by Martin Odoni

There has been a lot of excitement yet again over the last week or so on what is fast becoming an almost monotonously-active front – the Sordid-Revelations-About-The-Hillsborough-Disaster front. On Monday, the findings of the Report of The Hillsborough Independent Panel, published 12th September, were debated in the House of Commons. It was certainly a very lively debate, with some impressively passionate speeches, for instance from Andy Burnham, Alison McGovern, Alec Shelbrooke, Stephen Mosley, and Steve Rotheram. But probably the most eyebrow-raising moment of the whole evening was delivered by Maria Eagle, Merseyside MP for Garston & Halewood. She dramatically announced that she is in contact with a survivor of the Hillsborough Disaster called John Barry, who was willing to testify under oath that in the weeks after the Disaster, he was told that the South Yorkshire Police were rigging a false story blaming supporters for the Disaster as being drunk and ticketless. The man he says blurted this information to him was a police officer called Norman Bettison. Up until a few days ago, Sir Norman Bettison was Chief Constable of the West Yorkshire Police – he resigned two days after Eagle’s announcement. At the time of the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989, he was a middle-ranking officer in the South Yorkshire Police.

Eagle quoted a letter, written by Barry in 1998 to a solicitor called Ann Adlington, in which Bettison was accused of boasting to Barry about his role in helping to smear the Liverpool supporters who had been at Hillsborough. Bettison is quoted as saying,  “We are trying to concoct a story that all the Liverpool fans were drunk and we were afraid that they were going to break down the gates so we decided to open them.”

It needs to be made clear before I say anything further that unambiguous evidence that Bettison was knowingly involved in the cover-up has yet to be found and assessed*; he has always maintained that he knew nothing of it at the time. If the putative testimony of John Barry can be corroborated, it will be the first solid evidence against Bettison that has been uncovered to date. In truth, while there is much reason to be suspicious of him, as I shall outline below, Bettison’s precise role in the machinations of Hillsborough is somewhat obscure – in keeping, it is tempting to say, with almost everything the South Yorkshire Police were doing at the time. The principle reason there is so much hostility to him is less what he was doing then, more what happened later when he was promoted to Chief Constable in 1998, and in a chapter of astounding general insensitivity, he was appointed to replace Jim Sharples as head of the Merseyside Police force. It was well-understood in Liverpool that Bettison had been with the South Yorkshire Police in 1989, and there was considerable anger in the local press when his appointment was made public. A few months before the appointment, the aforementioned Maria Eagle had delivered another noteworthy speech in Parliament that claimed that in the weeks after the Disaster, the South Yorkshire force had set up a six-officer ‘black propaganda’ unit exclusively committed to smearing the Liverpool supporters who were at Hillsborough. Now, the Merseyside media repeated her claim that Bettison was a key member of that unit. Bettison has always insisted that Eagle got it wrong.

Was she wrong? Well, sort of.

It is true that Bettison was appointed to a special unit within the South Yorkshire force, to do work relating to the investigations into Hillsborough. This was known as the ‘Wain Group’, as it was headed up by a Chief Superintendent Terry Wain. Whether it was specifically set up to be a ‘black propaganda’ unit has been very difficult to pin down though, and the six-officer unit that Eagle referred to appears to have been a different team established during the Coroner’s Inquests in 1990.

So yes, Eagle may have confused a couple of aspects, and so technically Bettison is correct to say that she got it wrong. But only over circumstantial details. As the Hillsborough Independent Panel concluded when they released their Report last month, the Wain Group was largely responsible for the fictitious version of the Disaster’s genesis that became dominant in the British media, regardless of whether that was the task it was set up to do. It is unclear whether Bettison himself directly contributed to that fiction, but it is awfully apparent that he was working very closely with those who were.

In this light, it is hardly surprising that there was such an irate response in Liverpool to his appointment to the Merseyside top job in 1998. But Bettison himself remained defiant, insisting he had never had anything to do with the smear campaign, and that he was not even aware that it was happening. He had attended the FA Cup Semi-Final at which the Disaster unfolded, but only as a spectator, thus clearing him of any possible charges of incompetence or negligence over the day itself. He has also stated on more than one occasion that his role in the subsequent investigations was only ‘peripheral’, and that the unit he had been assigned to only had two duties; to assist the West Midlands Police (who were the force assigned – inexplicably given their own sadly-chequered history of grotesque misconduct and corruption – to conduct the investigation into the South Yorkshire force’s handling of the Disaster) in their enquiries, including submission of South Yorkshire’s evidence to them, and to monitor the progress of the Taylor Inquiry – later of the Coroner’s Inquests as well.

The difficulty with his story is that, firstly, the role of a liaison between a force under investigation and the force doing the investigating can hardly be described as ‘peripheral’. And secondly, he appears to have avoided mention of the fact that several officers of the Wain Group had signatures on memos explicitly relating to the practise of the review and alteration of statements, before their submission to the Taylor Inquiry. Quite clearly, he was working very closely (again!) with officers who were heavily-implicated in evidence-tampering. Furthermore, a letter written by Peter Metcalf, a solicitor acting for the South Yorkshire force in 1989, to the Stuart-Smith ‘Scrutiny’ in 1997, cites Bettison as the minute-taker of a meeting held just two days after the Disaster, at which the Chief Constable Peter Wright gave the instruction to take hand-written ‘personal recollections’ from the officers who had been on duty, and to have them edited into formal statements.

To reiterate, there is no memo or document so far uncovered that firmly implicates Bettison in the shabby actions that the South Yorkshire Police indulged in after Hillsborough, but there are an awful lot of indications that make it very, very difficult to give him the benefit of the doubt. In fairness to him, he raised a good point last week when responding to Maria Eagle’s revelation in the House Of Commons; if he was taking part in a bid to cover up Police failures, why would he blab about it to a passing acquaintance like John Barry? That is, at first glance, a very good question, and it perhaps raises a reasonable doubt over how plausible Barry’s expected testimony will be.

But here is the remarkable aspect; in some ways it is tempting to take Bettison at his word over accusations of collusion, but not because his innocence would exonerate him. On the contrary, it would damn him just as much as his complicity.  For what good can it possibly say of Bettison, for him to have been so close to the corrupt processes that were in action, to have been minuting meetings that strategised how to perform these processes, to have been working day-to-day on the same unit with the officers overseeing these processes, and to have so much of the tampered evidence passing through his own hands before it was handed over to the West Midlands Police, and yet somehow not to have twigged on at any stage to the possibility that there was something shifty going on?

Very simply, if he is not the bent copper we suspect him to be**, he must be the most phenomenally stupid police officer to rise to the position of a Chief Constable in British history. Stupidity rather than corruption is good for Bettison on a practical level, as it will keep his handsome pension rights intact, but it will not do his posterity any favours.

He has already done great damage to that himself, with a number of bewilderingly crass and ill-judged public remarks. He famously responded to the Independent Panel’s Report with a bizarre attempt to accept blame on the South Yorkshire Police’s behalf, and to accept that the Liverpool supporters were absolved, but done with a completely needless, if mild, swipe at the victims. During the selection process that brought him to Merseyside in 1998, when he was asked what incident he most wished to forget from his career, he answered that he had an embarrassing fall on his first day on duty. When later asked whether the Hillsborough Disaster was not a greater regret, he answered, “Nothing about Hillsborough embarrasses me.” Given how stupid he is effectively claiming to have been, something about it should embarrass him very deeply, but what else is noticeable about this remark is the flippant insensitivity of it. Apparently, in Bettison’s world, regrets are not measured by degree of tragedy, but by degree of embarrassment.

