by Martin Odoni

So, David Duckenfield, former chief superintendent of the South Yorkshire Police Force, officially ‘gets away with it’. The man whose botched handling of the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989 led to British sport’s greatest tragedy, was today found not guilty of gross negligence/manslaughter, at the end of his re-trial at Preston Crown Court.

I find myself both in a state of shock as the door on justice probably closes forever, and yet also in a state of complete non-surprise. This has now been a thirty-year struggle for justice, accountability, and responsibility, and at every other turning, these boons have never arrived. Why expect any different of this?

That Duckenfield was culpable that dreadful day is beyond sensible doubt. He was the man in charge. He was the man who made the key decisions. If he is not responsible for the horrors of the 15th of April 1989, well, what the blazes was he even doing in the control box at Hillsborough at all?

Yes, I accept that there is considerable blame to spread around, and it was wrong that Duckenfield alone was poised to take all of it. The South Yorkshire Police Force itself must carry considerable blame for appointing him to a role he was so blatantly ill-suited to perform. Officials of the time at Sheffield Wednesday Football Club must carry the can for allowing their stadium to become such a death-trap. The Football Association deserves castigation for choosing a venue for a showpiece occasion apparently without taking safety into account. The local council should face sanctions of some kind for its startling negligence in allowing Hillsborough’s safety certificate to get some eight years, and countless changes to the stadium lay-out, out-of-date.

But none of these outcomes looks very likely to happen on any serious scale. Even the lowly conviction earlier this year of Graham MacKrell, Wednesday’s club secretary in the 1980s, leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Well okay, a fine of £6,500 will not make MacKrell’s old age any more comfortable, I realise that. But it adds up to about £67 per death, which sounds less like justice and more like a feeble gesture. It is also noticeable that the only body to be held responsible at all – Sheffield Wednesday through MacKrell – is the one that is not part of the British state, and that is what is particularly irksome about today’s ruling.

At no stage has the British state wanted to come to terms with itself over Hillsborough. At no stage has it been happy to turn the spotlight on itself, and to face up to how much its reality differs from how it would like to be perceived. State institutions are corrupt, inflexible, intractable, and are always less concerned with justice or truth than they are with protecting their structures. Even when those structures are the very problems that make the state inflexible, it will still protect them, and that desire to keep its organisation as it is is what makes it act corruptly.

In a way, one can argue that there is therefore a good side to Duckenfield getting away with it. I used to warn Hillsborough campaigners not to keep getting fixated on bringing down Norman Bettison, and I still stand by that today. The obsession with the ‘pantomime villain’ led people to miss how the problems that led to Hillsborough and its cover-up were far more deep-rooted and systemic than one ‘bent copper’. And in recent years, that same problem had simply transferred from Bettison to Duckenfield. If Duckenfield had been successfully prosecuted (scapegoated in a way), then many would have accepted that and said, “Right, fine, that’s all over with.” And the British state would have sighed with relief, because all the structural problems that had led to Duckenfield being a high-ranking officer would have remained un-reformed. The structure would have been protected simply by scapegoating one old man who had not been a police officer since the early-1990s anyway. Little of real value would have been sifted from that.

But at the same time, the search for justice has now stretched to over thirty years, and still, the British state seems incapable of holding itself or its servants to account. One conviction – a modest fine –  for an ex-club secretary, is all there is to show for an effort that started way back before Sylvester McCoy had finished his stint as Doctor Who.

That cannot be right. During the riots across England eight years ago, people were being put behind bars for stealing bottles of water. Ninety-six people were crushed to death at Hillsborough, there is a clear, evidence-rich narrative as to how it happened, and who was to blame for it, and yet the only repercussion is one private sector bureaucrat getting a fine. The horrible fear that Hillsborough has often instilled in informed people in Britain is that the state cares more about its own image than it does the health and well-being of its people.

Sent to die by South Yorkshire Police

Screencap from ‘Jimmy McGovern’s Hillsborough‘, in which Ricky Tomlinson leaves us in no doubt as to the real cause of Britain’s worst stadium disaster.

That unease has only been heightened by the fact that, today, the man who was so blatantly and transparently at fault for the Hillsborough Disaster, has walked free, and can now never be tried in connection with the tragedy again.

Nice to feel valued, eh?

The campaigns for justice have not been a failure, let me stress. Just getting the botched Inquest from the early-90s overturned and re-run, before getting a new verdict of Unlawful Killing, was an amazing achievement, and set the straightened record of the tragedy into law. That was a key step towards justice. But subsequent steps have been few, short, and far-between.

