The Hillsborough Independent Panel, led by the Bishop of Liverpool is expected to report this week. Hopefully the serious wrongs and injustices that have polluted the aftermath of this totally preventable will be righted after 23 years of struggle by the families. As if they haven’t suffered enough.
We drive to the Park and Ride in Hessle.
We are marshalled by stewards onto a bus, part of a continuing flow leaving every few minutes full of men and women of all ages, and children happy and smiling.
We alight on Anlaby Road and stroll through a parkland environment.
We have a choice of the lift or stairs. (Lift at the moment due to being wheelchair bound).
We emerge onto the smoke free concourse and can either dawdle over a pint whilst watching the live game carried on TV on the wall, or take our place with it’s panoramic view over the Circle’s lush green pitch.
“We” being a forty four year old bloke, his disabled mate, and a nine year old lad.
Go back twenty years and it’s a very different story….
Being a football fan in the 1980’s automatically made you one of Thatcher’s “Enemy Within”, treated with at best distain, and at worst contempt. We were fenced into pens and treated like the contents of a sewer by a considerable minority of the Police.
All of us of a certain age who followed their teams through the ‘Seventies and ’Eighties can relate the stories of rotten treatment in decrepit stadia, and of the ways in which the authorities rode their luck and why Hillsborough was no surprise to any of us.
Hillsborough is a microcosm of the era.
The era of conflict, the era of the systematic destruction of the organised Northern Working Class, the era of Tory inspired division where the aspirational white Working Class Londoner was encouraged to despise his free loading, scrounging, grasping lazy Northern compatriot, the era where the Middle Class Mail reading woman was constantly fed the drip drip drip of sickening propaganda about the “Enemy Within”, whether they be immigrants, Trade Unionists, gays, Lefties or football fans, the era of Thatcher, the era of “No Such Thing as Society”.
“I went to a football match and I learnt that people really do go blue and shit themselves when they are suffocated to death”, said a Final Year History Student at University of Ulster, and a good friend of mine. There he is, stupid Scouse grin, in my wedding pictures taken four months after he uttered those words as we sat in the Riverside Coffee Bar, Coleraine Co. Derry on Monday 17th April 1989.
I would recommend Phil Scranton’s book “Hillsborough the Truth“, and Jimmy McGovern’s 1996 film “Hillsborough” but they should never have been necessary.
You don’t expect to go to a football game and end up either dead, injured or severely traumatised.
But that’s what happened on 15th April 1989 when 96 souls lost their lives attending the FA Cup Semi Final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on that fateful day in Sheffield.
Just think about that for a moment. A bloody football match.
Simple and mundane. An everyday activity.
They weren’t going to War, out on the Beat, or dressed in Fire Fighters gear. These are the sorts of activities where you stand a slim, slim chance of the unthinkable coming true.
But football? It seems unreal and almost stupid that anyone would consider that risk now.
Phil Scranton has produced a forensic examination of the events the unfolded at Hillsborough and his book is a must read for anyone who wants to understand this blight on our history in the UK.
It is necessarily academic in it’s approach but the author never loses sight of the fact that this is a human tragedy, thus this makes it desperately hard, but required reading for everyone who wants to understand how and why this terrible event was allowed to happen.
Containment of hooliganism over ran even the briefest nod to health and safety, meaning this disaster was depressingly predictable, and as the day unfolded very few football people were surprised.
Basic errors in organisation, coupled with the Police obsession with disorder produced a lethal cocktail of circumstances which led to Match Commander Supt. David Duckenfield firstly being dismissive of the potential for disaster, and then panicking, ordering a gate to be opened in order to relieve the crush developing in Leppings Lane.
This in itself needn’t have produced mass slaughter on a balmy Spring afternoon, but the Police simply didn’t do their job properly.
A delay in kick off, and calm stewarding of people away from the main tunnel and into the outer pens would have prevented tragedy.
