By Dr BINOY KAMPMARK
“Many of the 96 died within feet of me. I survived, but, unable to move any part of my body from the neck down in the crush, I could do no more for these people than watch them die.” These words of helpless sorrow were penned by Adrian Tempany, describing the demise of people in the crush of the Hillsborough football disaster on April 15, 1989.
(May 2) – Tempany’s description for The Guardian is filled with morbid and moving accounts about an event which took place 27 years ago at the neutral venue of Sheffield Wednesday, featuring an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. The Leppings Lane stand, accessible only via one of seven turnstiles, became a death trap for Liverpool fans.
Last week’s proceedings at Warrington, the offspring of the Hillsborough Independent Panel of 2012 which found that Liverpool fans were in no way responsible for the carnage, were witnessed by some 200 people, numbered among the survivors, the grieving, and activists.
They witnessed coronial proceedings that found that spectators at the match had died of compression asphyxia, a situation compounded by a catastrophically inadequate response from the South Yorkshire metropolitan ambulance service and police personnel.
The most vital of the questions to be submitted to the jury involved whether members were satisfied “that those who died in the disaster were unlawfully killed”. The answer was an affirming Yes.
The seventh question was also vital to proceedings. “Was there any behaviour on the part of football supporters which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles?” The answer to the coroner: No.
This was not the end of it. “Was there any behaviour on the part of supporters that may have caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles?,” directed the coroner to the jury. “Is your answer No?” With some dread, supporters and activists waited. Then came the reassuring answer: “It is.”
The question was significant given suggestions, made at stages after the lethal event, that the deaths had been the consequence of the fans themselves, self-inflicted acts of suicidal, mob-directed horror. European football, and certainly English football, had developed a deep reputation for savage mob violence. It became the central point of reference for shoddy reaction on the part of authorities, an apologia for miscalculation, ineptitude and near criminal negligence.
Those who had made complaints to the unsympathetic police in the aftermath of the disaster were treated with varying degrees of contempt.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, for one, always felt there were enough police on duty.
The papers waged a concerted campaign in describing the event as one inflicted by villains and sporting brigands who had stemmed from a doomed second class city. (Eight years prior, chancellor Geoffrey Howe had suggested to the PM on financing Liverpool that “the option of managed decline is one we should not forget altogether. We must not expend our limited resources in trying to make water flow uphill.”)
Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun was, as was to be expected, the most colourful. The editor at the time, Kelvin MacKenzie, made it his personal mission to smear and condemn the supporters, claiming that hooligan Liverpudlians had urinated in glee on brave police, pilfered from the dead and obstructed those keen to resuscitate the dying.
With the bodies still warm, he juggled two options of headline: “You Scum” or “The Truth.” Eventually, he went for the latter, despite warnings within the paper about the potential inaccuracy of the message. “Drunken Liverpool fans,” went the story, “viciously attacked rescue workers as they tried to revive victims of the Hillsborough soccer disaster, it was revealed last night.” To this day, some shops boycott that intemperate rag.
The authorities also chipped in. A “pale and inarticulate” Chief Constable Peter Wright, to use a description of then home secretary Douglas Hurd, dug into the treasure trove of primordial themes – the fans at Hillsborough had been “animalistic” in their behaviour.
Sir Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher’s Press Secretary, went for the more conventional line in a 1996 letter to Liverpool fan Graham Skinner that “there would have been no Hillsborough disaster if tanked up yobs had not turned up in large numbers to force their way in the ground.”
This manifest loathing of the yob of Liverpool, the primitive Scouse, persisted eight years later with the current mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who decided to weigh in with a few clumsy swipes when editor of the Spectator. “They see themselves whenever possible as victims, and resent their victim status; yet at the same time they wallow in it.”
On Hillsborough, Johnson could not resist noting that the deaths of 1989, while “a greater tragedy than any single death” did not “excuse Liverpool’s failure to acknowledge, even to this day, the part played in the disaster by drunken fans at the back of the crowd who mindlessly tried to fight their way into the ground that Saturday afternoon.” Rubbishing the Liverpudlian remained de rigeur.
This was class and attitude: the dead and the survivors were thugs who got what they deserved, and were irresponsibly shirking reality. Not even Johnson’s penitential journey to Liverpool, urged on by then Tory leader Michael Howard, could dispel that reality.
The inquest, however, found otherwise. It had taken years, a vale of tears, and the incessant presence of trauma, but the findings were indisputable. The next step, if it is to be taken, will occur in the criminal realm.
Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: email@example.com
The power of solidarity and determination: One of the many lessons of Hillsborough
Jeff Goulding reflects on a historic day for Liverpool FC, the city, the British legal system – but above all, the families of the 96.