The state now accepts that the victims of Hillsborough were unlawfully killed. But, as I pondered a couple of years ago, are we really supposed to be satisfied with that?

by Martin Odoni

Kenny Dalglish, the former manager and perhaps greatest ever player to represent Liverpool Football Club, is the subject of a controversy not of his own making. With the New Year’s Honours List announced in the last couple of days, supporters of Liverpool have been getting very angry at the ongoing absence of their club’s most revered former star from Britain’s roll-call of Knights-of-the-Realm.

There has been talk for many-a-year about ‘King Kenny’ being overdue for a knighthood. Such talk is perfectly understandable. Not only was he one of the greatest footballers of all time – I personally rate Dalglish as even better than George Best – he was also a most shrewd coach for the team over two spells totalling seven years, which saw Liverpool win every trophy in the domestic game, including three Championships. His achievements as both player and manager were all the more remarkable given that he was witness to three of the four worst stadium tragedies in British history; the Second Ibrox Disaster, the Heysel Stadium Disaster, and the Hillsborough Disaster.

Dalglish was manager at the time of Hillsborough, and, still only in his thirties, he found himself having to lead the entire city of Liverpool through a grieving process for nearly a hundred lost souls. His handling of several dreadful months of despair across Merseyside was so sensitive and so dignified that his status as a legend on the field became matched by his legend off it. For more than any other reason, it is because of the way he led the city through the mourning process post-Hillsborough that Liverpudlians want Kenny Dalglish to receive acknowledgement in the Honours List.

One aggravation for many is that Dalglish continues to be overlooked (supposedly) while politicians with blemished histories – in the current instance the former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg – receive gongs like chickens receive feed. Given Clegg’s shabby history of promises broken for the sake of power, the anger is quite well-placed.

I am not arguing with these points as such. I yield to none in my disgust that a second-rate, non-achieving promise-breaker with a very limp grasp of basic economics like Clegg is getting a knighthood. (For what exactly?) But some of the expressions of dissent I have read on social media have been a little wide of the mark. Not so much because of what is said about Clegg, but because of what is said about Dalglish.

For instance, the following image has been doing the rounds quite a bit; –

Dalglish myth

Now before I state my irritation with this tweet, let me make clear; Dalglish was one of my heroes as a child, and I have no hesitation in adding my voice to the chorus of praise he gets for his role in the aftermath of Hillsborough, as well as for his fantastic charity work. But Mr Gudgeon is not correct. He is quoting a very over-proliferated myth. Dalglish did not attend all ninety-six funerals of Hillsborough victims. We are unsure exactly how many he did attend – even Dalglish himself lost count – but it was certainly not all of them. I am fairly sure it would not have been possible for him to do so, as some of the funerals took place roughly simultaneously, and many of them happened in different parts of the country. Dalglish made sure that there was at least one representative of Liverpool Football Club at every funeral, but, formidable a man though he is, there was no way he could attend them all in person.

Another irritating refrain I keep reading is of the “Well-he-wouldn’t-want-it-anyway!” variety, from people getting angry on Dalglish’s behalf when they hear he has been snubbed once again. It would be something akin to a teenager asking a girl out on a friend’s behalf, and when she says no, saying that his friend never fancied her anyway. The people getting angry are making ridiculous politicised remarks about how Dalglish supposedly “will never be given an award because he is not part of the Establishment [always undefined], and he would never accept one anyway because it would be against his principles” or words to similar effect.

The assumption is nonsense on both counts. Dalglish may not have a knighthood, no, but he was given a Royal/Imperial Honour, way back in 1984, when he was awarded the MBE. Now, with Dalglish’s working class background and his not-altogether-articulate Glaswegian accent, it is fair to suggest that he cuts a very unlikely figure to be a part of the Establishment, true enough. However, the reality is that, in spite of his background, he was offered an Honour. Furthermore, he did accept it. So the assumptions are clearly untrue.

I am not judging Dalglish on that, by the way. While I would never even consider accepting a Royal/Imperial Honour (in the astronomically unlikely event that I would ever be offered one), especially any that bears the name ‘British Empire’, I see that as a matter of personal choice. So I respect Dalglish’s right to accept such an Honour if that is his wish, and I will not think any the less of him for it.

But those who claim on his behalf that he would not accept such an award are not only unaware of the real facts, they are also trying to exploit him and his good works in order to score ‘anti-Establishment’ political points. Throughout his public life, Dalglish has been, if anything, somewhat apolitical, and therefore it is disingenuous to use him in this manner.

Whether we like ‘the Establishment’ or not, is there really any merit in exploiting Dalglish and his work after Hillsborough in this shabby fashion? I will think less of anybody who does that.

by Martin Odoni

What is more painful; the stupidity or the pointless offensiveness?