But the attitude of Senior Officers Duckenfield and Murray led the Police to assume trouble and simply push people into the tunnel, and certain death.
The criminal negligence of South Yorkshire Police, borne of contempt for those that they were there to serve was the major and over riding factor as to why these people died.
But what followed just beggars belief and would shake anyone’s faith in the Police, the Press and the Justice System.
Here is what Lord Justice Taylor concludes about Duckenfield, the fans and the aftermath;
“Hooliganism played no part in the Hillsborough Disaster”.
“Fear of disorder had an undue influence on Police strategy”.
“The real cause of the disaster was overcrowding and the loss of Police control“.
“Failure to close off the tunnel
was a blunder of the first magnitude”.
“Duckenfield’s ability to maintain control and show leadership seemed to collapse. He froze”.
When Graham Kelly entered Police control at 3.30 Duckenfield told him in front of a number of witnesses “drunken fans forced the gates”.
A simple, cold and blatant lie.
This created the atmosphere of hooliganism as the cause and allowed the FA to (collude is perhaps to strong a word but that’s what it amounted to) be party to the absolutely disgusting, under hand briefing that went on whereby the Police wanted to make the press blame the fans.
I generally reserve hatred for those who really deserve it, Hitler, Stalin, Saddam and the such like, but Kelvin McKenzie, editor of the Scum appears on my radar, firstly for the following which appeared on Wednesday 19th April;
The Truth is that some fans picked pockets of victims; some fans urinated on the brave cops; some fans beat up a PC giving kiss of life.
Drunken Liverpool fans viciously attacked rescue workers as they tried to revive victims, and police officers, firemen and ambulance crews were punched, kicked and urinated upon.
An unnamed policeman, fearing reprisals, told us that a dead girl had been abused and that Liverpool fans ‘were openly urinating on us and the bodies of the dead’.
How long will it take for it publicly to be acknowledged that fans themselves share the blame?…
The catastrophe was caused first and foremost by violent enthusiasm for soccer, in this case the tribal passions of Liverpool supporters. They literally killed themselves and others to be at the game.
And then on Question Time in January 2007 he refused to apologise, going on to say that his act of contrition in 1999 was forced on him, and he didn’t mean a single word.
Reading the above now, it seems unreal that this appeared in the National Newspaper, and Taylor places the blame squarely on the shoulders of Duckenfield.
He says; “Duckenfield misled Kelly because he could not face the enormity of his decisions and all that flowed from them”.
“This set off a chain of rumours, all of which are untrue, that caused enormous distress to the families”.
The Taylor Report was published in the Summer of 1990 and it seemed that Justice had been done. The British System worked and was justifiably the envy of the World.
Scranton goes on to prove that the Taylor Inquiry was in fact an aberration, the system had malfunctioned in coming up with the truth, and it was now time for the Authorities to close ranks and protect each other.
I read the last half of the book in a fog of anger.
From the Coroner’s ludicrous ruling that NO EVIDENCE AFTER 3.15 was admissible, thus letting the Police and the Emergency Services off the hook, to Michael Howard’s callous dismissal of calls in Parliament for a Judicial Review, and then the overt pro Police bias of Justice Hooper when Duckenfield faced a private prosecution, makes you realise that the doors of Justice slam firmly shut in the face of ordinary Citizens when they take on the Establishment.
This book is important and should act as a catalyst for a full Judicial Review that takes evidence from all aspects of the disaster, irrespective of time limits and finally gives closure to everyone that has suffered.
It is a scandal that tarnishes us all.
A footnote; In April 1999 I found myself at Anfield and standing in front of the Hillsborough Memorial.
I had been privileged the previous week to witness perhaps the best Semi Final of the Modern Era when Arsenal lost out narrowly to Man. Utd, and standing there in Liverpool looking at those names just chilled me to the bone.
I took my ticket from that epic encounter, scribbled something inane but heartfelt on it, and placed it at the foot of that horrific list.
Blokes who should have been my age.
JUSTICE FOR THE 96