Some lessons of the Hillsborough scandal

Max Ashley-Cooper reflects on the experience of the Hillsborough cover up.

Football: the window to the reality of the British establishment of state-media collusion, police corruption, and class and regional prejudice. And football: facilitator to the kind of unity that can overturn any barrier between those seeking the truth about this state, and the truth itself. There is a dark irony about the events leading up to 12th October 2012 and the horrific events preceding it; such  obscene – and accepted – abuse of state power will eventually lead to such a heroic and powerful resistance against it.

The Hillsborough Family Support Group had been fighting against unbending ruling-class prejudice since the terrible events of the disaster on the 15th of April 1989. Vivid accounts from senior police officials of Liverpool fans urinating on the police as they ‘pulled out the dead’ was part of the state and media sponsored chauvinism towards its lower-earning citizens since  Margret Thatcher’s election to Prime Minister. This vilifying of the working class, echoed in any of the current Murdoch press’ scare-stories of benefit scrounging parasites. Indeed, the complicity between state and media – quite clear to those Liverpool fans who attended the game and remained part of the HFSG as scurrilous lies stained their reputation – is still a flagship facility of the current British establishment; the sycophancy of prospective PM’s towards media-moguls – their ‘cosy’ relationships are still slowly unfolding through the eternal Leverson enquiry. Perhaps the most difficult battle the HFSG fought though was that against the absence of openness, honesty and accountability which persists throughout the Senior Police Force since before the Hillsborough disaster to this very day. The families of Jean Charles de Menzes, Mark Duggan, and Ian Tomlinson are seemingly isolated in their struggle for justice with their case against the state. In Britain, the right to a fair trial is granted to all citizens, but only against other citizens.

Still, though, the struggle faced by the collective strength of the HFSG was not made easier by their unity – the British state employs tactics to ensure that any anti-establishment movements are universally ignored. In fact, successive Tory governments used the repulsive stereotypes to reinforce the divide between the disenfranchised majority, and those who too comfortable to care less. Who could have trusted anything to do with those who ‘picked the pockets of victims’, or who ‘beat up ‘brave cops’? At the time, Thatcher’s government had already created the national vocabulary for conservatism – anyone attempting to improve the lot of the majority could have and still are labelled anything from ‘dinosaurs’, to ‘barons’, and ‘mad militants’. What started in the 80’s with Thatcher’s anti-union legislation led to the gap between conductor and the conducted, and the gap has been widening ever since. To overcome all of this is what makes the HFSG’s achievements so unlikely, so incredible, and so inspiring

There are many heartening aspects to the HFSG’s victory that people can take forward in their struggles against the state. The resignation of West Yorkshire Police Chief Constable Sir Norman Bettison – charged with supplying ‘misleading information’  with regards to the initial investigation into the leadership of the WYP on the day – is a significant scalp in the HFSG’s quest for accountability; the dogged approach of their Chairperson Margret Aspinall suggests that retirement should ever be enough: ‘I would like to know what payments and pension he’s going to get’ she stated, not happy with ay establishment credibility or comfort ‘until the outcome of the investigation into the cover-up’.

And brutal language isn’t the only battering ram forcing the HFSG’s message into the public consciousness. HFGC’s membership spans right across the socio-economic spectrum. Not only does it consist of the families of victims, but human rights lawyers, criminology academics, medical professionals and more. The forthright and dignified nature of the HFSG’s case has provided an undeniable truth to counter prejudice towards anti-establishment movements which has long dogged British public life. Despite public and ‘respected ‘ figures such as Sir Oliver Popplewell claiming their case consisted only of ‘conspiracy theories’, this broad church of disaffected resilience was irresistible on its course for justice.

There can be no divide-and-rule policy when so many citizens have suffered at the hands of their state for so long. The state and its apparatus fell upon its own sword on the 12th of October as the disrespect it showed to the HFSG only fuelled their fire for revenge. On the day and in the years since then, the failings of the police management and the apathy of the British State have not been unique, and it would be tragic to think that the HFSG’s victory is unique too. Like to HFSG, the disaffected in Britain are a broad church; the state educated families, the state-nursed patients, the unemployed, the underpaid – their families – are all victims of state negligence as the quality of life slips from their control and into the hands of a select few of a faceless ruling class. HFSG’s quest was for justice, and that has shaken British society when the report unveiled the endemic hatred that the British ruling class has towards its citizens. We can, and must use the momentum of the HFSG and unite our broad church of disaffected citizens against that hatred, before another tragedy does it for us.


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