Andy Richards reflects on the Hillsborough disaster
I was driving (don’t remember where) when news started filtering through the car radio about what became known as the Hillsborough Disaster on that April day in 1989. In that pre-Internet age news travelled a little slower than it does now, but I remember sitting there aghast as each bulletin raised the death toll a little higher. Six….fifteen….twenty…..fifty. I remember wondering how horrendously high it would go.
What was almost surreal as I watched the TV pictures later, was the utter cluelessness of the police who seemed to neither know nor care about the carnage which was unfolding before everyone’s eyes. These were after all football hooligans. – scousers to boot – just out for trouble. It was already known that the police regarded football fans as just about the lowest form of life, to be herded, corralled and battered at will.
But what followed the disaster itself was the perfect storm of all arms of the British state – media, security forces and Government – used to cover its own miserable failings on the day and then to smear and blame the victims for their own fate.
This one had everything – police briefing a compliant press with a story that today’s report has shown to be manifestly false, the tabloids only too willing to paint the false picture in the most lurid manner. The Police Federation even had a tame MP, Irvine Patnick, to feed the media with more lies about the Liverpool fans. Until today I’d never heard of Patnick and I never want to again. Some are calling for his knighthood to be taken away, but isn’t this what he got it for?
The whole State operation resembled nothing as much as that deployed against the miners and the News International workers only a few years before. The Liverpool fans and their families had become just another working-class community to be slandered and demonised.
From the Hillsborough Panel report we now know for sure that the whole phoney narrative that was built up contained not one grain of truth. There was no surge by drunken ticketless fans, no violence, no urinating on or robbing of the dead. Shockingly it now appears that nearly half of the dead could have been saved if the police had got ambulance crews into the ground instead of leaving them parked up outside.
But the media did its work well. The myths and the lies persisted and continued to be propagated by the media and willing politicians (including the affable bumbling Boris – see quote to left). Earlier today I was reading the comments on the Guardian live blog – the Guardian – and even on there were people only too ready to repeat the stories that the Panel had just demonstrated to be false.
There are lessons for us today in all of this. Firstly, treat any police account of any event with extreme scepticism. Hillsborough and a host of other events have demonstrated that the police will lie without any compunction when it suits them. I have seen this locally in relation to anti-EDL mobilisations, where Sussex Police have knowingly and brazenly fabricated events to make themselves look good.
Ditto – of course – the media. If Kelvin MacKenzie really is “sorry”, he could start to atone by telling us exactly to which organ grinder he was playing monkey. Who was giving the orders Kelvin?
Finally it is worth remembering that even as Cameron was offering his apology, he is planning a massive assault on “burdensome” health and safety regulations – despite the numerous safety failings at Hillsborough on that fateful day.
The Hillsborough cover-up was designed to protect the reputations of the powerful in society, but it was also about protecting their social order. And in that enterprise, those working class football fans were totally expendable.