Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Justice For The 96

Finally we have truth. Soon, I hope, we will have justice. In April 1989 a tragedy claimed the lives of 96 football fans. An incompetent police force, under the direction of uncaring and idiotic superiors, combined with football’s refusal to take seriously the genuine (but costly) safety needs of fans. The result was that so many supporters were allowed into the Hillsborough stadium during the FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest that 96 people would die, crushed between their fellow fans and the cages that held them. In the aftermath the police asserted their innocence, politicians wrung their hands, and the media vilified working class people.

For more than twenty years the families of those who died have fought a remarkable fight to clear the names of the dead, football fans and the people of Liverpool.  Today, with the publication of a report of an independent review into the events of that day, David Cameron issued a profound apology. I doubt the PM gives a toss about football fans or working class people, so the unequivocal nature of his statement suggests that the police are absolutely banged to rights.

The aftermath of the tragedy saw the police launch a campaign to blame the victims. It wasn’t their fault, they claimed, but that of the dirty Scousers who had beaten them into submission. The report says otherwise. Not only were the police at fault, but they had doctored 164 witness statements to absolve themselves of guilt. They went on to remove 116 criticisms of police action from the same testimonies. So began a massive cover-up, the likes of which we have never seen before. At least not one that the police have ever been forced to eventually acknowledge.

Just as with the deaths of Mark Duggan and Ian Tomlinson, the role of the coroner in the Hillsborough case was key.  Every single person who died on that tragic day, adult or child, had a blood sample taken. The purpose was to determine drunkenness in the dead – and thereby protect the culpable police force from criticism or blame. They failed. Subsequently, every faceless fatality was subjected (illegally?) to a background check as the pigs looked for criminal records that would excuse their murderous mistakes.

The search for scientific evidence merely helped to legitimise the pursuit of a witch-hunt. After a decade or more of ‘hooliganism’ – and the media were quick to remember the deaths of Italian fans at the 1986 European Cup final between Liverpool and Juventus – it was both a sensationalist and easy piece of copy to write. Nobody in the establishment cared that working class football fans had died. Surely it must be their own fault?

At the time the then editor of The Sun, Kelvin MacKenzie, wrote an infamous headline: The Truth. It was claimed that Liverpool fans themselves were responsible for the deaths that day. Furthermore it asserted that they then fought the emergency services, pickpocketed the dead, and urinated over the deceased. It was all bullshit; every single word a lie. After Cameron made his apology, Mackenzie issued his own. It was, as campaigner Trevor Hicks said, “Too little, too late.”  Hicks’ temperance is extraordinary given that he himself lost two daughters on that fateful day. I myself am not bound by such respectfulness as bereavement brings. McKenzie, like the paper he used to edit, is pure scum.

Today’s report represents the closest approximation of the truth in more than two decades. Why only the closest approximation and not the whole truth? Well… I have not yet had chance to read the whole report but it seems that little judgement is made of a possible conspiracy between the coroner’s office and the police force. It seems likely that this will become one focus amongst many of any potential future prosecution. Equally, I for one remain sceptical that no government has played a part in conspiring to cover up the available evidence. I have heard it said that initial reports into the Hillsborough disaster landed in the office of Margaret Thatcher, where a personal secretary commented that the police accounts had been “defensive bordering on deceitful”. This was, they said, a familiar story. Can we really believe that successive governments knew nothing of the truth? Or is it more like that they hoped the campaign for justice would simply go away?

To the incredible credit of the families of those who died the campaign refused to disappear. Instead it pestered, probed and persevered. Thanks to their amazing fortitude, battling lies and calumnies and poverty, they brought the state to an unlikely admission of guilt. The 140,000 signatures of an online petition calling for an independent inquiry and the full disclosure of unseen documents also played a part. It was a heart breaking and inspiring example of how pressure from below can triumph against the forces of the state. Finally we have a detailed report that exonerates the victims of Hillsborough and blames those with genuine responsibility. It dispels the dirty lies of the media filth and shamed coppers. Today has seen us arrive at truth, after twenty-three long, painful years of campaigning. Tomorrow we see the campaign for justice begin.