A new book commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Hillsbrough disaster, questions the role of the police on that fateful day.

By Brian Glanville
On the 20th anniversary of the horrific disaster of Hillsborough, when 96 wholly innocent Liverpool supporters so cruelly and unnecessarily died, a devastating book by Professor Phil Scraton, of Queens University, Belfast, opens many an old wound.

How bitterly plain it is that the Sheffield police failed wretchedly in their duties, how clear that they tried shamelessly to cover up their infinite mistakes. How deeply disappointing and frustrating that so many died who should never have done, that the birds never truly came home to roost, despite the clear eyed excellence of Lord Taylor’s report, in which he nailed lies and the dodging of responsibilities.

I’ve read the lengthy extracts from Scraton’s book rather than the whole book itself, where perhaps he deals, as he doesn’t in the extract, not merely with the evident culpability of the copper in overall charge, the hapless Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, who “froze” as Taylor scathingly put it, but with the fact that Duckenfield should ever have been put in charge at all.

Wholly inexperienced as he was in such matters. That, as Taylor remorsely stressed, Duckenfield was “economical with the truth” over his botched part in the disaster, made his part in it the more deplorable, of course.

Lord Taylor stressed that when Duckenfield agreed to the request to open Gate C on the Leppings Lane end, the tunnel leading to the terraces should have been closed. Duckenfield, the professor pursued, gave Graham Kelly then the chief FA executive, and others, to believe that fans had been culpable of forcing a gate.

“This was not only untruthful,” reported Lord Taylor, but “set off a widely reported allegation against the supporters which caused grave offence and distress.” Moreover he emphasised the despicable propaganda campaign by the Sheffield policy to vilify the Liverpool fans.

Accusations shamefully taken up by The Sun, which reported that Liverpool fans had urinated on corpses and picked their pockets. For which the paper’s proprietor Rupert Murdoch roundly apologised, declaring the Sun’s coverage as “insensitive, provocative and unwanted.”

Yet, incredibly and shamelessly, Kelvin MacKenzie, then the paper’s editor, speaking in Newcastle in November 2006, declared, “All I did wrong there was tell the truth. There was a surge of Liverpool fans who had been drinking and that is what caused the disaster. I went on (BBC Radio’s) World at One the next day and apologised. I only did that because Rupert Murdoch told me to. I wasn’t sorry then and I’m not sorry now.”

Yet the $64,000 question must surely be, why was Duckenfield put in charge at all? Although I understand there had been signs of possible disaster a year earlier, when the same teams, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, met there in the semi final – ignored by the FA – a senior local copper, well versed in crowd control, had been effectively in charge.

But shortly before the second semi final, he was reportedly demoted as a result of horseplay and indiscipline in his force. What a moment to enforce such a sanction! The police did their devious best to implement a whitewash.

“It is clear,” writes Scraton, “that major questions remain about the adequacy of the investigations and inquiries and the accountability of the police at the highest level.”