by Martin Odoni

The Hillsborough Disaster of April 1989 ultimately took ninety-six lives as a direct result of the physical injuries it inflicted – and an uncertain number more in the years that followed due to the psychological injuries. The main cause of all these injuries was severe overcrowding of two tightly-fenced enclosures on the Leppings Lane terrace of the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield. That terrace, as has been highlighted elsewhere, was a health-hazard. Entry and egress were a confused, unco-ordinated business due to an overcomplicated stadium lay-out. The capacity of the terrace had been over-estimated by a substantial margin. Piecemeal installation of radial fences onto the terrace had created more and more pressure points, while restricting evacuation routes. The evacuation routes themselves were insufficiently accessible in relation to the crowd-density of a full-capacity attendance. The concrete surface of the terrace was set at too flat a gradient. The tunnel leading under the West Stand into the central pens was set at too steep a gradient. The crush barriers – intermittent metal rails up to ten metres in length that divided up the terrace horizontally so that people right at the front would not be forced to take the weight of the entire crowd behind them – were set too low in the concrete, and their layout was so haphazard and poorly-thought-out (see below) that some barriers had to withstand far more weight than others.

And crucially, one of these barriers broke during the Disaster.

The wreckage of the crush barrier that collapsed in pen 3.

The wreckage of the crush barrier that collapsed in pen 3.

The collapse of the barrier, believed to have happened either around kick-off time, or about three minutes into the game (putatively caused by crowd movements in response to Liverpool player Peter Beardsley striking a shot against the opposing crossbar), undoubtedly upped the death-toll of the Hillsborough Disaster. A little like the opening of Gate C, it did not play a central role in causing the Disaster, but it had a substantial exacerbating effect. With the collapse of the barrier, scores of Liverpool supporters suddenly fell forward en masse. Anyone at the bottom of the ensuing pile-up was certain to be very badly injured, and the odds on their survival would not have been high.

The crush barriers at Hillsborough each had an alphanumeric identity number. The one that collapsed was designated 124a; it was a little under eight metres long, supported by four iron struts, and, viewed from the pitch, was near the front-left corner of pen 3.

An HSE rough diagram of how barrier 124a would have looked

As no detailed photos appear to exist of how barrier 124a would have looked before it collapsed, the HSE provided a rough diagram.

Sheffield Wednesday Football Club’s chief safety consultant was Dr Wilfred Eastwood, of Eastwood & Partners. He went on television over the next couple of days to state with almost cocksure firmness that all the crush barriers in the stadium were ‘very adequate’, and that they were subject to annual visual checks and stress-testing. For the barrier to collapse in the way it had, he insisted, it must have been subjected to an extraordinary weight-load.

It appears that much of what Eastwood said was technically true so far as it went, but it later became apparent that his statements were somewhat misleading. For instance, yes, it is true that the barrier was subjected to an extraordinary weight-load during the crush, but it eventually became clear that that was not enough on its own to cause it to give way.

And yes, it appears that annual inspections of crush barriers at Hillsborough were indeed carried out, as Eastwood said, but what we cannot be so confident about is how attentively or rigorously the results of these inspections were considered. For, as one might expect, the wreckage of the barrier was closely analysed by the Health & Safety Executive in the weeks that followed the Disaster, and the conclusions arrived at were disapproving at best.

The HSE found that the ‘elasticity’ of the barrier supports i.e. their capacity to return to their starting position after a heavy load was placed against them was clearly below what was stipulated in guidelines. Worse, substantial corrosion that was visible to the naked eye was found on one of the struts and on the joint connecting it to the surface of the terrace.

The fallen barrier viewed from the back of the pen.

A view from the back wall of pen 3 of the crush barrier that collapsed.

Perhaps most unsettling of all during this examination, however, was not the crush barrier or its components, but what was discovered inside it. The barrier rail was a hollow metal pole, open at either end, and in amongst various bits of predictable litter that had built up inside were several pieces of old newspaper. On inspection, one of these was found to be from an issue of the Yorkshire Telegraph & Star, dated from the 24th October, 1931.