Given this weekend is the anniversary of the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster, you would think that Kelvin MacKenzie and the Sun ‘newspaper’ would tread carefully at this one time of the year over the subject of Merseyside. They were, after all, responsible for the nadir of British journalism just a few days later, when they published an article titled ‘The Truth‘, which propagated only lies.

Kelvin MacKenzie and Exhibit A against him

Even by Kelvin MacKenzie’s standards, this smear article in April 1989 was a horrible low. The original title he had in mind for the article was ‘You Scum’.

The city of Liverpool has never forgiven or forgotten, and the Sun, which through the late-1980’s had sold over fifty-five thousand copies per day on Merseyside, nowadays struggles to sell more than twelve thousand per day there. The Sun has repeatedly offered half-hearted, unconvincing apologies of the “We’re-sorry-we-were-fooled” variety, instead of the “We’re-sorry-we-were-malicious” variety. Hardly surprisingly, they have all been rejected. If the Sun truly holds out hope of recovering sales on Merseyside, it has to behave differently from its average conduct in future. It also has to be very careful indeed in the way it treats Liverpool. This should be so suffocatingly obvious by now, it should not need pointing out.

So Kelvin MacKenzie’s column in the Sun yesterday was as stupid as it was offensive, and I am still trying to decide whether my sense of aesthetics or my intelligence is more hurt by it. MacKenzie was Chief Editor at the time of the notorious hatchet job on Liverpool supporters, and he was the one personally responsible for the headline ‘The Truth‘.

Yesterday’s article was about an Everton footballer, local boy Ross Barkley, and the column demonstrated how MacKenzie is as dominated by crude prejudices as ever he was. Now, to be honest, I am no fan of Barkley, whose behaviour on a football pitch is frequently thuggish and foolish. But MacKenzie’s article was not a critique of that, it was just published abuse.

MacKenzie described Barkley as,

One of our dimmest footballers… thick“.

Of seeing Barkley’s eyes, MacKenzie argued that he is,

Certain not only are the lights not on, there is definitely nobody at home.

He then added a particularly unfortunate insult when writing,

I get a similar feeling when seeing a gorilla at the zoo“. (Emphasis mine.)

This particular slur has caused considerable anger, as of course ape-references are popular among racists when making derogatory remarks about black people. Barkley himself is not black, but he is mixed race due to a black Nigerian grandfather. To make matters worse, the article was even titled, ‘Here’s why they go ape at Ross‘.

In his own defence, MacKenzie insisted the reference was not racial, and that he had been unaware of Barkley’s background. Just for the record, I do believe him on that. Barkley’s grandparentage is not that widely known, and in the context of the article, MacKenzie just seems to be referring to thuggish behaviour in an individual, instead of trying to imply his bad behaviour is due to his ‘racial extraction’.

But I do not see that as much of a defence really. For while MacKenzie did not use race as grounds for insults, elsewhere in the article he wrote that Barkley is,

an attractive catch in the Liverpool area where the only men with similar pay packets are drug dealers, and therefore not at nightclubs, as they are often guests of Her Majesty“.

This is what is so cheap and offensive, and it demonstrates that MacKenzie’s past attempts to apologise for what he did in 1989 were insincere. He is still propagating horrible stereotypes in his crude writing, and having spent the previous few lines describing Barkley in Neanderthal terms, he then insults much of the city of Liverpool by arguing that if a male is rich there, he must be a drug dealer.

This is not exactly a racist stereotype, but it is a geographical stereotype. It still condemns people for the condition of their birth, a fact over which they have no control and which will not decisively govern their character either. There may be a technical difference, but frankly, I struggle to see how geographical slurs are morally any better than racial slurs. On a moral and effectual level, it might just as well be racism. And MacKenzie actually wrote all this on the Hillsborough Anniversary weekend! Never mind Barkley’s intelligence, how stupid is MacKenzie?

The Sun has suspended MacKenzie and removed the article from its website. But the mask has already slipped. As I pointed out recently, responding to a very unconvincing article in the Spectator defending the Sun, the behaviour of the Red-Top has not changed. Once again, we have ignorant, careless editorial oversight at the Sun. Once again we have a lazy, prejudicial, hate-spreading smear article aimed at Merseyside, complete with inflaming title. Once again, MacKenzie shows wildly generalised and barely-informed contempt for the entire city of Liverpool. Once again, he has been burned for it.

The scale is different, but MacKenzie does not learn. If he does not learn, he does not change. The Sun continues its careless love of letting smears be printed on its pages. No matter who staffs it, it does not learn either. So it does not change either.