So going back to the question he asked last week – about why he would blab about a cover-up he was helping out with to a passing acquaintance – while it is a good question, it is not terribly difficult to suggest a credible answer. He appears to have an unattractive, insensitive characteristic, one of unthinking, loose-lipped crassness. The loose lips are all-important here. For all some people need do to lose all sense of discretion is to get a few drinks into them. And interestingly enough, Barry did say in his letter to Adlington that he and Bettison were ‘in a pub after an evening class’ when the beans were spilt.

An officer uses false accusations of drunkenness to smear the innocent, and is then brought down by the indiscretion brought on by his own very real drop-too-many?

It may not have been that way of course. But it would be deliciously ironic if it were, would it not?

____________________

* EDIT 23/10/2013: This document recently analysed in the Hillsborough Archive could well qualify as unambiguous evidence of Bettison’s involvement in the cover-up. It shows that in July 1990, during the preparations for the Coroner’s Inquests, Bettison held meetings with a number of other officers to discuss their witness statements, and potentially to press them to change their content. At the very least, this rather contradicts Bettison’s defiant insistence on the 13th of September 2012 that he “never altered a statement, nor asked for one to be altered”.

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And once again, this does make it very difficult to believe Bettison when he claims that he knew nothing of the cover-up.

** There is a long list of other scandalous whispers surrounding Bettison, mainly from his time in charge of the West Yorkshire Police. Which of the stories are true and which of the stories are tall is not easy to tell, but there is no doubt at all about the authenticity of at least one of them; I recommend putting ‘Operation Douglas’ in Google if you want to read a particularly hair-raising example of protracted police corruption, all of which happened under Bettison’s stewardship. The final judgement of the Supreme Court, published in response to a formal investigation into ‘Douglas’, itemises sleazy details that will make many a face turn bright white.

____________________

More articles on The Hillsborough Disaster; –

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2011/02/01/hillsborough-the-myths/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/hillsborough-the-air-of-shock-should-itself-be-shocking/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2012/10/21/hillsborough-is-thatcher-guilty-and-if-so-what-of/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/hillsborough-discursive-types/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/hillsborough-the-toppling-gate/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/04/21/hillsborough-correct-historical-context/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/hillsborough-please-stop-obsessing-over-norman-bleeding-bettison/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/hillsborough-after-a-year-the-suns-apology-is-still-not-accepted-and-nor-should-it-be/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/10/29/hillsborough-the-institutional-guilt-lies-not-only-with-the-police/

by Martin Odoni

A few days ago I released an essay – see https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2012/10/21/hillsborough-is-thatcher-guilty-and-if-so-what-of/ – explaining why I have concluded that Margaret Thatcher’s complicity in the cover-up of the causes of the Hillsborough Disaster is unlikely. Not fun for a committed leftie like me, but out there it is. Since that time, depressingly predictably, a number of online Hillsborough campaigners from the more extreme fringe (especially on Facebook pages) have taken rather short-tempered issue with my arguments. Now I saw plenty of indication during these exchanges that the individuals in question have not even read the essay properly before lashing out at it, but one issue that has (half-)legitimately been raised is that I seem to have overlooked an important item of evidence against Margaret Thatcher.

There is a frequent rumour that I have heard on and off going back for many years that, at some point during 1989 or 1990, Thatcher said something on the lines of, “I am determined that no Police officer shall ever be prosecuted for the Hillsborough Disaster.” This rather alarming quote is seen by many as the clinching evidence that Thatcher colluded in the cover-up by the South Yorkshire Police. There are three reasons – two of which overlap substantially – why I did not bother mentioning it in last week’s essay.

Firstly, the essay was chiefly a response to what implications, if any, the Report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, released on September 12th, might have for Thatcher’s would-be involvement. The Report has not made any apparent mention of the quotation at all (unless I missed it), so it was not really relevant.

Secondly, and very similar to the first point, there is in fact no clear indication from any quarter that the quotation is genuine. If it is not cited in the Report, which is an assessment of all state-held documentary evidence relating directly to the Hillsborough Disaster, then we have to assume until further notice that no evidence exists that she ever said it.

And thirdly, the quote is always so vague and so devoid of context whenever I hear it that it has to be viewed with great suspicion and doubt anyway. Although the meaning of it is always much the same, the quotation has taken so many different forms, and its origin has been so inconsistent, that it just is not credible without someone finding a firm source for it. It has taken the form I mentioned above, but I have also heard it in the following forms as well; –

“For so long as I am Prime Minister, the Police will not be blamed for Hillsborough.”

“I do not want to see any Policeman ever convicted for Hillsborough.”

“Not one Police officer will be imprisoned for the Hillsborough Disaster. Not if there is any way I can prevent it.”

Among others. As I say, the meaning is always more or less the same, but the actual word-content of the quotation varies so widely that it does rather invite the label, Urban myth.

It also does not help that the context in which it is invoked is often as vague and subject-to-change as its wording. Quite simply, when and where she is supposed to have said it, and whom she is supposed to have said it to, are as changeable as the weather. Sometimes she has said it in Cabinet to her Ministers in the New Year of 1990. At other times, it turns out she said it in secret briefings she held with representatives of the South Yorkshire Police around August the previous year. (Secret briefings? Well, how did we find out about them, or what was said in them, then?) Some people have her saying it to her Press Secretary on 16th April 1989, as she was touring the scene of the Disaster, which sounds the most likely time to me that she might have said it. Did she say it in all such circumstances perhaps? Well maybe, but it is strange if she was so frequently loose-lipped on the matter that there is no official record of her saying it at any time.

Furthermore, it needs to be acknowledged, however reluctantly, that even if we could get clear indications that the quotation is genuine, it does not necessarily prove that she colluded in the cover-up. To a large degree, it very much depends on when she might have said it. For instance, if we take the third of the scenarios suggested above – that she said it while touring the Hillsborough Stadium in the aftermath of the Disaster – it becomes a very flimsy piece of evidence indeed. At that point, not only Thatcher, but also most politicians, most of the media, and much of the country as a whole, had just taken it as read that the Liverpool supporters themselves were to blame for the tragedy. Given that the Chief Constable of the South Yorkshire Police, the ineffable Peter Wright, was giving her a running commentary as she surveyed the interior of the central pens, it seems highly likely that this false impression was being very firmly reinforced. Therefore it is quite plausible that she would have declared her intention to protect the police at that point, simply because she would not have realised at that early stage that the police had got anything wrong, or that protecting them would require a cover-up.

But this, let us not forget, was nearly four months before the release of Lord Justice Taylor’s Interim Report, which at the start of August that year turned everything on its head with the announcement that supporter-behaviour was not the cause of the Disaster; Police bungling and poor stadium design were at fault. So if Thatcher initially expressed a desire to see the Police exonerated when she had no way of knowing what had really caused the Disaster, once the Taylor Interim Report set her straight on that, it is entirely conceivable that she changed her mind about protecting the Police. (And if she really had planned to cover things up right from the outset, why did she not do anything to stitch up the Taylor Inquiry?)