To put that in perspective, the newspaper had been printed almost a year-and-a-half before Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of the Weimar Republic, over thirty-two years before John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dealey Plaza, and almost fifty-eight years before the Hillsborough Disaster itself.

The exact date when this item of litter was first ‘binned’ inside the crush barrier, we shall never know, but on balance, it seems highly unlikely to have been long after its publication, which would immediately date the barrier’s creation to no later than 1932, and probably quite a bit earlier. Whatever the reality of that, it seems incontrovertible that the barrier was extremely old, an impression reinforced by analysis of its surface, which indicated that there had been no fewer than thirteen coats of paint applied to it during its years of employment. And for such ancient litter just to have been left to rot inside it for about three generations perhaps tells a story about the casual attitude Sheffield Wednesday had to stadium maintenance. For if the club had really been as on-the-spot about such matters as Eastwood had claimed, such a crush barrier would surely have been replaced long before 1989. (The fact that so many layers of paint had been applied makes it sound doubly suspicious – it is even possible that paint had sometimes been applied in the intervening years to conceal corrosion damage).

broken barrier support

The crush barrier 124a, which collapsed during the disaster, was extremely old, and had very visible corrosion damage. A piece of newspaper found discarded inside indicated that the barrier was probably constructed in the 1920’s.

The age and decayed condition of the barrier thus may well have played a critical role in its collapse, but the ill-advised positioning and removal of other barriers in pen 3 also played a part. A few yards behind barrier 124a was barrier 136, which had for some years been a continuous rail nearly ten metres in length crossing the left-middle half of the central pen (this was in the days when the Leppings Lane terrace was divided into only three enclosures, and the two central pens had yet to be separated off from each other by a middle fence). The piecemeal introduction of radial fences through the 1980’s had meant that for any police officer trying to intervene with any troublemakers who were stood behind the goal, this long crush barrier was proving to be quite an obstacle to movement. It was therefore decided in 1985 to remove its middle section, dividing the barrier into two parts – barrier 136, and barrier 136a. This action did have the effect desired of it in allowing easier movement through the pen, but it also had an undesired effect that nobody at the club appears to have considered. Given the whole purpose of installing the barriers in the first place, it was a serious oversight.

The layout of the crush barriers and fences on the central pens.

The layout of the crush barriers and fences on the central pens. The removal in 1985 of a segment in the middle of barrier 136 opened up an uninterrupted diagonal channel running straight back to the entry tunnel, increasing pressure on front-left barrier 124a.

The problem effect was that, once the middle segment of barrier 136 had been removed, it now opened up a clear, uninterrupted channel of narrow space running in a diagonal line from the mouth of the central tunnel all the way down to barrier 124a at the front. When that channel was over-filled with people, there were no longer any extra lines of barriers to break up the consequent weight-load. Prior to 1985, barrier 136, which had been larger, had taken the brunt of the weight in the back-left quarter of the central pen, while fans between 136 and 124a would only put weight on the front barrier.

But during the crush in 1989, the partial-weight of hundreds of spectators crammed inside that now-unbroken channel was transmitted onto barrier 124a, adding to the full weight of scores of people propped up immediately behind it. As new arrivals entered pen 3, they would immediately enter that channel, and add their weight to the numbers. Already weakened by decades of use and the onset of corrosion, the supports holding up the barrier could not withstand that amount of pressure, and they finally buckled.

A side-view of barrier 124a in the central pens of the Leppings Lane terrace.

A side-view of the collapsed barrier 124a in pen 3 of the Leppings Lane terrace. Note how one of the support struts has moved completely out of alignment with all the others.