Six women and three men, in a purpose built room made of glass and brick, in the small town of Warrington, delivered a verdict that will reverberate through the generations.
Their part in this epic struggle for truth and justice is indeed a historic one, but it plays ‘second fiddle’ to the ordinary citizens, the bereaved and the survivors who refused to go away, who spoke truth to power for 27 years and eventually made the powerful yield.
It is now a matter of public record, thanks to the bravery of these people, who have wrenched the truth from the cold claw of a heartless state, that the 96 and all those who suffered at Hillsborough played no part in the disaster.
They were innocents, who walked into the ‘perfect storm’ of a stadium that was no more than a death trap, that had no valid safety certificate, managed by an incompetent police force, who viewed them as trouble makers and treated them like cattle.
This is the same police force who beat striking miners at Orgreave, who paid up nearly half a million pounds in compensation, without admitting guilt. Perhaps their brutal defeat of the miners gave them a sense of invulnerability. After all, if they could get away with such brutal oppression on the picket lines, in the full glare of the media, how hard would it be to fit-up a bunch of football supporters?
We now know they had no shortage of willing accomplices. A government, headed by Margaret Thatcher, only too happy to render assistance and help spread their lies. How interesting that the Prime Minister’s press secretary repeated police lies that a “tanked up mob” forced their way into the ground and caused the crush. How ironic that these same lies were concocted by police officers, busy getting “tanked up” in a club, while the bereaved were busy trying to find news of their loved ones.
This lie, manufactured for no other reason than to shift the blame onto supporters has lingered like a stain on the memory of the 96 for more than a quarter of a century. They blamed the dead, they blamed the survivors and for a while their lies stuck. No more. We have known the truth from the very beginning and now the world does too.
We know also that those same innocents, even at the point when catastrophe became glaringly obvious to all, were robbed of their last chance of survival, by an emergency response that was too slow and too inadequate to save their lives. They didn’t stand a chance.
Only for the actions of Liverpool supporters on the day, themselves, brutalised and traumatised by what they had witnessed and escaped, there would surely have been even more fatalities. These supporters, instead of collapsing or running to safety, instead ripped down advertising hoardings and ferried the scores of injured to safety. Some administered CPR, others helped the ‘walking wounded’. They were heroes, all of them.
When the original verdict of accidental death was quashed, after the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report, it was made abundantly clear that the narrative which blamed the supporters was false.
Yet still South Yorkshire Police continued to argue that the fans were culpable, a tactic that prolonged the inquest and the pain of the families. It forced survivors to have to ‘defend’ themselves and relive terrible memories.
Now it is time for a different narrative to emerge. Yes Hillsborough was a terrible tragedy. The human cost is enormous and we may never know its true extent. How many lives have been irrevocably damaged, how many lives ended in suicide or illnesses associated with the stress of grief and survivor guilt?
But today a new story of Hillsborough needs to be told.
It is one that our children and grandchildren should hear. It is one that future generations to come will draw strength from. It is a story of heroic and ultimately victorious struggle by ordinary citizens against heartless authority. Justice was not handed down by a benevolent state today, it was hard fought and those responsible were dragged ‘kicking and screaming’ into acknowledging their culpability.
The story of Hillsborough will, I believe, be remembered as a tale of enduring solidarity, of unimaginable heroism and sheer persistence in the name of truth and justice. It is an inspirational lesson to all who are fighting seemingly insurmountable odds that, no matter how many times you are knocked down, if you keep getting up you will in the end be victorious.
My city has a proud history of community and of resisting injustice. Its people don’t know the meaning of the phrase ‘lost cause’. There was no way we, red or blue, would abandon the families of the 96 or the survivors.
I believe that same spirit courses through the veins of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and the Hillsborough Family Supporters Group. It is what drove Anne Williams and it’s the reason we have justice today.
It was also undoubtedly a characteristic shared by the 96 themselves and each of us knows that if we had swapped places with any of them, they would have fought the same battle in our name. An injury to one is an injury to all. This is how it has always been in my city. It’s how it will always be and this is how I will reflect on legacy of the 96 and Hillsborough.
The original source is the Liverpool football site, This is Anfield
Security and justice lies in fighting for the rights of all
Police carried cover-up of their criminal hooliganism for 27 years through to 2016
Excerpts from the British media, 2016
Here’s how the English media saw the Hillsborough inquest verdict.
For most, justice was the prevailing word, with a 27-year wait ending with an emphatic delivery in Warrington.
Chris Bascombe of the Telegraph labelled it a “bittersweet victory” for the families and survivors, with justice coming years too late:
The city of Liverpool, bonded in grief and rage in 1989, was united in pride and validation as it received the verdicts of the Hillsborough inquests.