MacKenzie got away with outright sectarian prejudice last year when attacking Channel 4 News for appointing Muslim reporter Fatima Manji to cover the Nice Attack. He was following the childish logic that a Muslim was to blame for the attack, therefore all Muslims are to blame. Here, he argues that if a Scouser can become rich by becoming a drug dealer, most of them will do it the same way. (Everton FC have responded by at last joining Liverpool FC in banning the Sun from its grounds.)

Kelvin MacKenzie remains the prejudiced blot on British morality he has always been. The Sun remains the ritual abuse-of-journalism it has always been. Journalism is there to hold power to account on behalf of ordinary people. The Sun and MacKenzie are there to hold down ordinary people on behalf of power.

by Martin Odoni

There are a few periodicals out there that, you would have thought, should know better by now than to make noise about the Hillsborough Disaster. The most obvious candidate is of course The Sun (so-called) ‘newspaper’, whose crude and wilful smear in its notorious ‘The Truth‘ article four days after the tragedy remains possibly the all-time nadir of British journalism. But The Sun is not alone in treating Hillsborough with crass, ignorant and insensitive cruelty.

The Spectator, one of the great outlets for jeering, British-upper-class snobbery dressed up as pseudo-intellectualism, plumbed similar depths as late as 2004. In the aftermath of the brutal murder of Ken Bigley, Simon Heffer – with apparent extra remarks added in by the ineffable then-editor, Boris ‘BoJob’ Johnson – wrote a characteristically down-the-nose, prejudiced and unresearched article attacking Liverpool supporters for supposedly causing the Disaster.

Heffer and/or Johnson stated, with a startling degree of crass ignorance and posh-tonal impatience,

The deaths of more than 50 Liverpool football supporters at Hillsborough in 1989 was undeniably a greater tragedy than the single death, however horrible, of Mr Bigley; but that is no excuse for 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… The police became a convenient scapegoat, and The Sun newspaper a whipping-boy for daring, albeit in a tasteless fashion, to hint at the wider causes of the incident

The ignorance driving the assertions is most strongly flagged by, but by no means limited to, the description of “the deaths of more than 50.” While it is technically accurate to say that more than fifty people died in the Disaster, it downplays the proportion of the tragedy by half. One can be certain that if Heffer or Johnson were remotely as well-informed about Hillsborough as they were bluffing, they would instead have said either, “more than 90,” or, “almost 100”. As it stands, the reference to “more than 50” makes it sound like they are confusing hazy memories of the Valley Parade Fire of 1985.

In fairness to Johnson, he has publicly apologised several times for the article, although Heffer has remained noticeably tight-lipped. Even the publication of the Report Of The Hillsborough Independent Panel, which proved irrevocably that the version of events put forward in the article was completely false, has not drawn any noticeable words of contrition out of Heffer. The suspicion is that, because of his right wing prejudices, he feels that his words were still true ‘in the eyes of God’, so to speak, and that the bare physical facts have therefore got it wrong.

With that skeleton in the magazine’s insalubrious cupboard, it is unsurprising that, when The Spectator chooses to poke its upturned nose into Hillsborough-related matters, it is about as welcome as a tray of bacon sandwiches at a Bar Mitzvah. Therefore, it is one of the biggest wonders of the last week – and we are talking about a week in which Michael Fallon and Lord Howard threatened war against Spain, so the competition is fierce – that Roger Alton chose to write in The Spectator in defence of The Sun.

To be clear, Alton was certainly not defending The Sun’s coverage of the Disaster back in 1989. Instead he was criticising the decision of Liverpool Football Club back in February to ban the tabloid, and its reporters, from attending Anfield or the team’s training ground at Melwood, in much-delayed response to the journal’s Hillsborough coverage. Alton’s objection is a familiar-sounding one that many a journalist retreats into when he or his fellows get into trouble for writing irresponsibly.

Thanks to the timorousness of one of the world’s major football clubs, and the pusillanimity of the Premier League, a bitter little drama is being played out that could have savage implications for freedom of the press.

Ah, so we are back in ‘freedom-of-speech-means-freedom-to-lie-and-to-hatchet-someone’s-reputation-unduly-without-any-repercussions’ territory once again, are we? While acknowledging that The Sun’s coverage back in 1989 was outrageous, Alton argues that the ban is wrong, not least because it was,

coverage for which the paper and its editors have repeatedly apologised.