The quotation could only be seen as real evidence therefore if she gave voice to it after the Report. As I say, many people put the words in her mouth a lot earlier.

The idea can never be dismissed outright of course, but until its provenance can be definitely pinned down – and even the Report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel was unable to help with that – it is unreliable hearsay, nothing more.

POSTSCRIPT 1-11-2012:

I mentioned in the first paragraph above that I have had a few arguments this week with people who want to see Thatcher implicated in Hillsborough. One particularly unpleasant exchange occurred on a Facebook group calling itself “Bet I Can Find 1 Million Who Want Justice For The 96”. One of the moderators of that page, calling himself “Chris, Hillsborough survivor”, got very angry with me for linking to last week’s essay on the page, insisting that Thatcher was definitely guilty of collusion.  When I challenged him for evidence, his response was to patronise me, to state that he is a survivor of the Disaster (really? With a username like that? Well, get away…), to point out that he has written a book about Hillsborough (what? He wrote a book, so I have to assume that makes him right about everything connected with the Disaster, including all the goings-on at 10 Downing Street?), and to instruct me that I should go learn something about it. At no stage did he answer my question. Not sure exactly where he got the idea from that I don’t know anything about a Disaster that I have studied in some detail for over twenty years, but never mind. He did point to the idea that Thatcher had said she wanted to make sure the Police were exonerated. I asked him again for evidence, and his response was to throw four-letter-word abuse at me, to delete my posts, and to ban me from the page. (Oh well, that’s Facebook admins for you.)

The exchanges carried on a bit further behind the scenes as I tried to appeal against the ban. I actually went too far with that, by suggesting his behaviour resembles that of the South Yorkshire Police. Now to be brutally honest, the comparison is valid i.e. he was guilty of deleting statements, of gagging people when they were stating inconvenient facts, of trying to force people to stay ‘on-message’, but still in hindsight, given what he apparently went through because of the South Yorkshire Police in 1989, the accusation is cruel, so I do apologise to him for going that far. (I doubt he will ever apologise in turn for the high-handedness, evasiveness or the foul personal abuse that he was guilty of, but I doubt I shall sleep any the worse without his words of contrition.)

One interesting development in this though is the final comment he posted before I decided that life is just too short and dropped the matter. He stuck by this claim about Thatcher, and tried to support it by stating that he was there when she said it.

To say that I am skeptical of this claim puts considerable strain on the modest definition of ‘skepticism’. It was an extraordinary remark that I suspect was the product of the desperate realisation that his arguments just were not going to cut it. The problems with it are obvious. One, why did he wait until that stage of the argument – we had been arguing for about four days by that point – to announce such a revelation, and not mention it when he first raised the matter? Two, yet again, there was no explanation of context e.g. where and when did she say it, whom was she talking to, what else did she say either side of it? Three, why in blazes would a professional politician be so stupid as to declare something like that in earshot of exactly the people she most needs to keep it secret from? Seriously, Chris, if you ever read this, please explain to me why the hell you would be present to hear a conversation like that? Were you a member of Cabinet or something? The only possible reason I can think of is that she visited the hospitals in Sheffield after surveying the Disaster-scene on April 16th, and if you were one of the injured, you might have overheard her talking to someone in her delegation while she was visiting the ward you were on. Even then, I still find the notion ridiculous that she would blurt out anything so hush-hush in front of the very people who would be most outraged by it. Thatcher was clearly mad, but she was not stupid, at least not when it came to maintaining her portfolio.

Also, this idea again falls foul of the point I made above about it being prior to the release of the Taylor Interim Report, and therefore not very firm evidence of complicity.

Until further notice therefore, I shall maintain my position of dismissing the claim as hearsay.

(If you wish to see a summary of the argument I had with “Chris, Hillsborough Survivor”, please go to https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/01/16/hillsborough-whittles-claim/.)

POST-POSTSCRIPT 3-11-2012:

I suspect that “Chris, Hillsborough survivor” is Christoper Whittle, author of With Hope In Your Heart, which was published earlier this year.

Now I have not read his book as yet, but while I have no doubt that it is a very legitimate and revealing account of what happened on the day of the tragedy itself, and what happened to him personally in the aftermath, I am far from convinced that it will offer any reliable or substantial insights on Margaret Thatcher’s role in events. I may revise that view after I have read it.

POST-POST-POSTSCRIPT 12-1-2013:

I have now obtained a copy of With Hope In Your Heart. Before I say anything further, I need to stress again that I am assuming here that “Chris, Hillsborough survivor” is Christoper Whittle, which he possibly isn’t (although the writing style appears sadly similar). Therefore, please do not take what I am about to write as definitive. However, if Mr. Whittle and “Chris, Hillsborough survivor” are one and the same, I can only conclude that his aforementioned claim about being there when Thatcher uttered her putative quote was, as I suspected, a lie.

Now, the book is not a very good work of authorship at all, littered with spelling mistakes, questionable word-selection, a tendency to thrash its way from subject to subject a little randomly, and a generally aggressive-defensive tone – understandable but detrimental. However, we have to allow for the fact that Whittle is not a professional writer, and that his aims in writing the book were not commercial or literary, but cathartic, so I will not dwell long on making criticisms of his writing style. (I feel compelled to point out one thing though; constantly trying to inform the readers that he’s ‘saying something funny’ by punctuating the relevant sentences with three exclamation marks is very, very annoying – the literary equivalent of playing a trombone whenever a clown falls over. The editor, if there was one, should have pointed this out to him. But there were plenty of other failings in the editing as well, too numerous to go into here.)

What I will confine myself to for now is what is relevant to this essay; what insight does the book offer on the subject of Thatcher’s possible role in the cover-up, and on whether she really did give voice to ‘that’ quote?

The answer is zero, as I had predicted previously (see the Post-Postscript from 3-11-2012). The only clear reference I can find to the Thatcher quote** is in Chapter 12: At The End Of The Storm There’s A Golden Sky. There, on page 142, Whittle writes, “We also know of her insistence that ‘no police officer should be prosecuted over Hillsborough.'” No explanation of where we ‘know’ it from follows, let alone any suggestion that he was there when she said it. As the book’s endnotes only point to titles of other books and websites, it is difficult to pin any precise source down for any particular assertion Whittle has made. (Yes, I know my own endnotes on this blog tend to be very vague like that as well, but then I am not criticising Whittle for it as such, at least not here. I am just pointing out the difficulty it gives me when trying to assess how accurate some of his assertions are when they come from outside his personal field of experience.) Either way, it is noticeable that he does not mention anywhere in the book having ever been in the same place at the same time as Margaret Thatcher. Not once. Why not? Especially if, as he claims, she announced in front of him something as explosive as a plan to fix the Hillsborough Inquiries in favour of the police? Where the book discusses Thatcher, its condemnation of her is unrestrained and vitriolic (as indeed is mine whenever I discuss her), and yet Whittle did not think that personally witnessing a foul declaration as major as this was worth a mention? But it suddenly was worth discussing during an argument on a very minor Facebook page?

