An entire class of people abandoned

In the Guardian, another excellent article on Hillsborough, this one by Adrian Tempany, who survived (barely) the crush in pen 3 that day. The reason this story is so fraught is that the victims of the disaster were attacked by the news media, by MPs, and by the police as “yobs” and criminals, and it’s taken 27 years to set that story straight.

We sit here not just as survivors, but as some of the accused. From the moment the inquests began, in March 2014, lawyers for the former match commanders at Hillsborough, led by John Beggs QC, have thrown vicious allegations on their behalf: that we were drunk, without tickets, badly behaved, aggressive and non-compliant. We sit quietly, and wonder if the jury has seen through their bile. It will not be easy: over three decades, we have been described as “animalistic” (Chief Constable Peter Wright), “tanked-up yobs” (Margaret Thatcher’s press secretary Sir Bernard Ingham), and – quite simply – as “mental” (Paul Middup,Police Federation rep). Much of the public held us to be the people who pissed on brave coppers, or attacked them as they gave the kiss of life to stricken victims – all this while we were busy robbing the dead.

These allegations, of course, were mostly carried in the Sun’s infamous front-page story of 19 April 1989, under the headline The Truth. It was Kelvin MacKenzie’s final choice as a banner headline; the first he had considered was: “You Scum”.

So I looked for that.

Image result for the sun the truth

It wasn’t the truth. The reporter who made those claims later said the source was a Tory MP.

On 15 April 1989, I walked down a tunnel into Hillsborough, and into the sunshine, thinking: “Where would you rather be on a day like this?” An hour later, at just after 3pm, I am caught somewhere between this life and the next.

The game has kicked off. I can see people in the north stand following it with their eyes. Others are fixated on the space around me, and pointing furiously, or running down the gangways to the pitch, shouting at police officers. But they are far away. Closer, a few feet away, people are dead on their feet. The air is thick with the smell of excrement and urine. Three men are changing colour, from a pale violet to a ghostly pallor. Some have vomit streaming from their nostrils. People are weeping. Others are gibbering, trying to black out what is happening. I am 19, and I know that I am about to die.

As my brain begins to flood my body with endorphins, I am lifted above the crowd, in a bubble of warm water. It is strangely peaceful. Then shouting: rasping, aggressive shouting. In a Yorkshire accent: “Get back you stupid bastards!”

Seconds, maybe minutes later, I open my eyes again. The sky is still blue, and the police have finally come through the gate in the perimeter fence. For the first time in an hour, I am standing up, untouched. Now, as I feel my body for broken ribs or bones, a group of people in front of me – who’d had their backs to me throughout the crush, and who I thought were alive – simply keel over and hit the concrete. A heap of tangled corpses piles up off the ground, three feet high. After a few seconds, I see a limb move and realise someone is alive in there. One police officer who comes through the gate later says that the scene “was like Belsen”.

It was a failure of crowd control, which was not the fault of the crowd.

For the next two decades, many survivors would struggle to retain their sanity. But it wasn’t us who had lost our senses: it was the British establishment.

Chief superintendent David Duckenfield, the match commander, did not lie alone, of course: this deceit was not simply the work of a bunch of bent coppers, but the product of a political culture debased. For years, historians have routinely rubbished the 70s as the decade that shamed us – 10 years of loon pants and luminous food; Britain at its most unhinged. But Hillsborough, a stain on British history like no other, can only be fully understood as part of the Thatcher era that gave rise to it. It was she who gave political cover to the South Yorkshire police, after they attacked the miners at Orgreave in 1984 and then tried to fit up dozens of them on a charge of riot – immunity their reward for breaking the strike. And as Kenneth Clarke MP has admitted, Thatcher had declared football fans as an enemy within: not football hooligans – football fans.

And what comes next is astonishing. It’s not astonishing to people who have known this for 27 years, but to my regret I haven’t been.

On 4 August 1989, Lord Justice Taylor produced his interim report into the causes of the disaster. He concluded that the main cause was overcrowding, and the main reason was the failure of police control. Here, essentially, was the truth the jury found in Warrington last week – laid before the public in August 1989. But the public didn’t get to see it first: Thatcher and her cabinet did.

On 1 August 1989, the report was presented to the home secretary, Douglas Hurd, who sent an internal memo to Thatcher. The chief constable, Hurd thought, will “have to resign”, as the “enormity of the disaster, and the extent to which the inquiry blames the police, demand this”. Hurd requested Thatcher’s support for his own statement, in which he would “welcome unreservedly the broad thrust of the report”. Thatcher replied: “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? … Surely we welcome the thoroughness of the report and its recommendations. MT”.

And, at a stroke, justice was denied. Hurd had seen the rug pulled from under his feet. Now, he did not, could not, call for Chief Constable Peter Wright’s resignation – a move that would have left South Yorkshire police no option but to accept full responsibility. Suitably emboldened, they came out fighting, for 27 years.

Oh, christ.

And then there’s this:

But now the truth is out. And history will record that it was the police, and not us, who stole from the dead – they stole their lives, they stole the truth about their deaths, and they stole the next 27 years of the lives of their loved ones. They simply do not learn, the South Yorkshire police: there is a thread running from Orgreave, through Hillsborough, and on to the Rotherham child abuse scandal.

Oh yes; that.

There is a sense now that a truth of this order must lead to change. On Tuesday, when the jury gave its determinations, BBC journalists with no personal connections to the disaster broke down in court and wept. It is not simply that the jury had got everything right – a remarkable achievement, given the complexity of the case: it is that Hillsborough was never simply a football disaster; it is the tragedy of this country in the 1980s. An entire class of people abandoned by those in power; a police force politicised, who literally turned their backs on people as they screamed for their lives; the transformation of a sport that was a culture into a rapacious, globalised business – sold off to the middle class, on the basis of a monumental injustice.

It’s a heartbreaking story.

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