Now, this may come as a shock to Alton, but people all over the United Kingdom are well aware of the red-top’s apologies. The problem is not a lack of apologies, the problem is the lack of sincerity in them. As I argued a few years back, The Sun’s apologies can only be accepted under two conditions; –

Firstly, the apology has to take a form where the paper accepts full responsibility for what was published, rather than repeatedly apologising for supposedly ‘being misled’ by the police. That is not a real apology, it is a recital of the word sorry followed by a cynical blame-shift. Yes, the South Yorkshire Police Force undeniably lied and heavily distorted events in order to offload guilt onto the victims of its incompetence. But The Sun was happy to go along with the lies, because they suited the Thatcherite, right wing, anti-northern agenda of its owner and its then-editor. The Sun’s coverage was more malicious than gullible, and to date there has never been any acknowledgement of that from anyone connected with the paper.

Secondly, the apology has to be accompanied by a recognisable change of behaviour. In other words, if The Sun were ever to stop being a controversy-addicted, sexist, racist, voyeuristic, hard-right, stereotype-fuelling smear rag, well, maybe then people could accept that the baser instincts that led it to publish the notorious article were no longer being followed. But all the evidence points to the contrary. The Sun continues to smear and deride decent, honest people – just ask Jeremy Corbyn – it continues to vilify the most vulnerable people in the country, and it continues to be a yobbish, bombastic, jingoistic receptacle of xenophobia and racism, including against refugees. Nothing has changed in the way The Sun conducts itself, therefore the apologies will not be accepted.

Alton drifts onto some dangerously hyperbolic turf as he writes. He mentions,

[Liverpool’s] owner, John Henry, founder of the Boston-based Fenway Sports Group, was not involved. He is said to be ‘embarrassed’, as well he might be since Fenway also owns the Boston Globe, which makes hay whenever President Trump tries a similar stunt.

Irrespective of John Henry’s opinions, which are unlikely to be the best-informed in any event, this comparison is as intellectually-redundant as it is offensive and crass. To try and compare what Liverpool Football Club has decided to do to the behaviour of the current US President is to compare the common cold to malaria. Donald Trump‘s entirely fictitious cries of “FAKE NEWS!” whenever he gets criticised, no matter how fairly, and subsequent attempts to ban journalists who write unfavourably about him from his press conferences, are in a completely different realm from what Liverpool is doing. Liverpool has banned one newspaper for a measurably untrue, crude, vicious, and malignant hatchet job on its supporters, it is not blanket-banning any and all commentators on hearing the first whisper of criticism. Indeed, many would argue that Liverpool FC has been far, far too restrained in its treatment of The Sun. This ban, after all, took the better part of three whole decades after the crime to be imposed, and it applies to only one periodical. This is utterly different from Trump’s egomaniacal, knee-jerk refusal to speak to newpapers and TV channels by the news-stand-load whenever they say something he finds inconvenient.

Alton then drifts into off-colour remarks about the pressure group Total Eclipse Of The S*n, who are behind the advancing boycott, without ever getting to the nub of what he finds objectionable about it. He then makes a number of irrelevant points about the amount of money Liverpool FC receives from the ‘Murdoch media’, as though that gives the club a moral obligation to let The Sun onto its premises. (How like the right wing media to think that morality is measured in money, incidentally.) Alton also bemoans the failure of the FA Premier League to force Liverpool to back down, in the way that the National Football League in the USA forces its franchises to allow full access to the media. He does not pause to consider that, for one thing, the Premier League might agree with Liverpool’s decision, for another, the NFL does not enforce media access on principle but for financial advantage, or above all, that, as the clubs in the US are franchises in a more tightly-knit collective league structure, the NFL has more control over them than the FA or the Premier League can ever wield over their teams.

Alton then finishes on another moment of crass hyperbole by gently implying that Liverpool’s decision is comparable to Nazism, through a paraphrase of the famous Martin Niemoller quotation, when he writes,

[The smear campaign and cover-up seem] an ominous reason, now, 28 years later, to prevent one football reporter from doing his job. Who knows what could come next? First they come for the Sun…

Oh I see. So because The Sun has been banned from one football ground in the entire country, that means that a state police force now stands poised to crash through the front doors of all journalists connected with the tabloid, and march them off to concentration camps, before getting to work on all the other papers?

Is it even necessary to point out how ridiculous and over-the-top Alton’s analogies are? Given how quick the press can be to dish out stick, often for corrupt reasons, it can be astonishing how deep a journalist’s persecution complex can be, or how thin their skin can be. So The Sun has to steer clear of Anfield, therefore The Sun is now a victim? Oh, diddums! Say that to the survivors of Hillsborough. Liverpool FC’s decision does not mean that The Sun will no longer be allowed to keep publishing – not that I would waste any breath complaining about it if it did.

