Hillsborough: 23 Years Fighting the Bosses’ Lie Machine

The Struggle Continues

Throughout Merseyside the days following 15th April 1989 were unique. On the Sunday morning tens of thousands of people spontaneously gathered starting at Anfield. With an unspoken understanding we self-organised in a massive queue up to ten abreast snaking along Anfield Road and around Stanley Park. Of course, the line to queue was obvious and unquestioned – the route mirrored the path that we all knew to queue for tickets for Derby matches and other big games. On those occasions the atmosphere was invariably marked with good humoured banter as the crowd awaited the appointed time and slowly shuffled forward, again managing itself and exercising its own collective rules for acceptable conduct.

Sunday, 16th April was different. There was an air of grim numbness, bordering on disbelief. How could more than 90 people, people like us!, have been crushed to death inside a football stadium supposedly fit to hold an FA Cup semi-final? Over the next few hours and days the numbness and pain slowly became coloured by insights and understandings.

The survivors and witnesses had stories to tell and quickly basic understandings spread throughout the area as we pieced together the horrors of the day. On one level, we all heard, sometimes second or third-hand, the testimony of those who had seen their comrades die agonisingly. The appalling reality of having friends, loved ones or a stranger having the life forced out of them as they stood next to the survivor was a ghastly experience that can only have occurred to any of us in our most evil nightmares.

But alongside the almost unbelievable horror there was also a shared understanding about many of the aspects that had led to such tragedy. The “ordinary” working people of Merseyside were quick to develop a collective awareness. We knew that the police officers at Leppings Lane had panicked and opened an exit gate around 2:45. We knew that the supporters who moved through the gate went towards a pen that was already heavily overcrowded and that the authorities made no effort to redirect them. We knew that while people were dying the police refused to open up the fence that would have allowed the crowd to spill off the terrace and onto the pitch.

We knew that the response of the ambulances had been obviously too little, too late.

Very soon we all knew something else. When the “Sun” published its vile and baseless lies that it dared to call the “Truth” it was clear that significant parts of the establishment were intent on peddling slander and lies. 23 years on we have been given a glimpse of the size and nature of that campaign of vilification

Let’s be quite clear. Without the commitment, tenacity and collective action of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, the cover-up with the boss’s state machine at its very heart would have remained hidden from view. The Group’s unstinting dedication and commitment is an admirable example of collective action in defiance of the ruling class and all their agents.

Again, for the avoidance of doubt, let’s be clear about how all-encompassing the collaboration was. Clearly the Police are now seen as the central villains having totally mishandled on the day and then consciously set about rewriting history to portray victims as having caused their own suffering. More needs to be said about the role of the police but it’s also necessary to see how so many other agencies played their role and were able to sustain the lies and deceit throughout the 2 previous state-led enquiries – the first by the Judge Taylor and the second initiated by the Labour Home Secretary, Jack Straw.

Let’s start with Sheffield Council, then a bastion of the Labour left. That Council allowed the match to be arranged despite knowing that the stadium had failed the tests necessary for a Safety Certificate to be issued. How sickening to see the then leader of the Council, Clive Betts, crawling from under his present stone in the House of Commons to hypocritically echo the disgust following the unveiling of the cover-up. We have already, mentioned the Sun, the flagship of the Murdoch press, whose editor Kelvin McKenzie held to his sickening lies right up to the release of the Enquiry report. We now learn that the local Tory M.P., Irvine Patnick, played a pivotal role in building the propaganda machine, being involved from the earliest days when he gave an interview to a local press agency (Sheffield Star, 14th September) which helped feed the Sun’s lies. It is clear that the frame-up also included the Coroner, Stefan Popper, who pushed through the verdicts of accidental death and refused to take any evidence dealing with events after 3:15 on the day. That piece of trickery flew in the face of numerous eye witness accounts and many of the original unedited police statements which were clear that many of those who died were still alive at 3:15. Tragically, the chances of saving or reviving them collapsed with the Police and Ambulance Service totally failing to provide an adequate response.

It is clear from the Enquiry that South Yorkshire Police stood at the centre of the conspiracy of deception – “The Worst Cover-Up in History” is how the “Sheffield Star” newspaper headlined it on 14th September quoting the lawyer, Michael Mansfield.

Among the Chief spinners of lies is Norman Bettison, now Chief Constable of West Yorkshire who also, in a macabre twist also spent time as Chief Constable of Merseyside. His Chief support in the early days of building the propaganda machine was Paul Middup, in 1989 the Secretary of the South Yorkshire (SY) Police Federation, also referred to as the Police “Trade Union”. These two specimens also stand out for being entirely shameless even after the report. Bettison has been quoted as saying that “Fans’ behaviour … made the job of the police … harder than it needed to be”. The “Yorkshire Post” on 17th September reported that Middup had “declined to comment”. In the same article the current SY Police Federation chair, Neil Bowles, is quoted defending him - “just because the panel has made those comments, does not mean he [Middup] has done anything wrong”.

However this is not a case of a few “bad apples”. The whole weight of the SY Police hierarchy swung behind the cover-up with the most obvious feature being the rewriting of more than 160 statements.

Of course, the ability of Police in Britain to “get away with murder” is not limited to Hillsborough. The catalogue of deaths in custody and shootings by the Police is well-documented. Equally well-documented is the failure of the legal system to punish the guilty parties. Even since the Hillsborough report, PC Simon Harwood, filmed hitting Ian Tomlinson immediately before his death, escaped criminal conviction and has walked away with his Police pension intact. Without a doubt, South Yorkshire Police also held a special relationship with the political powers during the 1980s. They had been at the centre of the attacks on the pickets during the Miners Strike and were well used to being part of state cover-ups such as that around the Police violence at Orgreave.

The “untouchability” which the Police hold has been only apparently negated by the Hillsborough enquiry. The Hillsborough Families Support Group need no lessons from us. We understand full well that the bosses’ state and their network of organisations, visible and hidden, is extremely robust and able to recover from and “recouperate” all manners of temporary and partial setbacks.

The actions of the police and the state during the tragedy itself and in the years following have shown how much contempt the state really has for ordinary working class people. The victims and their families have been slandered, lied about and lied to by all levels of the state. If proof were needed of the anti-working class nature of the society we live in, Hillsborough is it.

Already, the state forces will have developed a strategy for damage limitation. There is as yet still no firm commitment to fresh inquests. It can be expected that any trials will be extremely selective and much play will be made of the difficulty of prosecuting a case almost a quarter of a century after the events. The removal of the CCTV tapes from the control room at the Stadium on the night of the tragedy (“Observer”, 9th September) will be the tip of the iceberg in a wave of convenient amnesia and lost evidence.

The Family Support Group have moved mountains for the last 23 years. Their grit and determination will be tested to the full in the next period. KT

Thursday, September 20, 2012