Implausible.

Whittle goes on to write of the research by the Hillsborough Independent Panel (their report had not yet been released at the time the book was published), “If the documents that the Government are trying to withhold* do get released into the public domain, then I am sure we will see the true, murky picture of (Thatcher’s) role in the cover-ups”. This again seems very much at odds with his claim to having, in effect, first-hand knowledge of Thatcher’s activities. If he had heard her, in person, declaring her role in the cover-up, why would Whittle subsequently need documentation to learn what her role was?

Quite simply, there is no indication whatever within the book that Whittle was privy to any behind-closed-doors activity within Government with regards to Hillsborough. (Or indeed with regards to anything else.) Given the general tone and tendency of his work, we can be confident that if he had ever had such access, he would have given us all of the gorey details, probably conveyed in the most damning terms. It would have been the perfect ammunition to support his position. This is why – and again I must stress that I am saying this under the assumption that Whittle is “Chris, Hillsborough survivor” I can only conclude that “Chris'” claim to have been present when Thatcher announced she would protect the police from convictions was just a flat-out lie, brought on by desperation when he was unable to find an effective counter-argument.

All of which leads me to ask a very obvious question; if Whittle is really so sure that his entire position on every single aspect of Hillsborough, including Thatcher’s role in it, is correct, why in the world would he need to make such a thing up? Why would he need to lie about anything? Especially something so obviously suspect as this? Maybe the real reason is that deep down he is not as sure of his ground as he is making out, but has clung on to the belief for so long that it is too painful and humiliating to admit that he was wrong.

In any event, it is a sad reflection on the Hillsborough campaigners that some of them, so rightly angry at the way the Disaster victims were lied about, will themselves resort to lying in order to accuse those people they want to see implicated in the cover-up. For Whittle in particular, who makes a great deal in his book about being a devoted Roman Catholic, this is an egregious breach of the Ninth Commandment. By claiming he heard Thatcher saying something that he plainly was not there to hear, he is guilty – quite literally – of bearing false witness. Thus the comparison with the behaviour of the South Yorkshire Police is harder than ever to resist.

Sorry, everyone, the notorious Thatcher quotation remains doubtfully sourced, and so, as far as I am concerned, it also remains unreliable hearsay until further notice. This is not bias; I will re-state now, I am a lifelong socialist, a staunch anti-Thatcherite who has always hated everything Margaret Thatcher ever stood for. But the reasons I have for that position are based on events in the real world. If her definite real world deeds are good enough reasons to oppose her and her legacy – and they are – why do some people need to spread baseless rumours as well?

Any truth that requires a lie to prop it up may not be the truth after all.

* It does seem a little odd of Whittle to write that the Government were trying to withhold the documents at a time when the Government had long since handed over all known documentation to the Hillsborough Independent Panel. Although The Daily Star has published articles suggesting that thousands more documents never reached the Panel, we already know why, and it had nothing to do with central Government; firstly, the private insurers at Royal Sun Alliance refused to co-operate with the Panel and withheld information. Secondly, documents relating to the current Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe seem to have gone astray. Hogan-Howe was, at the time of the Disaster, only an Inspector in the South Yorkshire Police, and therefore was substantially lower in rank – and thus of less use to anyone in Whitehall or Downing Street wanting to interfere in the Inquiry processes – than many officers whose deeds have already been fully exposed by the Hillsborough Independent Panel. Therefore, the chances of documents about Hogan-Howe’s role in Hillsborough having any juicy details to impart on would-be interference by central Government seem remote at best. (See http://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/view/285652/New-Hillsborough-inquiry-hold-up/ and http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/views/our-view/2012/09/14/hillsborough-families-let-down-by-rsa-100252-31831713/.) Yes, it is entirely possible that the missing documents about Hogan-Howe have been destroyed as part of the cover-up. But the likeliest conspiratorial reason for doing that would be to protect Hogan-Howe himself, rather than people outside the police force altogether. If Hogan-Howe took part in the smear campaign against the Liverpool supporters, or helped in any way with changing statements, that would make his current position in the Met untenable. That on its own would be enough of a motive for hiding files about him. He wouldn’t need to have anybody else to protect for such an action to be credible.

Yet again, I have to ask why some people need to add in outside agencies to make sense of the post-Hillsborough cover-up, when the story as it stands already adds up. As a rule, trying to imagine broadened conspiracies in this way only makes a scandal sound needlessly complicated, likely to have leaked out far earlier than it did, and, by extension, less plausible.

** Small correction. I’ve re-checked and I did find another reference to the quotation, on page 66, in Chapter 6: Miscarriages Of Justice. Whittle rants, “Margaret Thatcher had got [sic] her way. After all, she had stated, following the disaster, ‘I do not want any policeman prosecuted over Hillsborough.'” Once again, Whittle offers absolutely no explanation for how we ‘know’ this, where the information comes from, or when the words were uttered, let alone states that he was there when she said it.

It is also worth noting that, once again, the wording of the quotation has changed, even within the text of the same book, underlining my point in the essay-proper about why it is so difficult to take it seriously.

POST-POST-POST-POSTSCRIPT 13-1-2013 (Yep, sorry, I’m afraid there’s still even more…)

I had a glance at the FB group “Bet I Can Find 1 Million Who Want Justice For The 96” again this morning, and found the following passage written on 18th December 2012 by ‘Chris, Hillsborough Survivor’ ;-

Thatcher destroyed many peoples lives with her laissez faire, ultra right wing ideology, her police state, the richer getting richer, the poor getting poor, the destruction of society, 4 million people thrown on the scrapheap, “I’m alright Jack, sod the rest’ philosophy, the greed is good culture. Her war with the Miners, her police bully boys on huge overtime bonus whilst miners families had to survive on meagre strike pay. And of course, her murky role with Hillsborough. A truly evil woman. JFT96 YNWA (Chris, Hillsborough Survivor)”

Parts of this poorly-articulated passage are almost word-for-word the same as the passage written about Thatcher on page 142 of With Hope In Your Heart, and others. Therefore, I now take it as beyond doubt that  ‘Chris, Hillsborough Survivor’ and Christopher Whittle are indeed the same person. And while I agree wholeheartedly with most of his views on Margaret Thatcher – see https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/how-thatcher-embodied-the-conservative-lie/ if you wish to read some of my own thoughts – his stubborn persistence in trying to implicate her in the Hillsborough cover-up shows him to be a hypocrite. After all, he wrote in his book, “If the documents that the Government are trying to withhold do get released into the public domain, then I am sure we will see the true, murky picture of her role in the cover-ups”. So, if they had shown such a role, we can see from this declaration that he would not have paused for the slightest instant to question it. However, when the documents were duly released, they showed no such role, they did not conform to his prejudices on this issue at all. So he simply rejects that conclusion.

The problem is that he can only take such a stance honestly by rejecting the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s Report in its entirety. But of course he cannot do that, for if he were to do so, he would suddenly bring the entire cover-up by the South Yorkshire Police into question, and quite rightly he does not want anyone to start questioning that. So Whittle is effectively saying that the Report is accurate only so far as it supports what he has already decided. He said, in effect, “The documents will tell us what her role was in the cover-up, you wait and see!” We waited, we saw, the documents told us that there is no sign of her having any role at all, and Whittle then says, “Well, she’s guilty anyway!”

