Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/15235
Hillsborough - eventually, the truth
Tony Mulhearn, former socialist councillor, Liverpool
The report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel has ripped aside the tangled web of lies and cover-up woven by the South Yorkshire police, the government and the army of lickspittles in the press who denigrated Liverpool and the victims of the man-made catastrophe in 1989 that was Hillsborough.
Kelvin McKenzie, then the editor of the Sun and Murdoch's bag carrier who peddles his poison to the highest bidder, was the most vocal with his tissue of lies about that tragedy. 96 football fans lost their lives, those deaths affected thousands of people.
Many continue to suffer extreme trauma as a result of their experience. Some suffered personality changes and went to an early grave.
The families of the 96 greeted the report with relief and euphoria. Having campaigned in the face of impossible odds for 23 years, this was to be anticipated, but the relief and sense of victory and exoneration throughout Liverpool was palpable.
Trevor Hicks of the family support group, who lost two daughters, reported that three family members fainted when evidence was revealed by the panel that with the correct support from the emergency services 46 of the victims may have been saved.
This information added to the sense of anger and outrage which permeated the city. A question uppermost was that, of the 48 ambulances which rushed to the stadium, only two actually made it onto the pitch. Even the tops of the ambulance service were implicated in the subsequent cover-up.
Yesterday, the radio airwaves were alive with ordinary people expressing their outrage at the events which followed the tragedy.
The police, the Sun, with Thatcher and her government implicated in the cover-up, were subject to excoriating condemnation.
McKenzie's apology and the Sun's later apology was contemptuously dismissed for the hollow gesture that it was.
I was one of thousands who assembled at St George's Plateau in Liverpool to pay tribute to the families and to applaud the magnificent outcome of their courageous campaign.
The spectacle of the police, the government, and all those implicated, apologising and accepting culpability for the tragedy underlines the impact of this achievement.
Role of the state
There can be no doubt that the instructions for the cover up came from the very tops of the state machine.
The brutal anti-working class culture of the South Yorkshire police force which played a leading and pernicious role in crushing the miners in their struggle to defend their jobs and communities was laid bare by this report.
Michael Mansfield QC, who assisted the families, clearly identified the link. The police authorities revelled in an atmosphere of impunity which flowed from the anti-working class outlook of the then Thatcher government.
Liverpool was also the city where the Militant-led socialist council in the mid-1980s had resisted the attacks of the Thatcher government by mobilising the support thousands of working class people.
By falsely accusing Liverpool football fans as being drunken hooligans, the ruling classes also intended to denigrate the city's tradition of militant struggle.
The next stage of this campaign will be to call for those implicated in this cover-up to be subject to the criminal law.
Even the chief constable of the South Yorkshire police has been compelled to accept that those engaged in unlawful activity will be subject to prosecution.
Cameron's frank admission of the cover-up and his apology surprised many. But if he had attempted to continue the cover-up his government could have fallen, he had no choice in the face of the evidence but to admit the truth.
Parallels can be drawn with French author Émile Zola's article J'accuse (1898) in which he exposed the role of the French state in the anti-semitic frame up of Alfred Dreyfus. The furore which followed brought down the government.
Not only are the families to be applauded for their courage and tenacity in the pursuit of justice, but a debt of honour is owed to them for showing that working class people fired with courage and determination can render the forces of the state accountable.
Murdoch and MacKenzie's vile slanders
It took Kelvin MacKenzie, former editor of the Sun, nearly 25 years to claim to be "sorry" for his paper's coverage of Hillsborough.
The Sun admitted in 2004 that this was "the most terrible mistake in our history". But it took MacKenzie another eight years and last week's damning report to mumble out this insincere apology.
Nothing he ever says will atone for the impact of the Sun's disgusting coverage of the tragedy in 1989.
Sections of the media believed - like the police and often in collusion with them - that they could act with impunity.
MacKenzie had form already. From the early 1980s, the Sun's editorial line was "make it short, make it snappy and make it up".
Anything went in the drive for increased circulation. "Respectable" news values were thrown to the wind.
MacKenzie reserved his vilest falsifications to 'demonise' trade unionists, ethnic minorities, impoverished communities and cities such as Liverpool, and what he dubbed football "hooligans".
