, "It was The Sun wot won it."
You see, nothing pointed up the moral bankruptcy of Thatcher's Britain like the behaviour of the police at Hillsborough. So it was in the interests of the Tory party that the dead be slandered and the police protected. In fact, it still is. In 2004, in The Spectator magazine, Boris Johnson, Mayor of London and perhaps the next leader of the Tories, criticised "Liverpool's failure to acknowledge, even to this day, the part played in the disaster by drunken fans at the back of the crowd who mindlessly tried to fight their way into the ground that Saturday afternoon. The police became a convenient scapegoat and The Sun newspaper a whipping boy for daring, albeit in a tasteless fashion, to hint at the wider causes of the incident."
So there you had Johnson, often portrayed as a lovable buffoon, not just repeating The Sun's libels but managing to sneak in a defence of both the police and the paper. Given what had emerged in the years since the disaster, this strikes me as even more appalling than the original Sun stories. The Sun didn't 'hint at' anything; it said that Liverpool fans pissed on the police and picked the pockets of the dead. And all of it a pack of lies. Imagine the mind of someone who can make up a story like that.
Johnson apologised when the report came out of course as did Kelvin MacKenzie but I think we all know what those apologies are worth. Trevor Hicks of the Hillsborough Families Support Group certainly does. He rejected MacKenzie's apology, calling him a "lowlife".
There's another way of describing those involved in the Hillsborough cover-up. You could say that they are "worse than animals. A cancer in an otherwise healthy body." That's how Colin Moynihan described football hooligans a year before the Hillsborough disaster. But that's probably erring on the side of kindness. Even the worst football hooligan might have blanched at planting lies in the newspapers while families were still grieving and continuing the cover-up for years afterwards.
May the dead of Hillsborough rest in peace. And may their families get justice.
As for the coppers who stood idly by as the fans went to their deaths and joined with the politicians and journalists to blacken the names of the Liverpool fans? I'll just quote from a song by a great Liverpudlian songwriter Elvis Costello, written about Margaret Thatcher, on whose watch the 96 lost their lives.
'When they finally put you in the ground, I'll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down'.