That is what makes him a hypocrite – the cover-up is conclusively proven by the Independent Panel’s Report. We cannot point to the Report as evidence of that, unless we accept that the Report is reliable, which means we have to accept all of the Panel’s conclusions, including the ones that exonerate people we do not wish to see exonerated. Whittle is not free to pick-and-choose which parts of the Report we are to regard as reliable, nor is he free to stake his certainty on forthcoming evidence, only to reject that evidence when it does not contain what he was banking on. It is the equivalent of placing a bet to win on the horse that then finishes eighth, and then demanding the bookmaker pay you the winnings anyway.

There are indications on that discussion thread – a very tasteless thread glorying in the prospect of Margaret Thatcher’s apparently imminent death – that another user was banned from the group for arguing against anti-Thatcher hate speech. Banning dissenting voices appears to be a rife activity on that page; there is a very intolerant, domineering quality in its administrators, of which Whittle is one, that is unpleasant to the point of rabid. They actively encourage visceral, blood-and-guts hate speech against Margaret Thatcher (not that she deserves any better, I just don’t find it agreeable, enjoyable, constructive or laudable in any way), and indeed they join in with it. At the same time, they find people merely raising a reasonable doubt against their more extreme accusations to be completely intolerable and shameful.

While I have nothing but sympathy for the bitterness and hurt they feel over Hillsborough and what followed, the behaviour it has led them into is still inexcusable, and ultimately very damaging and self-destructive. For instance, now that Whittle has shown how his hatred and anger have turned him into a shameless liar, it becomes very difficult to take any future claim he chooses to make on the subject of Hillsborough seriously at all. Some day in the next couple of years, as the Coroner’s Inquests are re-done, that may come back to haunt him.

It is an ancient maxim that people will always turn into what they hate the most. The likes of Christopher Whittle, alas, appear to be the living embodiment.

_____________________________

Other articles about Hillsborough; –

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/hillsborough-a-brief-review-of-with-hope-in-your-heart-by-christopher-whittle/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2011/02/01/hillsborough-did-gate-c-even-matter/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2012/10/14/hillsborough-ticketlessness-was-not-a-factor-and-this-is-how-we-know/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/hillsborough-the-air-of-shock-should-itself-be-shocking/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2012/11/11/hillsborough-changing-statements/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/hillsborough-discursive-types/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/04/21/hillsborough-correct-historical-context/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/hillsborough-meet-a-silly-old-dear/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/hillsborough-where-was-i/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/hillsborough-heysel-valley-parade-and-ibrox-why-are-stadium-disasters-always-prone-to-urban-mythology/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/hillsborough-oh-its-the-drunken-fans-chestnut-again-is-it-dont-even-go-there/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/hillsborough-forged-tickets-only-if-you-think-star-wars-is-a-documentary/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2014/08/28/hillsborough-a-riposte-to-a-whittle-implication-and-a-challenge/

by Martin Odoni

The people of Merseyside, indeed the people of much of the northern half of Britain, have many a good reason to despise Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative Government of the 1980’s. As Prime Minister, she effectively dismantled precisely those industries that many in the north most depended on for their livelihoods, while at the same time making most of the state ‘safety nets’, such as Unemployment Benefit, that they would be forced to turn to once their main sources of work were taken from them, harder to obtain.

Liverpool was still, even as late as the 1960’s, one of the most important ports in the United Kingdom. By the end of the 1980’s, it saw less meaningful activity as a port than the likes of Grimsby or Hartlepool, and while Margaret Thatcher’s Government is not exclusively responsible for that decline, it made sure there was no attempt at a recovery. So walk along Liverpool’s mighty docklands today, and you will doubtless be impressed at what is a great monument to the city’s prominent past, and if it’s a nice day, you will probably be amazed by how many tourists you have to wade through as they take in what was once one of the great lynchpins of the British Empire. But in terms of the activities that a dockland is primarily supposed to be there for, well, you’ll find Liverpool is pretty much dead-to-the-world. You may see the odd passenger ferry scuttling back and forth across the mighty river, with the strains of Gerry & The Pacemakers’ classic hit Ferry ‘Cross The Mersey playing (probably loop-playing ad infinitum) over its tannoy, but anything to do with, say, ships hauling goods in and out of the country, or cargo vessels loading up from or unloading onto the jetties? Forget it. (Before any Thatcherites want to offer their ha’penny’s-worth to the discussion, yes, I am well aware that sea-ports had largely been superseded by air freight by the 1980’s, but that hardly justifies killing off an entire city’s whole purpose-of-being.)

Any attempt that Liverpudlians made through the 1980’s to resist the onset of what the Conservative Party called ‘progress’ was met with contempt and, on more than one occasion, substantial force. The opposition to forcibly changing the Merseyside way of life and culture was invariably portrayed in Government and media as stereotype layabouts throwing tantrums whenever their ‘privileges’ were taken away. When the enormous damage of ‘economic restructuring’ (as Tories are so euphemistically fond of calling their enormous industrial dismantling campaign of the early-1980’s) led to mass unemployment, huge inner city decay, serious poverty and deprivation, and significant – by British standards at least – unrest around Liverpool, the whole city was dismissively painted as a hive of violent Marxist rebels and Soviet Union sympathisers who somehow deserved all the hardship that was piled on them.

The fact that Liverpool’s economy was reformed with some success, and a relative economic recovery was achieved during the 1990’s can be pointed to in Thatcher’s defence, but only by the characteristic Tory attitude that ends justify means, and so success entails justification. The dreadful pains the city’s population went through to get there – and the cruel, unfair condemnation they routinely experienced from the rest of the country whenever they dared object to it – cannot and should not be ignored just because a light was eventually found at the end of the particularly dark and hazardous tunnel they were pushed through against their will. While the rest of the country lurched between repeated economic recessions at either end of the 1980’s – soothed only by the brief, very narrowly-beneficial ‘Yuppiedom’ boom of the decade’s middle years – Liverpool was one of the cities that were left behind, locked in what seemed an unending economic depression.

As I say, there is no reason on Earth for Liverpudlians to feel anything towards Margaret Thatcher but bitterness and hatred.

In this context, it is hardly surprising that, given the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989 occurred during Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister, and the long-running suspicions of an Establishment cover-up of its real causes (suspicions that, with the September 12th release of the Report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, have now proven correct beyond any credible doubt), many on Merseyside have long accused her of being caught up in the legalised foul play. It was, let us not forget, Liverpool Football Club whose supporters were the victims of the Disaster’s horrors. It was also, let us again not forget, the campaign of the South Yorkshire Police to shift blame from themselves onto the supporters that was composed in large part of a vile smear campaign – a smear campaign that depended heavily on propagating the exact same stereotypes about the people of Liverpool that the Conservative Government had itself used to justify its own mistreatment of the city over the previous ten years.

I am perfectly willing to hold up my hand at this point and admit that I myself have for long years believed, or at least very strongly suspected, that Thatcher was closely involved in the cover-up. I was fairly sure that she was at least aware of it, and that even if it turned out that she didn’t actually co-operate with it,  she must have turned the proverbial Nelson’s eye to it.

