The Hillsborough horror

This april 15, 1989, File Photo, shows police, stewards and suporters tending to wounded football fans on the field at Hillsborough Stadium, In sheffield, England. Ninety-six Liverpool fans were crushed to death in the incident during the FA Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.-AP

Villains of the piece there are in plenty, but the disgraceful cover up, 23 bitter years long, does far beyond even the policemen who perverted the cause of justice. Revenge is sweet; but how far will it be taken? By Brian Glanville.

There seems alas no end to the horribly slimy creatures crawling out from under stones 23 long years after the Hillsborough disaster. Why, you must wonder, has it taken so long for something like the full horrible truth of the catastrophe to emerge? The corrupt, villainously self-serving behaviour of the Sheffield police, which attempted with shocking success to distort the bitter truth of their abject behaviour, the insistence that damning witness statements by their own officers should be doctored and diluted in huge quantities of cases, impugn both senior officers, a senior MP and a pliable news agency.

Yet all this chicanery, this shameless self-serving dishonesty, has been compounded far higher up the echelon. Why was the so called establishment prepared to let sleeping dogs lie for so long? How could the coroner involved decree immediately after the tragedy that blood samples be taken from the victims, even those 10 years old, to decide whether alcohol had played any part in the chaos (which it had no)?

The Football Association stand accused of having ignored for years complaints about the dangers presented by the Sheffield Wednesday ground, which quite scandalously had never been issued with the requisite safety certificate. All this and the actions or inactions of former secretary Ted Croker and later secretary of the FA Graham Kelly, whom I nicknamed ‘Kelly The Jelly’, confirming me, in my view, that the FA haven’t had a decent Secretary, Chief Executive, call him what you will, since Stanley Rous left the post in 1962 after 28 impressive years to become the last decent honest President of FIFA. Not only was Hillsborough under the limp aegis of Kelly confirmed as a semifinal venue for the third time in a row, but after the disaster, Kelly, briefed by the inept Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, became the first leading official to parrot the shameful libel that the fans themselves were liable for the carnage.

Ah, Duckenfield! Thereby hangs a tale and a shocking one, though one which had been strangely ignored in the recent public furore. For it has been palpable for 20 years or more that he should never have been in charge at all and that in all probability the late Peter Wrights, his commanding superior at the time, bore heavy responsibility for the man’s mistaken appointment and later fatal ineptitude.

What was reported, and now seems to have been forgotten, not long after the disaster was that the officer in charge of policing the stadium the previous year, where although there were warning signs of potential chaos, all went reasonably well, had been sacked presumably by Wright, being blamed for what was described as an outbreak of “horseplay” among his junior officers. So it was that Duckenfield took over, panicked, had the entrance opened which enabled throngs of Liverpool supporters to burst on to the already crowded terraces; and thereafter lied, blaming the supporters for forcing their way through. He was still permitted to retire on a full pension, allegedly suffering from “severe depression and post traumatic stress disorder.” Whether he will now be among those who could face criminal prosecution, which seems even after so many years quite possible, remains to be seen.

And what of one Paul Middup, then the Secretary of the South Police Federation? Responsible as a “source” for the brutally libellous accusations which featured with dreadful prominence on the front page of the mass selling Sun daily newspaper, alleging that drunken Liverpool fans had robbed the corpses of dead supporters and urinated on the police? From that day to this the Sun has been boycotted in Liverpool.

But what of Kelvin Mackenzie, then its brash editor, who has now done public penance? It is not too long ago that at a public event, he defiantly announced that he still stood by the vile accusations — another thing which has not been stressed so far in coverage of the disaster and its appalling aftermath.

For who, you tend to wonder, is without guilt? Certainly, for one, Lord Taylor, the judge who presided over a subsequent investigation and who ridiculed the police attempts to blame not themselves but the victims of the disaster. More than 40 of whom, it now appears, could have been saved had the ambulance services done their job properly. Allegedly a whole fleet of ambulances remained uselessly outside the stadium with just one driver, who has recently testified, successful in getting on to the field.

Another plainly unrepentant malefactor in the scandal is Sir Norman Bettison, who not long after the disaster, was appointed of all things the Chief Constable on Merseyside, whereupon knowing he had participated in nefarious business of the police whitewash a number of members of the police authority resigned. Astonishingly, even after the publication of the damning new report he was blustering that Liverpool fans were not wholly innocent. Now Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, he provoked such a furore of protest that he had to withdraw his crass defiance.

Lord Justice Stuart Smith surely dodged the column in a subsequent investigation of the inquest’s verdict when he brushed aside evidence of police chicanery declaring the six amended police statements he was shown had no bearing on the police inquiry or the inquest. But now it belatedly seems that heads will roll, criminal charges will be brought. Yet guilt goes far up the scale to the politicians who over two decades, Tony Blair among them, simply left sleeping — and lying — dogs lie. Jack Straw, the once eternal student agitator, when Home Secretary, empowered Stuart Smith and is now, to considerable obloquy, trying to put the blame for that particular whitewash not on himself or the judge but seemingly on the supposed policies of Margaret Thatcher’s government.

Villains of the piece there are in plenty, but the disgraceful cover up, 23 bitter years long, does far beyond even the policemen who perverted the cause of justice. Revenge is sweet; but how far will it be taken?