Hillsborough: Time To End The False Distinction

April 26, 2016

by Martin Odoni

(Originally written 15th November 2014; publication delayed due to the Hillsborough Inquest.)

Michael Brookfield is a name that may not cause many glimmers of recognition among Hillsborough Disaster campaigners. However, he was a Superintendent in the South Yorkshire Police in the late-1980’s, and although he was not present at the ill-fated FA Cup semi-final in 1989, he has, over the last couple of years, become the Chairman of a ‘welfare group’ set up within the force for officers affected by the recently-renewed investigations into the Disaster. Earlier this week, he spoke at the re-booted Coroner’s Inquests in Warrington, and one rather curious statement he made rather caught my eye.

Brookfield stated, in effect, that many SYP officers still do insist that ‘drunken’ Liverpool supporters were a cause of the Disaster. Now whether or not we accept that this accusation is true (it isn’t), Brookfield went to pains to insist that this is not victim-blaming. He described as “a ridiculous myth, appallingly dishonest” the notion that South Yorkshire Police blamed the victims for causing their own deaths, further stating that there was within the force, “an enormous amount of grief” and sympathy for the bereaved families after the disaster. The police blame ‘other fans’ than the ones who died.

In other words, Brookfield is drawing a distinction between the Liverpool fans who died in the central pens of the Leppings Lane terrace and the Liverpool fans who were, supposedly, drinking heavily and arriving late.

Now this marks Brookfield and other like-minded officers in the South Yorkshire Police as ‘Category 15’s’ – see Discursive Types – and thus in the same bracket as people like Sir Bernard Ingham. Their view of the Disaster, long, long discredited, is that drunk fans without tickets arrived late and caused chaos at the turnstiles forcing the police to open an exit gate to let them into the ground, whereupon the drunk fans ‘stampeded’ into the central pens and caused earlier arrivals right at the front to be pushed into the fences between them and the pitch, crushing them to death.

Not only is this picture of the supporters who entered through the exit gate crudely distorted and exaggerated, it more importantly draws a false distinction. The fans who entered the stadium through Gate C (the vast majority of whom had hardly been drinking at all) were not insulated from dying in the central pens simply by virtue of arriving a bit later. On the contrary, about a quarter, possibly even as many as a third, of the victims who lost their lives at Hillsborough actually entered the stadium through the exit gates. Not all the people who died did so trapped against the perimeter fence. Some died when a crush barrier collapsed and scores of people fell over in a lethal pile-up. Some died because they lost their footing and were inadvertently trampled on by those around them. Some died standing bolt upright in the middle of the pen, crushed by the weight of numbers around them. Furthermore, some fans who entered through the exit gate did in fact end up stood right at the front of the pens within moments of arrival. Even a crowd as densely packed in as the one in the central pens still had a lot of movement, especially those movements brought on by pressure-channels created by gaps between the crush barriers.

Equally, there has never been any particular indicator to suggest that those who arrived later on had necessarily been drinking more than those who were already in the central pens by 2:50pm. The nearest that ever happened on that score came in the form of submissions from a Dr Jonathan Nicholl to the original Coroner’s Inquest conducted by Dr Stefan Popper in the early-1990’s. This came up with a bizarre ‘odds-ratio’-based formula for trying to establish how much people had been drinking and when they were likely to arrive. Subsequent analysis of the ‘evidence’ in question, both by the Hillsborough Independent Panel and Professor Alan Wayne Jones PhD of the Swedish National Board of Forensic Medicine, showed it to be startlingly flawed in terms of its sourcing, potential sample contaminations, and ‘rule-of-thumb’ calculations. (See pages 168 to 174 of the Report Of The Hillsborough Independent Panel), and this comprehensive summary sent by Professor Wayne Jones to Ann Adlington) When traced back to source, every other reference to drunken behaviour, be it late in the lead-up to kick-off or earlier, seems to originate with unscientific, undemonstrated, and often malicious, rumour-mongering.

So there was never any particular division between those who entered through the gates and those who died, nor is there any particular separation between those who arrived earlier and those who stopped off for a drink on the way to the stadium. These are the myths that needs dispelling, not supposed ‘myths’ about the attitude of the police force.

Indeed, given that Brookfield offers this simplified false distinction, it seems that this prejudicial attitude remains as widespread in the South Yorkshire Police as ever.

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