With the Hillsborough Independent Panel last month releasing its long-awaited and damning Report into the causes of the Disaster, and the behaviour of various official bodies in its aftermath, it seemed likely that we should have our best-ever chance of finding out once and for all the true extent of Government involvement in the South Yorkshire Police’s skulduggery. Now for sure, what it had to say about the South Yorkshire Police, the West Midlands Police, Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, the Football Association, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Coroner’s Office, Sheffield City Council, the media, and others besides, was frequently scathing. But what did it have to say about the Government itself on the issue of Hillsborough?

Answer? Well, um, to be honest, not a great deal. Quite simply, in over four hundred and fifty thousand pages of evidence, all scrupulously and exhaustively analysed in substantial detail, they found very little worth pointing to that might suggest Government complicity. Indeed, there are probably only two instances that even hint at Thatcher trying to help the Police cover their own backs.

Back in March, there was a minor leak to the BBC – see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17382896 – of a document uncovered by the Independent Panel. It intimated that Thatcher might have been unduly influenced early on by a completely uninformed and irresponsible conjecture by the then-Chief Constable of Merseyside Police, Kenneth Oxford, that drunkenness and ticketlessness played a key role in the Disaster (subsequently debunked by Lord Justice Taylor when he published his August 1989 Interim Report). Analysing the reference, it is clear that it was a speculative, ignorant and prejudiced statement by a man who snobbishly viewed the people he policed to be an irksome burden, and Thatcher should hardly have given it the time of day.

On publishing their Report, the Panel announced that they had also found interesting references to when the Prime Minister was briefed on the findings of the Taylor Interim Report. She was informed that Taylor had been ‘infuriated’ when questioning senior officers in the South Yorkshire Police during his Inquiry by their ‘defensive(ness) and evasive(ness)’. Perhaps most tellingly, the briefing went on to describe the ‘defensive and at times close-to-deceitful’ behaviour of South Yorkshire Police officers as being ‘depressingly familiar’. The briefing also requested that the then-Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, should announce the Taylor Report’s findings to the House Of Commons by welcoming its ‘broad thrust’. Thatcher’s response, according to the recorded documentation, was to demand a change of emphasis; “What do we mean by ‘welcoming the broad thrust of the report’? The broad thrust is devastating criticism of the police. Is that for us to welcome?” (See sections 2.6.122 through to 2.6.135 of the Report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel.)

Now, some supporters of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, and of the Hillsborough Families’ Support Group, have gone as far as to interpret this as a ‘smoking gun’, a frank admission that she did not want the South Yorkshire Police (her historic rod-of-iron, violently and successfully deployed against striking miners across the north of England during the mid-1980’s) to be exposed to public ridicule and disgrace.

In fact, not only is this not nearly explicit enough to be safely-inferred, the reference rather suggests to me that, much as it pains my lifelong Socialist leanings to admit it, Margaret Thatcher is probably not guilty of collusion, at least of active collusion, in the cover-up of the causes of the Hillsborough Disaster. Ideologically, it would have been very satisfying for me to be able to say that she was in on it all along. But I realise that for me to do so, I would be guilty of thinking with my heart and not with my head.

First things first, let’s get this reference into a fuller context by quoting a later sentence. “Surely we welcome the thoroughness of the report and its recommendations.” It’s a dirty trick often used in ideological discussion to try and ‘cherry-pick’ part of a quote that suits the desired viewpoint, and to edit out the parts of the quote that don’t conform to the viewpoint nearly so well. In this case, it is quite implicit from the later sentence that what Thatcher was saying was that it would be foolish for the Government to announce that it actually welcomed the discovery that the South Yorkshire Police were habitually deceitful and irresponsible, and were perfectly willing to behave corruptly in order to avoid carrying the can for their own foul-ups. The inadvertent suggestion of the briefing was that Hurd should in effect imply that the Government warmly approved of Police corruption, and Thatcher was therefore asking for the emphasis of the statement to be shifted to applauding Taylor’s diligence instead.

Secondly though, and this I think is just as telling, the exchanges in this briefing do not sound at all like those that would flow naturally from conspirators discussing fellow conspirators. To describe deceitfulness as ‘depressingly familiar’ would be quite incongruous when knowingly and actively assisting in that same deceit. This discussion of the Taylor Interim Report is very much couched in terms of authorities viewing events from the outside looking in, not of conspirators on the inside cynically dressing things up for external consumption.

Thirdly though, and most importantly, these two instances are about the only indicators that the Independent Panel could find that seem to offer any possible hint of Government complicity. And they are simply not strong enough, not by half. They are very weak, and can perfectly reasonably – probably more reasonably – be interpreted as Government officials and legislators following correct procedure and fulfilling their duties in the aftermath of a major peacetime disaster. If there really were Government collusion in the South Yorkshire Police’s dirty tricks, given that the Independent Panel had access to nearly half a million documents, surely they would have found far stronger indicators than these?

Some will argue, “Yeah, but the Government probably destroyed that evidence years ago!” Which was of course a serious worry right from the outset, when the Panel was set up. But no, if you think about it, that is still not plausible; if there were a plan to destroy such documentation as proved a cover-up, how did so many such documents survive to be assessed by the Panel? Why were such documents as proved the Police were up-to-no-good not destroyed as well, especially given that the whole point of the cover-up in the first place was to protect the Police’s reputation, not the Government’s? Would it not have been far easier to be indiscriminate and destroy all documentation that showed a cover-up by both Whitehall and the Police, rather than picking out the evidence against Whitehall? Indeed, many documents that would have shown Government collusion would not have been in Whitehall’s direct possession, and so would have been far more difficult to obtain and destroy. For instance, if the South Yorkshire Police were getting Government help, some of their own documentation should at least mention aspects of it. Realistically, at least some documents hinting at Government collusion would have gotten through. And yet, they are not there.

As I say, my heart would have taken a grim satisfaction if Thatcher had been implicated, but she has not been. The evidence is simply not where it would be were she truly guilty. It is frankly a little bizarre that many of the HJC/HFSG supporters on the Internet have tried to say that the Report has damned her for her role in a conspiracy, when even the Independent Panel themselves, when publishing their Report, stated quite firmly that they could find no such evidence.

This is not to say that Thatcher is completely innocent of all wrongdoing over the Disaster. The fact that she was warned so early on of the South Yorkshire Police’s deceitfulness means that she should have been suspicious straight away, and taken action to make sure that there was no Police interference in the investigations by the Crown Prosecution Service or the Coroner’s Inquests that followed. Instead, both she and her successor, John Major, very clearly chose to stand a long way back and just let the Legal Establishment follow its usual course of closing ranks and looking after its own. Meanwhile, Thatcher’s Press Secretary, Bernard Ingham, is shown to have been quite inconsistent in his stance on the Disaster, initially stating that it was “not the result of obvious hooliganism” – so suggesting he has known all along that the Police were to blame, and raising very suspicious questions about why his stance later turned so aggressively, inaccurately, and stubbornly against the Liverpool supporters. (See sections 2.6.24 and 2.6.25 of the Report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel.) But again, what does that prove, except that, as a rule, politicians are not big on consistency? Did we really not already know that?