The Sun's excesses are chronicled in the book Stick it up Your Punter, by Peter Chippindale and Chris Horrie.
But MacKenzie's role in the "reporting" of Hillsborough was the most vicious hooligan act in the sordid history of Britain's tabloid media.
The Sun was not alone in regurgitating the lies that South Yorkshire Police peddled through a local news agency.
Other media outlets repeated these claims but were more careful to stress that they were allegations.
MacKenzie, it seems, whipped up every vile prejudice to assist the South Yorkshire Police's attempted cover-up.
The day before publication of the infamous edition of the Sun, MacKenzie laid out the editorial line.
Even some of the Sun's worst gutter hacks advised him to be careful but he ignored them.
According to Horrie and Chippindale, MacKenzie knew the allegations were unproven - even before publication and the subsequent backlash - and had not sought out any evidence to back them up.
He also calculated that the paper could not be sued for libel by using the "Truth" headline rather than the first headline he drafted for that edition which was "You Scum".
Previously the media and print unions were able to use their strength to exert a certain control over MacKenzie's behaviour.
But by 1989, after Murdoch locked out and defeated the print workers, the media unions could no longer stop the publication of South Yorkshire Police's and MacKenzie's vile smears and slanders.
So it was left to the people of Liverpool to rise up in united anger to boycott the Sun. The paper's circulation in Merseyside fell by more than 200,000 (40%) within days.
That boycott could continue for generations to come. It is the tenacious campaign of the families of the 96 and their supporters that forced MacKenzie's apology.
Police officers should now face criminal charges, and MacKenzie, Murdoch and others responsible at the Sun should face charges of aiding and abetting this criminal conspiracy.
Hillsborough: No Cover-up
The front page of Militant, issue 941, 21 April 1989
"I WAS against the fence. There was a man pinned against me. He appeared dead but there was nothing I could do.
"Another bloke next to me was shouting for help but I couldn't help him," says Les Lloyd from his hospital bed. "AT MY feet was a lad of 13, he was dead.
"Someone's son was lying there. He had Huckleberry Hound boxer shorts on. His little white T-shirt was dragged over his face. He was Just left there for more than 15 minutes," Tommy Smith In Liverpool told us.
THESE COULD be reports from some terrible natural disaster. But these ordinary working class people - men. women, children - were following their team in the cup. They hoped to get to Wembley; 95 of them never left Sheffield.
They died because of a system that puts greed before safety. The working class of Liverpool and Britain demand: "Never again."
There must be no cover-up. Those responsible must be made to take the blame. Tory ministers try to deflect criticism by hypocritically joining the mourning. Disgustingly, anonymous police officers try to blame the fans.
At Hillsborough, crowd control and communication between the authorities in the ground and those opening gates outside were chaotic.
People died because of decades of neglect of ground safety and improvements. There was a complete lack of medical facilities at a stadium with a capacity for 54,000.
Football clubs and the police just think of fans as a source of profit or as potential hooligans. They imprison us in pens. barricade us behind perimeter fences. They treat us like animals.
Liverpool Labour MP Eddie Loyden was at Hillsborough: "The perimeter fencing, which they say was for safety, became an offensive weapon.
"The people were simply trapped in a cage. I know they are concerned about people spilling onto the pitch, but this is far better than the death of a kid."
Tory sports minister Colin Moynihan backs perimeter fences. He and Thatcher arc still determined to foist their identity card scheme on us.
But the fans have warned them. Even the police federation and the clubs have warned them. ID cards will cause delays at turnstiles. Crushes and chaos like Sheffield could be repeated at any big match.
The Tories don't care about the supporters or the game. Thatcher wants to force the whole population to carry ID cards. She is trying to use football to set the precedent.
Now an inquiry has been set up. But how much safer is football since the inquiry into the Bradford fire? "There should be an inquiry over the heads of the officials," demands Tommy Smith. "The ones who know what happened are the ones who were there." Listen to the fans for once!
There must be a trade union inquiry involving the unions of the emergency services' workers on duty at Sheffield and those representing football employees, the supporters' associations and the Labour councils of Liverpool, Nottingham and Sheffield.
And their recommendations for the protection of fans must be acted on immediately.