Hundreds gathered at the city’s St George’s Hall, hundreds of thousands across the city painstakingly monitored the response to each of the 14 key questions, relief giving way to an unburdening of 27 years of emotion.
It was the answer to question six – that of unlawful killing – that provoked most tears. You could say of joy, but a tainted happiness. There could never be a more bittersweet victory, if indeed any sense of triumph can be applied to such belated public exposure and acknowledgement of truth.
The Mirror‘s Brian Reade recalled the “heartbreaking” scene in the courtroom as the jury revealed their verdict:
Up until now there was a big lie on their graves. An epitaph that said these 96 innocents died in an accident.
Now THE TRUTH is written large. They died because those entrusted with their safety were criminally negligent.
And as the jury delivered the unlawful killing verdicts and exonerated the fans, the joy on those tear-stained faces, laced with anger that it had taken so long for the truth to come out in court, was one of the most poignant, heart-breaking scenes I’ve ever witnessed.
The Telegraph‘s Paul Hayward, delivering a thorough and sensitive unravelling of the events and the aftermath, lauded a climax of truth:
The youngest Hillsborough victim was Jon-Paul Gilhooley, aged 10. The oldest was Gerard Baron, 67. Thirty-eight were aged 19 or under. The memories of all have been trapped in a political and legal limbo that has held for 27 years. These were not random deaths. There were causes. And now there is truth. There is a reckoning.
Former Liverpool striker John Aldridge, who was at Hillsborough on the day of the disaster, recalled to the dressing rooms as the horror played out, called Tuesday’s verdict “the biggest victory in the history of the club” in his column forthe Liverpool Echo:
Today’s verdicts are a complete, and absolutely deserved, vindication for the victims, for the survivors, the families, and for Liverpool fans and the city as a whole.
This, for me, is the biggest victory in the history of the club. And it’s got nothing to do with football.
As the ruling laid the blame at the feet of the police and ambulance workers at Hillsborough that day, many called for a renewed pursuit of further justice.
The Guardian‘s David Conn, who was applauded by the Hillsborough families during Tuesday’s press conference, detailed the police’s continued efforts to shift blame—even yesterday:
The remnants of the police effort to blame the supporters were on show even here, despite the families’ long, exhausting battle against it, and the lord chief justice, Igor Judge, having stated when he quashed the first inquest that the narrative was false.
Duckenfield’s own barrister, John Beggs QC, an advocate instructed by police forces nationwide, pressed the case most forcefully that supporters had misbehaved, persistently introducing as context into his questioning notorious previous episodes of football hooliganism, his manner often repellent to the families attending.
But Beggs was not alone. The present-day South Yorkshire police force itself and the Police Federation also argued that Liverpool supporters outside the Leppings Lane end could be found to have contributed to the disaster because “a significant minority” were alleged to have been drunk and “non-compliant” with police orders to move back. Yet survivors gave evidence of chaos at the Leppings Lane approach, no atmosphere of drunkenness or misbehaviour, and no meaningful police activity to make orderly queueing possible in that nasty space.
Hayward suggested that the cover-up had “undermined” the country’s faith in the policing establishment:
All along, the Hillsborough tragedy undermined faith in our system of redress: in South Yorkshire police and the Westminster machine. For the Sheffield constabulary to concoct such a vile narrative to conceal their own mistakes was a slight not only on the victims but the entire British police service. The contagion of mistrust spread across policing and across our national life.
While Reade said that “the guilty need to pay” following a shocking cover-up of the events back in 1989:
It is one of the most damning indictments on this country’s justice system, which those responsible must now pay for and those in power should never be allowed to forget.
Only when we get to the bottom of the cover-up which kept the most heinous of lies going for more than a quarter of a century, the lie that the fans, not the police, caused the biggest disaster in British sporting history, will those families get any form of justice.
There can be no stone left unturned, now.
The guilty need to pay for knowingly kicking these families and survivors to hell and back, leaving a soul-numbing trail of broken marriages, suicides and deaths.
While the enduring line was that this was a tragedy of negligence that can never happen again.
It could have been any football fan that day. The rickety old stadiums. The fences erected to keep us all penned in.
The suspicion that all football fans were potential criminals.
A working class sport had seemingly become a nuisance, only just tolerated by the authorities and yes, some elements in the press.
The families of those 96 Liverpool fans who, like us, set out to simply watch a football match on April 15th 1989 never got to greet their loved ones again.
For it to take 27 years for those families to gain justice for that will forever be a source of national shame.
Meanwhile, though every other national newspaper carried the Hillsborough story on its front page, as well as many other publications from around the world, two made exception: unsurprisingly, the S*n and the Times.
Excerpts from the Liverpool football site, This is Anfield