Blame a victim for a Disaster, and it might happen to you in turn.

‘Sir’ Bernard Ingham pig-headedly tries to maintain, in flat contradiction of every scrap of evidence ever found about it, that the Liverpool supporters were to blame for the Hillsborough Disaster. This is foolish, because the trouble with blaming the victims of a Disaster for their own misfortune is that the same standards may equally applied to the one dishing out the blame. Such as Tories and the Brighton Bombing, for example.

Thatcher and Major are shown by the Report to be guilty of negligence, which to me is quite bad enough, even if it’s not as ‘sexy’ or ‘Hollywood’ a crime as would have been actively conspiring to cover up what really happened. But measuring fact is not about how exciting the findings are, it is about what they objectively say. In this case, what they say is that they didn’t seem to be doing the sorts of things that an active conspirator would have done. And besides, if you really do need a dose of Hollywood in your understanding of the premature and cruel deaths of nearly a hundred people (sheesh, what does that say about you if you do?), well, surely the dirty deeds of the South Yorkshire Police are enough on their own for that. For not only is there no evidence of Government complicity in the cover-up, but you don’t really need such complicity to occur for the cover-up to be workable and to make sense. By application of Occam’s Razor, which (very roughly) asserts that the simplest explanation that fits the known facts is usually the best, it seems that Thatcher’s Government weren’t involved.

Supporters of the HJC/HFSG have rightly insisted for many years that accusations of poor behaviour by Liverpool fans causing the Disaster have never been accompanied by supporting evidence, and so should be dismissed. Correct, but accusations of Margaret Thatcher colluding in the cover-up have also turned up no evidence, despite analysis of nearly half-a-million related documents. We can’t have it both ways. Based on the information we have, she is not guilty of conspiracy.

I hate what Thatcher stands for no less for saying it, and as I say, she was still guilty of holding the telescope up to her eye patch. But the bottom line is, she simply didn’t cover up what caused the Disaster at Hillsborough. That’s one point of bitterness against her that Merseyside will have to abandon, I’m afraid. Frustrating, and especially difficult to concede after so many years of believing otherwise, but still, the accusation is unsustainable.

It’s only one point of bitterness that is ill-founded though, and as I pointed out at the beginning of this essay, Merseysiders still have plenty of other, perfectly-justified ones to be going on with.

This is an image of revenge, not of justice.

A disturbing parody. Whatever we think about Thatcher (and who doesn’t?) do we really want the battle for justice to be reduced to a rabid, doubtfully-relevant hate-campaign of this type? Is this really what should be done in the name of Hillsborough’s victims?

__________________________________

Click here to read the Report Of The Hillsborough Independent Panel.

Click here to read the Taylor Interim Report.

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2012/10/28/hillsborough-more-on-thatcherthat-quote-that-never-goes-away/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/hillsborough-discursive-types/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/04/18/hillsborough-anne-williamsa-real-world-heroine/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/04/21/hillsborough-correct-historical-context/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/hillsborough-meet-a-silly-old-dear/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/hillsborough-after-a-year-the-suns-apology-is-still-not-accepted-and-nor-should-it-be/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/12/01/hillsborough-the-name-that-became-a-moment/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/hillsborough-oh-its-the-drunken-fans-chestnut-again-is-it-dont-even-go-there/

More of my thoughts on Margaret Thatcher at; –

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/how-thatcher-embodied-the-conservative-lie/

by Martin Odoni

One of the common myths of the cause of the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989 is that the stadium was overcrowded, ergo there must have been large numbers of supporters who got in without tickets. This notion is understandable, but a misapprehension; the Disaster was not caused by too many people getting into the stadium, but by too many people going into one small part of it.

In the 1980’s, it was standard practise for the stands and terraces of football stadia to be divided up by large steel fences into enclosures called ‘pens’, to keep rival groups of fans from attacking each other, such was the hooligan problem of the era. In the case of the Leppings Lane terrace at Hillsborough, it was divided by radial fences into five separate pens.

The layout of the Leppings Lane and West Stand of Hillsborough

The layout of the West Stand and Leppings Lane Terrace of Hillsborough, as it was in the late 1980’s. The terrace itself is divided by radial fences into five pens.

The two pens immediately behind the goal (pens 3 & 4 as they were known, or the ‘central pens’) had a combined official capacity of about two thousand. Later investigation by the Health & Safety Executive discovered that the ingress/egress routes, as well as the crush barriers, within the central pens were insufficient to meet official regulations for that high a capacity, and so their combined effective capacity should therefore have been reduced to around seventeen-hundred.

Given that Liverpool supporters had a ticket allocation of ten thousand one hundred for the Leppings Lane terrace, and that individual enclosures on that terrace had capacities very, very much lower than that, you don’t actually need to bring ticketless ‘gatecrashers’ into the scenario to cause a crush. You just need poor distribution of the ticketed attendance. And this is indeed what happened.

Photographs and video footage taken at the time of the crush show very clearly that, while the central pens were indeed very, very tightly packed with people, the ‘side-pens’ (or ‘wing-pens’) to be found immediately adjacent to either side were not only not overcrowded, they were in fact only about half-full. There was a lot of bare concrete very visible in them even as the game was kicking off.

Overview of the Leppings Lane terrace shortly before kick-off.

Overview of the Leppings Lane terrace shortly before kick-off, showing the stark contrast in crowd densities between the central pens and the side-pens.

In the investigations that followed the Disaster, detailed in Report IR/L/ME/89/34 (you can Google it for a PDF of the Report), the HSE spent weeks making a very thorough, exhaustive, and I daresay fairly tedious study of data from the stadium’s admissions system and from closed circuit television recordings from the security system to establish approximately how many people had entered the Leppings Lane terrace on the day. There were two main points-of-entry; the turnstiles, obviously enough, accounted for most of the admissions, but due to growing pressure on the turnstiles by crowd build-up, approximately eight minutes prior to kick-off, a concertina exit gate (‘Gate C’) was opened by the police in the hopes of preventing a major accident, allowing the remaining fans still queuing up to enter.

The conclusion of the investigation was that 7,494 fans entered through the turnstiles with an outside possibility that 7,644 might have entered that way, allowing for malfunctions in the admissions counting system. How many entered after the gate was opened could only be established by studying the CCTV footage. This was of course far more difficult to calculate, due to the images on the footage sometimes being too unclear in such a large crowd to make out for certain how many people were passing through the exit gate at any one instant; sometimes it looked like there might have been someone entering, but with so many others around, it was difficult to tell. The HSE therefore offered three figures at its investigation’s conclusion. One made the assumption in all of the uncertain situations above that there was no one there. The second made the assumption in those situations that there was always someone there. And the third, considered the likeliest, or at least closest, total, gave the median figure of the first two i.e. it assumed that in half of the uncertain situations there was someone there, and in half that there was not.

The three estimates thus reached were as follows;-

Lowest possible number… 2020

‘Best’ possible number… 2240

Maximum possible number… 2480

This led to three possible attendance totals for the Leppings Lane terrace as a whole; –

Lowest possible number… 9,267

‘Best’ possible number… 9,734

Maximum possible number… 10,124

And it needs to be re-iterated that the total ticket allocation for the terrace was ten thousand one hundred.