Football is a profitable business. Millions are being taken out by the big clubs and pools companies. Now that money must be put back in to bring every ground up to a safe standard.
Football clubs should be taken into local authority control and run for the benefit of the local community.
The supporters, the players and the local working class movement should be in charge. They would ensure safety and comfort and the fullest use of the sporting facilities.
- Make Moynihan resign;
- For a mass lobby of Parliament for football safety and to scrap ID cards;
- For a workers' inquiry into the Hillsborough tragedy;
- For massive investment into football ground safety;
- Nationalise the pools companies;
- Take the football clubs and their grounds into local authority control.
Liverpool after Hillsborough
Press lies answered
Articles in feature page on Hillsborough, page 3 of Militant 28 April 1989, issue 942
The City of Liverpool reacted with fury to the despicable allegations by Sheffield police and the gutter press that drunken, violent and thieving fans were responsible for the Hillsborough disaster. One eye-witness after another has proved that the fans behaved with courage and responsibility while the police themselves were guilty of incompetence are These are just a few examples:
"LAST YEAR" said Walton Young Socialist Mike Potter, "from the turnstiles to the gate there were about six policemen making sure you entered the area in single file.
"This year there was one policeman at each turnstile searching people when they felt like it.
"A friend of my dad's was at the match with his son. He lost his son as the match opened and then saw someone on the pitch being carried away by the police, dressed like his son with his head covered.
He ran over to check if it was him but the police wouldn't let him look even after they heard the reason why. He found out four hours later that his child was all right."
"The police were aggressive in their approach before we even reached the ground," Liverpool fan Jim McCabe told Militant. "But it was chaos on top of incompetence.
"There was no check on tickets and the crowd was massed up into a crush outside the turnstiles.
"When the disaster started, I saw one fan who was giving first aid assaulted and arrested. Truncheons were used to beat hack fans who were escaping over the perimeter fence.
"We spoke to a 19 year- old copper on the way out. It was his first match duty, hut he was expected to watch over 300 Liverpool fans. He had no radio communication - that was restricted to senior officers!"
At the opposite end of the ground. Stewart Brady. an NGA FOC from Nottingham, saw some police on the wire fence doing their best. "But loads were doing nothing.
"Instead of going up to the wire and helping to pull it down there was just that stupid line across the pitch, three deep.
"The Liverpool fans were the ones who organised themselves. They were tremendous and the Forest fans were applauding every effort.
"I've not seen people die like that. I've seen patients in hospital but not people so full of life.
"Now they're saying the police radios are not good enough. But if there were strikes or rioting they would be good enough. The police were coordinated enough in the miners' strike."
Even the Liverpool Echo, no friend of the working class, was forced to defend the reputation of the fans against the police smears:
"We have seen hundreds of pictures of Liverpool fans gallantly aiding their stricken friends... Where are the pictures of them urinating over unconscious fans and the police officers who were helping them? Not even the Sun. whose front-page coverage today (19 April) is a disgrace to journalism, has managed to dredge these up... "We say there is no evidence to back up any of these slurs.
But it has not stopped South Yorkshire police officers seizing the chance to get themselves off the hook by using Liverpool supporters as scapegoats."
'We accuse' say the fans
THIRTY LIVERPOOL supporters met within days of the Hillsborough tragedy to organise a campaign. They met Terry Fields MP and councillor Jacki Smith and agreed to fight for the following demands:
To all lovers and supporters of football.
The FA of ignoring repeated demands from football clubs and supporters for a fair and proper system of ticket allocation based on average gates, which resulted in the tragedy we saw at Hillsborough on 15 April;
The South Yorkshire police of gross incompetence in failing to recognise and prevent a major tragedy.
A number of questions need to be asked of the South Yorkshire police and the authorities:
Why did their communication system fail?
Why, given that they had closed circuit television focused on Leppings Lane which can pick out individual people, could they not see that the centre sections were full?
Why did they ignore appeals from the crowd for action to be taken in the early stages of the crushing?
Why did they have no contingency plans for a major catastrophe?
Why were basic medical facilities not available for a major sporting event?
Why did a large body of police guard the North Stand touch line when people were dying from lack of medical attention within 20 yards of them? Surely these people have been trained in basic first aid?
Why did Liverpool fans themselves bear the brunt of the rescue operation when 800 policemen were on duty?
