A lie is halfway round the world before the truth has even got its boots on. Not an original thought, I know, but hard to get out of my mind as it has never been truer than in the case of Hillsborough. It’s never been better understood than by the South Yorkshire Police and their partners in the media – with The Sun leading the charge - the judiciary, the coroner’s office, the courts and all manner of politicians. That there is no smoking gun leading to Thatcher means little; there is more than enough circumstantial evidence to lay the blame for the culture amongst the South Yorkshire Police, The Sun and the judiciary firmly at the door of the top of the establishment itself.
I wasn’t at Hillsborough. I travelled there the following day to get interviews with the fans who were there, and the survivors in hospital, for a special edition of Mersey Militant, of which I and my friends were active supporters at the time. We wanted to give the fans a voice, a chance to tell their own stories and get them out amidst the lies that were already gaining ground in the national media. It was the right thing to do, but in hindsight, it was a drop in the ocean compared to scale of the deceits being prepared and which have lasted for 23 years, until yesterday.
My memories of the day are a little hazy now, but two things stick in my mind. The first was talking to a supporter who ‘died’ three times on the pitch after being pulled out of the Leppings Lane end of the ground (the stand which the majority of the fans who died were in). Three times his heart had stopped and three times he’d been revived by fans and, if I remember rightly, a policewoman. The other memory is of some of the Liverpool FC team, Alan Hansen and Ian Rush amongst them, coming to the hospital and walking round the wards to talk to the fans and offer their support. The players looked shell shocked, as did the supporters, many of whom had stayed since the game to look after, or comfort, friends and relatives.
And who wouldn’t have been shocked into a daze at the scale of tragedy that happened at a football match on a sunny day, the aftermath of which was played out on national TV? Well the police, for one, weren’t in a daze, because now we know, in undeniable detail, on a scale of deceit that even drew an audible, involuntary gasp from a packed House of Commons, that the police leadership, who could hardly raise a finger to save a life on the day, managed to work themselves into a lather when they realised just how culpable they were for the course of events that unfolded on Sunday 15th April.
But why a conspiracy on such a scale to smear a set of fans, who were guilty of nothing more than going to a match; and why did they feel so confident to be so brazen as to think they could get away with it?
Because in their eyes this was a class war and they would get all the back up they needed. The South Yorkshire force had already seen plenty of action against the striking miners of 1984 to 1985. They were Thatcher’s favourite police force. Thatcher herself had denounced the miners as the enemy within, but this applied also to the Liverpool Militants and to football fans, who were regarded and treated as little more than animals. This culture led to a complete disregard for the rights and conditions of the fans who travelled to Hillsborough, and even less regard for those who lost their lives there too.
That’s why I’m not surprised by the revelations that came out today. I’m just not. I’ve been on too many demonstrations and picket lines, and witnessed too many times the way the police and the media (notwithstanding many fine people I personally know in the police force and the media) act when they think they can get away with it, to be surprised by what happened in the aftermath of Hillsborough. I’m sickened that anyone could stoop so low as to search for evidence of drunkenness and past criminality to try and slander the dead, and appalled at treatment of these incredible families who simply want to know how their loved ones died, but I’m not surprised.
I was in no doubt as to what the verdict of the panel would be today. We all knew anyway. In my mind I couldn’t imagine what else it could do but vindicate the fans and reveal the lies that so many had laboured to conceal. But still, with all that in-built cynicism and belief, as the news filtered out over the radio and on the internet and the scale of the cover up was finally publicly revealed, I found myself holding back tears and wanting to punch the air with joy.
I think I’m right in saying that many people across the city will have felt the way I did today, surprised and amazed at the waves of emotion that ran over me, a mixture of grief, anger and relief, which just kept coming and keeps on coming even now as I write these words. It really does feel as though a collective weight has been lifted from the city. We feel vindicated, and step lighter than we did before yesterday.
But already on the news tonight, legal experts are pontificating about how difficult it will be to hold anyone truly to account for the lies and the conspiracies that have now been proven. True, there are some very strong voices calling for prosecutions, but if you listen hard enough you can almost hear it: ‘it’s a long time ago, people won’t really be able to remember what happened, who said what’, and on, and on, and on. As if to say that if you can dodge the courts for just enough time, then you should simply be granted a free pass.
Did anyone hear that mentioned when Asil Nadir returned to face the music for his multi-million pound theft after absconding for 17 years? No, because Money never forgets, it always gets its due. The Hillsborough families had no money. The City Council had to step in just to cover the train fares for them to be able to travel down to the judicial enquiries at the House of Lords.
The families, the campaigners and the Independent Panel have finally unearthed the truth. Justice, in the form of new enquiries and re-shaped verdicts you would imagine should be almost a formality. Hopefully, for the families and the survivors this report will bring some closure.
I’m not so sure that it will really hold those responsible accountable. But the people themselves, the families first and foremost, the justice campaigns, and many other organisations and thousands upon thousands of individuals who refused to let this issue be swept under the carpet, have finally exposed one of the biggest cover ups in British legal history. Yesterday was their day, one they had earned through love, dedication and solidarity.
Mike Morris is a writer and one of the organisers of Liverpool's Writing on the Wall festival
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