There is nothing illegal or immoral about a boycott of a newspaper, especially not one that has such a terrible history of hate-mongering as The Sun. For Alton to take the “What about the freedom of the press?” line here is contemptible. This is because one cannot defend The Sun while defending the freedom of the press. They are mutually exclusive positions. The Sun routinely abuses that freedom, and to an extent that would have been hard to imagine before the 1980’s; it constantly hurts the credibility of free press by making its definition inseparable from malicious lies. It degrades and devalues journalism, using it to spread hatred rather than the truth, and to advance the interests of the powerful, instead of to inform the powerless. One cannot defend any entity by defending those that mistreat and manipulate it. To defend the freedom of the press, one must condemn those who corrupt it; to do otherwise is as perverse and amoral as to try and defend the victims of child abuse by speaking up for its perpetrators. The Sun damages the freedom of the press, and it undermines the real purpose of having the press.

As for The Spectator, if it is any better than The Sun, it is only by (slight) virtue of its use of more sophisticated language. For Alton, Johnson, or Heffer, freedom-of-speech appears to mean no more than the right to reinforce their own prejudices, and the secondary right to draw others into the same lazy illusions. This is underlined by the aforementioned presumption and lack-of-research in 2004, and the whiny protests offered this week.

If ending such prejudices will require one day boycotting either The Sun or The Spectator to the point of bankruptcy, I would consider that a worthy price to pay.

by Martin Odoni

This is a full-detail update on the legal action that the gallant Christopher Whittle has informed me he is taking against me over reviews I have published of his book, With Hope In Your Heart: A Hillsborough Survivor’s Story, The Denial Of Justice & A Personal Battle With PTSD. Without any further preamble, here is a full, no-holds-barred rundown and factual analysis of everything that Whittle and his solicitors have done so far, and all of the desperate counter-measures I have been forced to undertake in response; –

NOTHING TO REPORT.

Please feel free to get in touch asking for clarification if you lost track halfway through.

Christopher Whittle; big on noise, short on deeds.

Christopher Whittle blusters that he’s going to take legal action against me. Over a month on, I’m hearing crickets.

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by Martin Odoni

Just thought I should draw attention to legal action I will (supposedly) be facing in the near future. Christopher Whittle, whom Hillsborough campaigners all know and love, stumbled onto this blog’s dissection of his (not-terribly-impressive) book, With Hope In Your Heart: A Hillsborough Survivor’s Story, The Denial Of Justice & A Personal Battle With PTSD  this week, and appears to have lost his rag again. If you go to the page and scroll down to the comments section, you will see that Whittle left an angry message, reading as follows; –

Absolute disgrace, ODONI. What the hell do you know about Hillsborough? Your rabid character assassination and failure to grasp the true facts, and to disgracefully deny my own Hillsborough experiences, shows the world what you really are. Expect to be contracted[sic] by my solicitors.

(Once again, we see that the only debating tactic Whittle has is to put occasional words in needless capitals in the strange belief that it makes him seem intimidating and authoritative.)

It would be no exaggeration to say that I am petrified by the prospect of Whittle’s solicitors coming after me looking for damages; no exaggeration, that is, because it would be a flat-out lie. I am not worried at all.

Indeed, I would welcome an opportunity to put Whittle under cross-examination in a public forum, and a damages court would be as good as any. He might imagine that I would be the only one to come under examination, but any such case would require cross-examination of my assertions, which are themselves a cross-examination of Whittle’s own work. Therefore, to assess whether I really am guilty of ‘character assassination’, Whittle’s work will have to be checked during the process to establish whether I have distorted anything he wrote, and whether I am correct to accuse him of written anomalies. So all of the anomalies I and other campaigners have found in Whittle’s book and elsewhere would have to be aired and examined in court. And Whittle, if he is to stand any chance of winning the case, would have to come up with convincing answers for all of them.

Even if he could manage that, which I very much doubt, he still would not win, for three reasons; –

Firstly, the anomalies are in his work, and explaining them away after-the-fact does not change the reality that they were there at times of publication, nor the reality that it is his own failing and not mine that they were there. Enforcement of libel laws cannot be applied retroactively against criticisms made before a clarification.

Secondly, I made very clear in the article that neither I nor the other writers are saying that he was definitively not at Hillsborough, or that his accounts are intentionally untrue; we even offered up possible explanations for some of the flaws in his story. What we are saying is that he is a poor writer, in contradiction of his boasts, and his lack of eloquence or clarity on the page is the likeliest reason for the anomalies listed. (Either that or he really is lying; we cannot think of a third explanation.) Whether Whittle feels that is fair or not, we are merely expressing an informed, objective opinion, and backing it up with detailed examples and verifiable evidence, both of which are in short supply whenever he makes an accusation, as history has shown. It is not an indictable smear to make criticisms when they can be backed up with verfiable facts. If Whittle does not like it, I suggest he a)  moves to a country where reasonable freedom-of-expression is not protected by law e.g Saudi Arabia or Communist China, and b) shows a lot more caution in future when throwing accusations of his own around.