As mentioned above, it was a startling blunder that the club missed the danger implicit in removing part of a crush barrier, as was its failure over the course of four long years to make a proper assessment of the other barrier that was most likely to be affected by the change. As has been highlighted previously, Sheffield Wednesday Football Club had been guilty of failing to keep its ground’s safety certificate up-to-date for fully ten years before the Disaster – the process involved in updating a certificate would have included an assessment of the crush barriers. The club in fact made many piecemeal changes to the Leppings Lane end of the stadium without properly considering the safety implications, or getting the certificate updated accordingly. In light of the generally abysmal safety record of the Leppings Lane terrace*, including near-disaster at the FA Cup semi-final of 1981 caused by excessive containment of spectators, it says a lot that most changes made to the terrace through the 1980’s increased the containment of spectators while reducing the safety facilities. More and more new fences, for instance, were added to hem people in, while the crush barriers designed to protect people from injuries were either allowed to rot or were even removed altogether.

It all fitted into the wider pattern of poor safety all over the Leppings Lane end of the stadium. Turnstiles were too few in number, and some were in a decrepit shape. The entry lay-out was confusing and poorly signposted. Gates in the perimeter fence between the terrace and the pitch were undersized.

While there is no doubt that prime culpability for the Hillsborough Disaster lies with the South Yorkshire Police, the unsafe nature of the stadium was the failing of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club. The newspaper lodged inside an aged and dilapidated crush barrier is the crucial evidence that shows that, like so many football clubs of the time, it was an institution that did not really care.

There may not have been any deliberate murder, and there may have been no bullet fired. But the collapsed crush barrier is a smoking gun, and the fingerprints of Sheffield Wednesday’s negligence are all over it.

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* It has been highlighted elsewhere on this blog that safety worries at FA Cup semi-finals at Hillsborough were almost a matter of routine in the 1980’s. But the dangerous history of the Leppings Lane terrace is not limited to that decade by any means, nor to FA Cup fixtures.

For instance, crushes developed at various semi-finals there as far back as the 1950’s, including the 1957 fixture between Birmingham City and Manchester United, while the following eye-witness account, from Ian Lavery MP, identifies familiar misfortunes at a league fixture between Sheffield Wednesday and Newcastle United from 1985; –

“We turned up as normal, but we could not get into the ground. And what happened? The gates were opened, we were hurled into Hillsborough like cattle and forced through the tunnel at the Leppings Lane end. People were climbing the perimeter fences to get over and climbing up to the upper stand. People panicked, yet there was no operational support from the police. I was pushed back against the wall – and I am a fairly big sort of guy – only to feel a policeman’s forearm across my windpipe. I was told to stop pushing, but people could not move. This was a league game at Sheffield Wednesday. I was evicted from the stadium. Supporters were terrified: there was utter chaos and no control. The police approach at that time was to treat supporters like animals. There was no regard whatever for the safety or health of anyone.

“Frankly, it was appalling.”

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Other essays about the Hillsborough Disaster; –

The Myths

Ticketlessness Was Not A Factor And This Is How We Know

Discursive Types

In Its Correct Historical Context

Pushing And Shoving? What Pushing And Shoving?

Changing Statements

Anne Williams – A Real World Heroine

After A Year The Sun’s Apology Is Still Not Accepted – And Nor Should It Be

Pleeeeeease Stop Obsessing Over Norman Bleedin’ Bettison

A Brief Review Of The Jimmy McGovern Docu-Drama From 1996

Where Was I?

The Name That Became A Moment

Oh, It’s The Drunken Fans Chestnut Again, Is It? Don’t Even Go There

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by Martin Odoni

(NB: This review was originally published on the Amazon UK website in March 2012. Therefore, it does not reflect information released with the Report Of The Hillsborough Independent Panel.)

