When I wrote this post last year about the forthcoming panel report into the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989, I have to admit that while I was hopeful that the misconception that the fans were any way at fault might be erased, I wasn't hopeful of much else. Liverpool fans, and many others, have long known there was a sustained cover-up and a cynical attempt to shift the blame away from the failings of the police and on to the fans. The idea that such a conspiracy might be revealed and proven, given the slipperiness of those involved and the refusal of successive Governments to adequately investigate the matter, seemed too much to hope for.
But then, this Wednesday, the Hillsborough Independent Panel report was released, after years of painstaking investigation. It's conclusions were devastating. Not only did the report prove conclusively that there had been an orchestrated cover-up by South Yorkshire Police, in collusion with a Tory MP of the time and Rupert Murdoch's newspaper The Sun, which involved smearing the dead and those that tried to save them. The report also revealed the extent of that conspiracy. A total of 164 statements provided by policeman who were on duty that day were amended, a staggering 116 of which altered or doctored to remove any criticism of how the event was policed. It found the fans were in no way responsible for the disaster, and their safety had been compromised at every level. Even more wounding for the parents and families of those who died, the report estimated that of the 96 killed in the crush, 41 people might have been saved had the response of the emergency service been adequate.
Given the contents of the report, The Prime Minister had no option but to give a a full apology to the families and all the fans who were there that day and had their reputations besmirched (rival fans have often taunted Liverpool fans, as a consequence of Hillsborough, of being 'whingers', referring to it as the 'self-pity city' and chanting they they 'killed their own fans - surely that must now stop?). He outlined the 'double injustice' for the families of the dead: how the state failed to protect them, and the long wait to find out exactly what happened that day; then the way the dead were denigrated, as those responsible sought to protect their reputations by casting slurs on people who were no longer able to answer. Now at last someone has spoken on their behalf, and the families can get the closure they deserve.
People have said such a thing wouldn't happen now. Don't believe a word of it. This lot - police, press, coalition government - would cover their backs just as quickly if they were given chance and thought they could get away with it. This report, coming on the back of the much-needed Leveson inquiry, is welcome because it shows that eventually those in a position of power, or those who are given the responsibility of holding those in in power to account, will eventually be found out if they abuse that power, and use it against the very citizens they are supposed to protect and serve.
Because that's what happened here. That's what lies at the root of the Hillsborough scandal, the phone hacking scandal, and many others - a disdain for ordinary people. In the 1980s Mrs Thatcher's reprehensible government actively turned the police and elements of the press against the people of this country, or at least those elements that were not compliant with its right-wing ideology. A line can be drawn from reaction to the riots in Brixton and Toxteth at the beginning of the 1980s, through the middle of the decade, including the Miner's Strike, in which Mrs Thatcher described a group of men carrying out their basic human right to withdraw their labour as the 'enemy within', and used the police to bully and intimidate them (see the 'Battle of Orgreave' where picketing miners were set upon by...South Yorkshire Police). All the way to the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989, where it was deemed acceptable to shift the blame on to a group of fans rather than the real culprits, the cops, because they were working-class football fans, who were all hooligans, and they were from Liverpool, a city full of lefties.
Now that the families have the truth, one can only hope that those responsible - the senior policemen of South Yorkshire Police in particular, but also the former Tory MP Sir Irvine Patnick (that ludicrous knighthood needs to go for a start) - are punished for perverting the course of justice. Then the course of justice can be seen through for the sake of those families who have struggled for more than two decades to get to the bottom of what happened that fateful Spring day. They always knew their loved ones had died as a result of incompetence, and that those in power had sought to avoid any responsibility by all manner of means. Now it is time to end the matter once and for all and prosecute those responsible for this most shameful episode.