Thirdly, Whittle has shown a remarkable, consistent capacity for attacking what other people write without even reading it. For him to develop a coherent case against me, he would have to sit down and read my essays and learn for the first time what I actually have to say, rather than take his usual approach of just making the assumptions that will help him avoid cognitive dissonance. I very much doubt he is willing to make that effort.

Whittle has no one to blame but himself. Had he not taken such abusive and high-handed public objection to an article I wrote back in 2012, using the fact that he ‘wrote a book’ as doubtful justification for censoring me, I would probably never have heard of With Hope In Your Heart, never felt compelled to obtain a copy of it, to read it, to find so many faults in it (as many others have found), or to write negative reviews of it. I also find it very rich when he complains about his character being ‘assassinated’, given his tendency to blow his top, and to insult, misrepresent and threaten people when they disagree with him. I have endured all of these at his hands over the last five years, and I am well aware that I am not the only one. Whittle’s behaviour has a whiff of Paul Nuttall’s ludicrous recent claims to being victim of a ‘smear campaign’, when he too is merely being confronted with the flaws in his own claims.

So if Whittle feels he has a right to take legal action against me, perhaps I should do the same to him over all the insults and fake quotations he has pinned on me in the past? I suspect my case would have a better chance of winning.

For now though, Whittle, if you are reading this, I am calling your bluff. Bring on your legal action. I am very confident your latest little threat is just hot air. You lack the backbone to follow it up, but even if you do go for it, you have no case against me.

Do your worst, Whittle.

Hillsborough & UKIP

February 15, 2017

by Martin Odoni

This blog has, to this point, treated the Hillsborough Disaster and the UK Independence Racket-… er, sorry, I mean the UK Independence Party, as two completely unrelated subjects. I suspect that they still are, in fact. But over the last few days there has been an unmissable furore over whether claims of the new leader of UKIP, Paul Nuttall, to have been in the stadium on the day of Hillsborough are true or not.

NOTE: I have chosen to link to the Skwawkbox blog, because I am getting a little fed-up of the Guardian getting all the credit for identifying the anomalies in Nuttall’s story when the SB blog got there way earlier.

I do not wish to spend too long speculating on whether Nuttall’s claims are true. I myself, despite long years studying the Disaster, was not there, and so I have no possible way of knowing for certain. Even so, I can say that I was skeptical for a long time about Nuttall’s claims, and events over the last week or so have only served to increase my doubts. (His latest attempt to explain away a proven falsity in his claims has been debunked with astonishing speed and ease.) I disagree with suggestions that Nuttall’s account of being at Hillsborough was actually contradictory, but even so I doubt he was there, for reasons I have little need to explain, as they are being discussed widely elsewhere.

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Whether he was actually there or not, Paul Nuttall has clearly lied about, or at least heavily embellished, his involvement in the Hillsborough Disaster.

So I want to discuss the response of some of Nuttall’s defenders, rather than his detractors. Particularly noticeable and crass was of course the intervention of UKIP’s chief funder (and, some would argue, real leader) Arron Banks, who tweeted last night that he was “sick to death of hearing about” Hillsborough.

For my own part, I have stated more than once in the past that I am sick of hearing people say that they are sick of hearing about Hillsborough. This is not least because there is something nauseatingly insufferable about anyone who imagines their personal boredom-threshold is more important than the grisly deaths of almost a hundred people. It says something about Banks’ self-centred arrogance – always in long supply – that he could put his wish for a change of subject before the fact that, even with the new Inquest verdict last year, there has still not been a single successful prosecution over the Disaster or the cover-up that followed.

Banks’ remarks are also startling vacuous at other points. He tweeted, “if a policemen opens a gate trying to help and makes a bad decision it’s an accident. As for a cover up it was the 80’s.”

Now, the first sentence is just stupid, because it is an implied strawman argument contradicted by the drearily obvious. Nobody is suggesting that the South Yorkshire Police were deliberately trying to get someone killed at Hillsborough. (At Orgreave, probably, but let us leave that on one side.) Everybody knows that the crush was unintentional. That does not satisfy the definition of an ‘Accident’ in a Coroner’s Court, I should mention. But even so, no one imagines that David Duckenfield was stood in the police control box next to the Leppings Lane end, tweaking his non-existent moustache and rubbing his hands together in evil glee, like a stereotype Bond-villain, as over three thousand people were crammed into a space suited for about seventeen-hundred. It is beyond stupid to imply that people are arguing Hillsborough was a deliberate attempt to take lives.

