One very poignant personal memory remains to me of the appalling Hillsborough disaster. A few days afterwards I found myself, still in a haunted and lachrymose condition myself, at San Siro, where Milan were about to play a European Cup game. Suddenly the whole huge shelf behind one goal, the Milan supporters’ end, burst into a chorus of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” It frankly was more than one could bear.
But for 23 years the relatives of the 96 innocent Liverpool fans who died on that appalling afternoon have had to bear their belief that vital aspects were covered up, that official reports were not remotely telling the truth, that the Sheffield police had all too cynically and effectively covered their tracks, that even the outspoken Taylor Report, in which that eminent and decent judge contemptuously brushed aside the libel that the dead supporters were the victims of their own drunken behaviour. No, even Lord Taylor could not go far enough, but the devious operators behind the cover up would see to that, would see that thousands of gruesomely relevant reports and incriminating documents, would be concealed for decades to come.
A subsequent, less independent, judge holding a further inquiry would cravenly refuse to place blame where it was incurred. Only now can we hope for a damning verdict of unlawful killing. Only now do we know that 41 of the 96 dead could have been saved, had not an ineffable coroner – who actually dared to test the corpses even of small children for traces of alcohol – had suspended further attempts to treat bodies which could and in all those cases actually were alive.
A coroner who was no better than a police accomplice. We know, too, that a plethora of statements by junior policemen and ambulance crews – almost all of them shamefully late to get on to the field – were deliberately altered by the police hierarchy. What could be more criminal than that? 116 of those statements, in fact, wholly contradicted the official whitewash for which none was more responsible that the late Peter Wright, the commanding officer of the South Yorkshire police, who conveniently died only last year.
We must, I think, assume that it was Wright who took off the semi-final command the senior officer who had at least handled the self same semi-final – same teams. Forest and Liverpool – the previous year with success; allegedly, as we know, “guilty” of failing to stop so called “horseplay” in his force. Enter at short notice the inept and invertebrate David Duckenfield, who panicked, had the gates fatally opened, then lied that they had been knocked down by Liverpool fans rushing to get into the ground. Duckenfield, excoriated by Lord Tayor, eventually slopped off into retirement on a full pension, suffering, it was said from depression. As well he might.
But what of Kelvin MacKenzie, editor then of The Sun, who plastered the front page of his newspaper with banner headlines, variously and baselessly accusing Liverpool fans of stealing from dead bodies and urinating on the police? Correctly or not, it was reported some months ago that MacKenzie in a speech to some dinner, had declared that he still stood by that malign story. Which as we now learn was put out at the instigation of the police by a local Sheffield news agency. After the Bishop of Liverpool’s report, MacKenzie has now admitted that he, to his great regret, had been wrong.
But vilely as the hierarchy of the South Yorkshire police behaved, and at least one senior officer even now stuck to the fallacies which he had helped to concoct, only to grovel a subsequent apology, the buck doesn’t stop with the policemen. Throughout all those bitter 23 years, no government has seen fit to investigate the disaster and the conspiracy. Jack Straw, the eternal student politician, hid typically behind an equivocal judgement from an equivocating judge, but what senior politician, Labour or Tory, has done any better?
A shining exception to prove the rule, however, has been the leading Labour MP, Andy Burnham, who has had much to do with the shocking revelations. Well might he say, as he did in the Commons, that there has been “a sickening campaign of vilification”. Compounded by political indifference.