Robert Hampton

Another visitor! Stay a while… stay forever!

13th September 2012

Panel Game

"We Never Walk Alone" bannerYesterday was a momentous day for Liverpool as the Hillsborough Independent Panel delivered its final report. Shortly afterwards, David Cameron made a statement to the House of Commons, in a very subdued atmosphere – the only noise from MPs being the occasional gasp of astonishment as the revelations came tumbling out.

Regular readers of this blog (both of them) will know I’m not a fan of football. For me, however, the Hillsborough disaster transcends sport and is about wider issues. It’s about a disaster which could have been avoided, or at the very least reduced in magnitude, had the people in charge done their jobs properly. About victims and their families denied a proper account of what happened. About a complete failure of the government and judicial process to hold anyone accountable.

Most significantly, it was about a shameful effort to smear the dead and the injured. Sheffield’s MP and the Police briefed the media that the disaster was caused by fan behaviour. Several newspapers reported the totally unsubstantiated allegations, but it was The Sun, with its headline “THE TRUTH” screaming out from newsagents’ shelves across the country, that did the damage. That headline was read by millions of people – far more than would ever read the subsequent official reports that exonerated the fans in the ground.

The Sun’s editor at the time, Kelvin Mackenzie, has “apologised”. This is not the first time he’s apologised – or maybe it is, as he has said in the past that his previous apologies were completely insincere. I’m not sure what punishment is appropriate, but if any TV producers are looking in, it would be nice to stop seeing him pop up as a jolly knockabout chat show guest on That Wonderful Alan Titchmarsh show or as a pundit on The Apprentice: You’re Fired.

The Sun reiterated its apology again yesterday. Their first attempt at apology came in 2004, but only because of anger from many in Liverpool at Wayne Rooney, who sold his life story to the News of the World. It emerged at the Leveson inquiry that the paper offered money for a sports centre and promised to campaign on the Hillsborough familes’ behalf – but only if the paper’s apology was accepted. The families, quite rightly, rejected the offer.

The organisations who conspired to shift the blame must have thought they would get away with it. After all, who’d believe a bunch of Scousers over the word of the police and a parliamentarian? In 1989 Liverpool was a city in dire straits, suffering from years of decline. Its residents and football fans must have seemed like an easy target. Blame them, vilify them, kick them while they’re down.

Perhaps the powers-that-be didn’t expect the families of the 96 victims to fight back. But fight back they did, with a courage and determination that is to be admired. For 23 years they have campaigned tirelessly, and for most of that time they were met with indifference or hostility. They were told that the matter was closed, to let it go and move on with their lives, that they were wallowing in grief and self-pity, that they were whingeing Scousers. In spite of all this, they continued to press for answers.

Finally, last year, the Government agreed to release all the paperwork held relating to the tragedy, following a debate of the sort rarely seen in Parliament – and not just because the MPs were serious and spoke to each other like grown-ups. The Walton MP Steve Rotheram read the names of the 96 victims into the Parliamentary record, a moment of poignancy in a chamber usually more known for childish political point-scoring.

The release of the report, and the apologies from David Cameron and Ed Miliband for the failings of previous Governments, is far from the end of the matter. In a way, it’s a new beginning, paving the way for the big questions to finally be answered. At the very least, new inquests could take place.

“Justice for the 96” has been the demand for the past 23 years. Today was a big step, but only a step. There is a long process still to come, but after today I personally have no doubt that Justice will be achieved.

In the meantime, we must remember the key issue at the heart of the matter: the 96 people – men, women and children – who went out on a warm April day to see a football match and never returned home. I challenge you to watch this video without shedding a tear.

Tags: , , ,

One Response
  1. Comment by peezedtee
    13th September 2012 at 2:15 pm

    I feel sure there was an element of “oh, they were only working-class people from the North, and probably yobboes anyway, so they don’t really matter”, if only at a semi-conscious level.