We are calling for:
- The Immediate resignation of the FA management committee and until they do fans should boycott all future FA cup matches.
- The suspension of all senior police officers responsible for crowd safety at Hillsborough.
- Safety now!
Every football supporter knows that the tragedy at Hillsborough could have happened at any ground in the country.
Fans who pay the money across the turnstiles have been treated like second-class citizens in their own stadiums.
It is your responsibility to make sure that your own football clubs guarantee that your safety is their prime concern.
Don't let Hillsborough happen again!
MPs back workers' inquiry
A GROUP of Merseyside MPs have called for a labour movement Inquiry Into the Hillsborough tragedy.
It is "another occasion where the drive for profits and consequent lack of safety measures have resulted in a tragedy for working class people".
"There must be no cover-up or whitewash and those responsible must be brought to book," they say. "This is not to say that the tragedy is the fault of one or two individuals.
"The blame must be laid at the door of those in the most responsible positions especially those in authority."
If more attention had been paid to providing and enforcing decent and safe conditions at grounds. instead of the Tory obsession with treating people like animals by penning them into confined spaces, this tragedy need not have happened.
Millions of pounds in subsidies have quite rightly been given to the arts to provide comfortable and safe facilities, but in contrast ordinary football fans do not even have the most basic amenities whilst at grounds.
They criticise football club owners for spending £70 million on transfer fees but little on ground improvement and safety.
The MPs say that, ID cards will mean more tragedies and call for the resignation of those in authority responsible for the tragedy, the scrapping of the ID scheme and a labour movement inquiry involving the trade unions, the fans and the Labour councils of Nottingham, Liverpool and Sheffield.
The MPs are Terry Fields, Eric Heffer, Eddie Loyden, Bob Parry, Bob Wareing and Allan Roberts.
Thatcher's reception -the real story
Thatcher's nauseating hypocrisy doesn't fool : working-class fans. After ten years of treating us ' like dirt, and Just three days before she pressed ahead with plans for ID cards, she put on a show of concern by visiting the injured In hospital. But the national press didn't tell the whole truth about the reception she got!
Mrs Hughes, whose teenage son Mark was injured at Hillsborough, rang Radio Merseyslde:
'Mark had been injured. He'd been temporarily blinded, and the doctors were warning he may have permanent brain damage. ' Thatcher visited him. She said: 'How are you?' He said: 'OK'.
As she left his bed, she turned to him and said 'is there anything else I can do for you?' He replied 'Yeah, how about some decent jobs for the lads in Liverpool!' She didn't reply, but our family smiled for the first time. That wasn't reported on TV, was it?'
When the Liverpool football team visited the injured, families and hospital staff were in tears when one of the victims opened his eyes for the first time at the sound of his hero, Kenny Dalglish, speaking to him.
Thatcher's voice had an entirely opposite effect on another victim. He was heavily sedated, and hadn't spoken to his wife.
But the loathing of Liverpool workers for Thatcher and her policies soon shone through.
As Thatcher arrived at the bedside, the fan's wife uttered "Oh no, I don't believe it. It's Mrs Thatcher".
Thatcher asked "How are you?" Suddenly, the patient spoke out: "I was alright until I saw your f***** face. Now go on, f*** off from this bed!"
A fighter for the future
On the Thursday before Hillsborough Chris Traynor, a joiner with Wirral borough council, paid us a social visit. We had come to know him from repair work he did on our house when we first moved in.
He asked our opinion of the looming possibility of redundancies in the DLO due to Tory/SLD policies and how to fight them.
Chris was fresh and eager to do the job of Ucatt shop steward, proudly wearing his union badge on his overalls.
He said he was going to the match in Sheffield. This reminded us how much football meant to him, bringing his radio to listen to the match whilst doing a repair on our house.
Chris was reported to management by a supervisor for leaving ten minutes early for his lunch break. He successfully fought this victimisation of a steward.
Two days after calling to see us, Chris was killed at Hillsborough, at the age of 26. He died with his devoted young brother. We lost not only a good young worker, but a real fighter for the future.
Only two days earlier, Chris wanted to fight job losses brought about by mismanagement in local authorities. He died, a victim of the mismanagement of the police, the FA and football club directors.