The wing-pens 6 & 7, about fourteen minutes before kick-off. Nowhere near full.

The wing-pens 6 & 7, about fourteen minutes before kick-off. Probably less than half-full.

Now the three attendance totals need to be revised upwards slightly, as there were two other routes of entry that this count did not assess. For one, some fans might have gained entry through turnstiles for the seated areas of the North or West Stands, and once inside they would have had to find their way to the entrances to the terrace. The numbers who did so are probably negligible though, as they were likely to have been re-directed to the turnstiles for the terraces before they gained entry. Let us assume that about fifty entered through the wrong turnstiles (although that is likely to be an over-estimate). For a second option, with the crush outside the ground getting quite serious, many fans found themselves pinned against the outer walls of the turnstiles, and to escape, some of them climbed over the wall to get in. (Before anyone says, “HAH! Gotcha!” it must be stressed that the majority of fans who got in over the wall were challenged and checked for tickets by policemen once they were inside. Only one of them was turned away for having no ticket.) Again, it is unlikely that more than a few dozen entered in this fashion, so again let us add another (generous) fifty to the totals. They now stand as; –

Lowest possible number… 9,367

‘Best’ possible number… 9,834

Maximum possible number… 10,224

It will be seen that the approximate likeliest number not only does not exceed the ticket allocation for the terrace, it is in fact over two hundred and fifty below it. The maximum goes a little over a hundred above the allocation, but for reasons already outlined above, this is an unlikely figure, and in any event, it is not enough to account for what caused the crush in the central pens.

Hillsborough was *not* full.

These are pens 1 & 2 on the Leppings Lane terrace, about four minutes before Gate C was opened. See how sparse they still are.

The central pens, to re-iterate, had an official capacity of around two thousand. HSE analysis of images from around the time the game kicked off concluded that there were over three thousand people in the central pens, and still increasing – please Google IR/L/ME/89/32. An overflow of one hundred and twenty four ticketless fans simply cannot account for this.

Online, I have encountered some people who defiantly cling to the idea of ticketlessness by coming up with odd scenarios e.g. large numbers of fans with tickets simply decided not to attend. No particular reason why they would choose to do this after paying good money to get a rare-as-gold-dust ticket is ever offered. Did they have some kind of spooky premonition about the horrors that were set to unfold? In any event, this would still prove that the Disaster was not caused by ticketlessness, as the scenario accepts that ticketlessness did not cause the terrace to go over capacity.

My favourite one of these odd scenarios, really quite funny in a sad way, is that when Gate C was opened, the ticketless fans just didn’t go into the stadium. There are so many problems with this idea, it’s hard to know where to begin; –

Firstly, I will point out the very obvious problem, which is that the accusation undermines its own attempts to apportion blame; if ticketless fans did not actually enter the stadium, that means they weren’t trespassing or freeloading, and therefore hadn’t done anything wrong. It also means that they can’t have been on the terraces, therefore they can’t have been in the central pens, so they can’t have had anything to do with the overcrowding that caused the deaths. There are also plausibility questions; if they didn’t go in when the opportunity was presented to them, why not? And given the turnstile area was more or less empty by the time Gate C was closed again, where exactly did they go? Did four hundred ticketless people have a sudden conscience-attack, and, heads bowed in shame, just turn away and walk up Leppings Lane before the match had even started… and yet not one of the residents living on the street saw them do so? Four hundred?

None of this is meant to imply that nobody got in without a ticket – it’s clear that some did – but merely that this played no causative role in the Disaster, and that the numbers involved were trifling, nowhere near the four hundred-plus that the South Yorkshire Police were apt to claim, or the ‘tanked-up mob of five hundred’ that Bernard Ingham will never stop carping about. (To say nothing of the two thousand that many in the wider public seem certain of, or the truly preposterous six-to-eight thousand that the glaringly Scouser-phobic Steve Cohen likes to invoke on US radio.) No matter how stubbornly such people keep asserting these ‘possibilities’, the bottom line they will always be dragged back to is that the evidence just does not leave room for them.

When trying to assess the validity of the long-running accusation of ticketlessness, it is a good idea to try and source exactly where the accusation started. At every turn, we find that this one leads back to the South Yorkshire Police (SYP), including to the notorious lie uttered by Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield even as the Disaster was unfolding that ticketless fans ‘forced the exit gate’ – an exit gate that he himself had ordered should be opened.

Now, it is strange enough how people ignore the obvious motive the police had to find scapegoats for the crush, but what always strikes me as even stranger is that no one ever seems curious as to where the SYP got the information from. I mean, think about it; if fans were ticketless in large numbers, how exactly could the police have known?

The standard SYP account of the Disaster was that hundreds of drunk, ticketless fans showed up in the last five minutes, and caused such a huge, chaotic, high-pressure crush at the turnstiles that the police were forced to open the exit gate to prevent serious injuries or deaths. Now, this version of events is defeated by an analysis of the evidence anyway (for instance, all records and footage show that Gate C was opened eight minutes before the game kicked off at 3pm, not in the last five minutes, while CCTV pictures show clearly that the crush at the turnstiles was already turning serious as early as 2:35pm), but the flaw in the police’s story is self-evident even without checking the facts. If there was such a chaotic, big-pressure, life-threatening crush of hundreds of people in a confined space, how exactly were the police able to check all of them and determine in less than five minutes whether they had tickets? And having achieved this apparently super-human feat of detective-work, instead of just turning the freeloaders away, they then decided simply to throw open the exit gate and herd them all into the ground? What, they had time and space to check every single fan for a ticket, but not enough to tell them to leave?

To put it another way, how can the police be Batman one minute, and then Inspector Clouseau the next?

This version is the root of the ticketlessness myth, and it is so obviously implausible that it should not be entertained. To cling to it requires either stubborn ignorance, wilful stupidity, or just lamentably weak skeptical reasoning skills.

Sadly though, these three commodities are in long supply among many football fans, especially when club rivalries are involved, and the pseudo-religious bigotry that these can lead to means that some of them will never let go of the idea, no matter how stupid it makes them look.

Stupidity is to believe lies when the truth is in front of you.

Stupidity is to believe lies when the truth is in front of you.

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Other articles about the Hillsborough Disaster.

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2011/02/01/hillsborough-the-myths/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/hillsborough-the-air-of-shock-should-itself-be-shocking/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2011/02/01/hillsborough-did-gate-c-even-matter/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/hillsborough-the-toppling-gate/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/hillsborough-meet-a-silly-old-dear/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/hillsborough-more-on-that-panorama-documentary/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/hillsborough-discursive-types/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/04/18/hillsborough-anne-williamsa-real-world-heroine/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/04/21/hillsborough-correct-historical-context/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/hillsborough-please-stop-obsessing-over-norman-bleeding-bettison/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/hillsborough-after-a-year-the-suns-apology-is-still-not-accepted-and-nor-should-it-be/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/11/22/hillsborough-the-crush-barriera-smoking-gun/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2013/12/01/hillsborough-the-name-that-became-a-moment/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/hillsborough-oh-its-the-drunken-fans-chestnut-again-is-it-dont-even-go-there/

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/hillsborough-forged-tickets-only-if-you-think-star-wars-is-a-documentary/