But if the first sentence is stupid, the second sentence is just meaningless. It was the 80’s, you say, Mr Banks? Well knock me down with a feather! Say, Arron, have you noticed? The year was called “1989”! Could that be connected with these “80’s” things you are talking about? There must be some link, right? EUREKA!

Sarcasm aside; again, we already know. Just saying, “It was the 80’s” does not explain anything, nor does it constitute a particularly clear reason for just shrugging the shoulders and dropping the whole subject.

Banks then tried to clarify his ‘point’ (for want of a better word), by adding, “It was the 80’s” [thank goodness he repeated that, there was a real danger we might not have figured out which decade 1989 was in without his repeated information] “I been[sic] at some matches that were squeezed beyond belief. This could have happened anywhere anytime.”

Sadly, this only intensifies the impression of crass stupidity. Again, Banks is saying nothing that has not been said countless times before, so he is enlightening nobody; it is perfectly true that almost all stadia in Britain and Ireland at the time were at least as unsafe and poorly policed as Hillsborough. But also, he in fact defeats his own argument in saying it. It is precisely because the Disaster at Hillsborough could have happened anywhere that the issues surrounding it remain relevant today. These issues are; –

  • Prejudiced, heavy-handed policing against presumed hooligans.
  • Complacency among football clubs and authorities, and again by the police, on matters of public safety.
  • Corruption of public and private institutions who are more concerned with protecting their own reputations than with honesty or transparency.

These matters have never been brought properly into the light-of-day, never given adequate official scrutiny or in-depth reform, and quite probably are still not properly guarded against even today. Simply saying, “Oh it was the 80’s” is merely giving this culture-of-shabbiness a name, not explaining or resolving anything. Wrongdoing remains wrongdoing, no matter the decade in which it happened, and a failure to fulfil one’s responsibilities, compounded by a subsequent attempt to shift the blame for that failure onto the people who suffered because of it, is only more wrongdoing.

As for feeling “sick to death”, I can tell Banks this; I’m “sick-to-death” of Banks and his allies lying to us non-stop about how much better off we will all be once we are out of the European Union, but that has never stopped them.

Inevitably, far lower-profile ‘Kippers than Banks have been leaping with partisan fervour to Nuttall’s defence. I have seen UKIP supporters registering squealing objections all over social media. One theme that seems to be popular among ‘Kippers is the notion that the British Left is somehow ‘exploiting’ the way Nuttall has been caught red-handed.

I find this argument vomitous. For a start, how can condemning Nuttall’s dishonesty (this chapter is just part of a far wider pattern of, shall we say, ‘seriously embellished’ claims Nuttall has made for himself) be called ‘exploitative’? Surely it is Nuttall’s manipulation of the Hillsborough Disaster, in an apparent attempt to associate himself with one of the British public’s greatest ever victories over institutionalised injustice, that is exploitative? He is standing in the Stoke-On-Trent Central By-Election next week, and the people there need to know the sorts of confections he is capable of. They must consider whether it is safe to elect a man who would lie to the whole nation about something like this, and in order to deliberate on that, they need to know he has done it.

But equally, let us remember that this whiny objection is coming from supporters of UKIP! Which is to say, from the party and support-base that have spent most of the last five years or so constantly trying to score cheap and cruel political points against other parties over alleged widespread child abuse by politicians. That UKIP supporters get so outraged about child abuse, but never seem to remember the alleged victims after the desired political damage has been inflicted on opponents, should tell us all just how much they really care about those same victims. So how is that not exploitation of a far, far lower order than merely pointing out when someone is using the tragedies of others to gain publicity? In fact, Nuttall has been pulling the same trick by trying to tap into outrage over the police cover-up after Hillsborough. If he was not there – and on balance it seems ever more likely that he was not – then he is being exploitative in one of the ugliest ways I can imagine, and so if you want to say that giving him a public caning for it is also ‘exploitative’ (it is not), well, swings-and-roundabouts.

No, the exploitation is very much on one side. Whether Nuttall was at Hillsborough or not, it is clear he was little-affected by it, but still he tries to associate himself with the campaign for justice after remaining silent about it for well over twenty years. Nuttall did not have to use Hillsborough to gain publicity, he chose to. He has exploited, he has not been exploited. He deserves vilification, for, after all the horrendous agonies Hillsborough campaigners have been put through over the last twenty-eight years, they did not deserve to be used like this.

It was their battle, not his.