In hindsight, Jimmy McGovern’s Hillsborough is possibly a little over-rated, as it doesn’t exactly go out of its way to let the audience draw its own conclusions about (undoubtedly) one of the most flagrant instances of British legal corruption in the Twentieth Century. But even if its message could have been stated a little more subtly, it was probably for the best that it wasn’t, given the then-widespread misunderstanding of what happened on 15th April 1989. The Disaster had been badly and cynically misportrayed in the media and in Government for over seven years by the time the docu-drama was made, and correcting for this had to be the first priority. That the film had to be made at all was a tragedy in its own right, and over-rated or not, it is still one of the great British docu-dramas.

It is undeniably harrowing, effective viewing, acted with great realism by a gifted and knowledgeable cast; a very young Christopher Eccleston portrays Trevor Hicks so convincingly, for instance, that it’s easy to miss that he was probably too young, while Ricky Tomlinson, as John Glover, shows he can do drama at least as effectively as he can do parody.

Every time I watch the film I well up, alternately wanting to cry at the needless loss of life, and shaking with the same powerless rage that the families of the Disaster’s victims forever feel, in the face of the bungling and mendacity of the South Yorkshire Police force, and the heartless indifference of the Thatcher/Major Government. (How sad that the likes of Paul Middup, Irvine Patnick and Bernard Ingham weren’t given the ‘treatment’ in this as well.)

Most of the scenes portraying the unfolding Disaster are remarkably well done given budget limits, although the reconstruction of the scenes on the Leppings Lane terrace is a bit obvious. But what stands out above all is the very accurately bleak, almost insidious atmosphere. That ninety-six lives could be lost through such casual negligence, and that grieving relatives of the victims could
be treated with such callous disregard, provide the bleakness; that such insensitive and cowardly attempts to obscure the causes could occur provides the insidiousness.

Sadly, the cut of the film that appears on this DVD has been significantly abridged (costing it a star in my rating); after objections logged with the Broadcasting Complaints Commission by one former policeman about the way he was portrayed in them, scenes showing medical information being falsified before submission to the Coroner’s Inquests – including an officer being pressured into changing his statement – have been excised.

In the years after the film was made, it was discovered that the South Yorkshire Police had edited over one hundred and eighty statements that their officers had written for submission to the Inquiry into the Disaster. The edits were trying to play down reference to the poor performance of the match commanders and to play up references to supposed crowd misbehaviour. One is given to wonder what extra impact the film would have had, were these additional details known then. Between the ‘mysterious disappearance’ of two CCTV tapes from the stadium control room during the evening after the crush, the untrue assertion that one of the CCTV cameras covering pens 3 and 4 on Leppings Lane was malfunctioning, the pressuring of several key witnesses to change their stories, the alteration of witness statements, the incorrect imposition of a 3:15pm ‘cut-off’ time for information from the day of the Disaster to be considered valid at the Coroner’s Inquests, and the persistent smear campaign against the Liverpool supporters in the media, the Hillsborough cover-up should be seen as one of the most vile legal scandals in living memory. How no one in the SYP has ever been convicted over the cover-up (to say nothing of over the Disaster itself) is an indictment of the British judicial system.

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More essays about the Hillsborough Disaster: –

The Myths

Did Gate C Even Matter?

The Toppling Gate

Ticketlessness Was Not A Factor And This Is How We Know

What Exactly Is Sir Norman Bettison In Trouble For?

Pleeeeease Stop Obsessing Over Norman Bleedin’ Bettison

A Brief Review Of With Hope In Your Heart

Whittle’s Claim

Is Thatcher Guilty? If So, What Of?

More On Thatcher – That Quote That Never Goes Away

Anne Williams – A Real World Heroine

Changing Statements

Discursive Types

In Its Correct Historical Context

Lateness Caused The Disaster? Are You Serious? What Lateness There Was Saved Lives

The Institutional Guilt Lies Not Only With The Police

The Crush Barrier – A Smoking Gun?

The Name That Became A Moment

Oh, It’s The Drunken Fans Chestnut Again, Is It? Don’t Even Go There

Forged Tickets? Only If You Think Star Wars Is A Documentary

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?

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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/