The speeches from the likes of Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham are as powerful and as emotional as any speech I’ve ever witnessed from politicians, and this was truly a unique moment in government.
The Hillsborough Debate (special one hour show)
The debate that took place earlier this month in the House of Commons was a historic occasion in more than one sense. First of all, it was not much of a debate when every speech supported the motion for the truth to be disclosed, in its entirety through some 300,000 documents, to the Hillsborough Independent Panel. Secondly, it was historic as the first ever call for a debate that came as a result of an e-petition, which in this case had been signed by 140,000 individuals, demanding that all of the documents be made available immediately, without exception uncensored and unredacted.
Also, it was an occasion where party politics gave way to humanitarian concerns, and an acknowledgement of the power of individuals. As every speaker made clear, the fact that the demand for justice is still unanswered after more than twenty two years is a disgrace, but is also clearly a demand that will not simply just go away.
The accusation that there was an “orchestrated campaign” to blame the victims, their families, their friends, and their fellow supporters, is not one that is made lightly. It’s clear from some of the notes attached to police statements (as noted by MP Andy Burnham) that South Yorkshire police intended to cover up their lack of response to the tragedy as it unfolded, and to shift blame away from themselves onto Liverpool supporters who were seen as an easy target, and one that would not gain any sympathy from government, the justice system, or even the general public. Senior members of The Football Association readily accepted the “official” statement by police that the tragedy occurred as a result of hooliganism, in particular a rowdy and drunken mob of ticketless Liverpool supporters who forced their way into the ground, and repeated that completely inaccurate version of events as if it was a simple matter of fact. Furthermore, the Prime Minister of the time (Margaret Thatcher) met with South Yorkshire Police the day following the tragedy and heard the same story which played into the hands of the government’s “law and order” agenda of the time. All of these false accusations resulted in a spread of misinformation that continues to the present day, where “hooliganism” is blamed for the tragedy instead of official incompetence. Many individuals in positions of authority, those who should be looked up to by the rest of us, completely let us down that day and in the weeks and months that followed. As of today, more than twenty two years later, nobody has been held accountable for the disaster, nobody has been brought to justice, and no official apology has been made. The truth is that Liverpool supporters acted immediately to help each other and to save lives as much as they were able, in spite of the lack of emergency response and the blundering of the police who were supposedly in charge and responsible for their safety.
As if that campaign of lies and deceit was not enough, some senior police officials, in collusion with one or more members of the government, claimed that police were attacked by Liverpool supporters as they attempted to revive the unconscious, that “drunken thugs” stole from the pockets of those already dead, and that they had urinated on the “brave” police officers. The story was published under the headline “The Truth” by one particular tabloid paper (which shall not be named, but rhymes with scum), repeated by many others, and was soon included in press releases that spread around the world. It was that last part that has been the most hurtful and most damaging of all, and must be corrected and shown by the panel’s findings to be blatant lies. The police (and government, and media) claims that Liverpool supporters are hooligans, and that we were the cause of the tragedy, is an insult to all of us. By saying this, they have smeared all of us, and not just Liverpool supporters but all football supporters everywhere.
More than one of the speakers suggested that Kelvin McKenzie (the editor of that tabloid) be called on to reveal his sources. We want to know who gave him such obviously wrong information, why did he publish it as “truth” without any evidence, and why has it never been acknowledged as lies, and with no apology (especially by him)? Soon after those disclosure of sources suggestions were made in the house, another e-petition was soon begun to force the release of information, with the request: “Full disclosure by The $*& Newspaper to the Hillsborough Independent Panel of all its records, including sources and documents relating to “The Truth” story published on 19/04/1989.”
The petition can be found here and is open for all UK residents or British citizens. I encourage everyone eligible to sign this petition, which may finally lead to a long overdue righting of a serious wrong, along with an apology and possibly (although unlikely) conviction of individuals responsible for the damaging lies. It’s worth remembering that News International, the parent company of the tabloid that began the lies has recently been under investigation for the phone hacking scandal that clearly showed how police cooperated with newspaper reporters to provide information that helped with their clandestine activities. An inquiry into that scandal led to the 2007 conviction of Editor Clive Goodman, and resignations of several others. The News of the World closed down permanently earlier this year following revelation of more widespread unethical practices, and a full page apology from Rupert Murdoch was published in several national papers. We can only hope for similar results from this latest petition.
To paraphrase an old saying, sticks and stones may break my bones, but blatant lies and accusations of hooligan behaviour that led to the deaths of 96 innocent lives will hurt me (and all of us) forever.
It’s time for action to put an end to the pain and finally to find out the truth and see some justice for the 96.
The Hillsborough Independent Panel is expected to publish its findings some time in 2012.