The events of April 1989 will never leave me. As Liverpool and Nottingham Forest kicked off their FA Cup semi-final at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough ground, the seven year old me went for a short walk with my mum to do some shopping. We were over the Mersey in Wirral, but many radios along our route were blaring out strange and horrific commentaries. We knew something was wrong, but we didn’t know what until we got home to my dad perched on the edge of his seat, watching the disaster unfold. All was confusion. My abiding memory is of bodies being stretchered away on advertising boards. Ninety-six would eventually die as a result of the crush.
Early the next week, The Sun came out with their infamous headline “THE TRUTH”. Under it, lie upon lie slandered the Liverpool fans, who were accused of impeding rescue efforts, pissing on cops, and the ultimate scouse stereotype at its most debased – robbing the pockets of the dead and dying. It was a sickening blow. Everyone knew someone who’d been there, and so everyone knew that this was as far from the truth as you could get. It felt like the whole area was under siege. And because it was from The Sun – a paper which had cheerleaded a decade of Thatcher’s attacks on the working class – it felt very directly like we were under attack from the Tories and the rich. It is very difficult to exaggerate the impression this made on my young mind.
Today’s official admissions serve to confirm what seemed obvious even to my boyhood self. The Hillsborough Independent Panel – set up by the outgoing Labour government in 2010 after over twenty years of relentless work by the Hillsborough Justice Campaign (HJC) – found:
- supposedly ‘new’ evidence of how emergency responses failed, perhaps costing the lives of 55 victims
- rescue attempts were hampered by poor co-ordination between police and ambulance services
- police responded with “despicable untruths” about Liverpool fans’ behaviour as they sough to avoid blame
- police officers carried out police national computer checks on those who had died in an attempt “to impugn the reputations of the deceased”
- 116 out of 164 South Yorkshire Police statements were doctored
- The Sun got “The Truth” from police sources and a Tory MP
Sheila Coleman of HJC today told the Liverpool Echo that:
“The findings are shocking in terms of the blood alcohol tests and the police computer being activated to look for criminal activity. These were criminal activities. We have got to the truth but where is the justice? That is what is crucial now. It will be even more frustrating if nothing else happens. We want the inquest verdict to be overturned with urgency in all cases. We will be pushing for that and pursuing it legally and having all documents looked over by our own legal team.
“Where I am disappointed is there was no mention of Margaret Thatcher, Bernard Ingham or Colin Moynihan or the government’s role in the cover-up. The Thatcher government is getting away scot-free. It is not highlighted at all. The blame is being laid at the door of the police and ambulance service. We are pleased with what has happened so far but disappointed with that. It was truly shocking to hear people could have been saved. There are so many shocking aspects. But the fans were totally vindicated.”
As always when the establishment is caught lying on a massive scale – think the Iraq war ‘dodgy dossier’ or Derry’s Bloody Sunday for example – the reality of the situation only emerges slowly, after much hard work from campaigners. This is because that establishment closes ranks to protect their own interests. But these interests are very different to the interests of working class people. Doubtless, as Coleman hinted, secrets about collusion at the very top level are still being hidden from us. And today’s disclosure can help bring about justice, but it is not that justice itself.
Even now, I feel myself reliving some of the emotions from twenty-three years ago. There’s a lump in my throat as I recall visiting the Anfield stadium with my dad, and laying my Tranmere Rovers scarf on what was quickly becoming a shrine. There were shirts and scarves of every colour, though of course red dominated.
But more important than those emotions is the knowledge that the police are servants of the rich, and their actions will always be protected by the establishment, no matter the cost in working class blood and tears. Of course, the police didn’t deliberately kill Liverpool fans that day, but by their actions as an institution they partly did, and the blame that was rightly theirs was shifted by the police, media and government onto the backs of Liverpool people, in a massive act of victim blaming. The lesson from this? The politicians, the corporate media, and the police must never, ever be trusted. By their every action, they reveal themselves to be the enemy.