Wednesday, 27 April 2016


So the verdict is in, “unlawful killing”. As a passive observer of the processes of the inquest I was completely wrung out by the time we reached the verdict how the families must feel goodness only knows.

Now the world knows what happened on the afternoon of the 15th April 1989 when Liverpool met Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough home of Sheffield Wednesday in the Semi-final of the FA Cup.

That sunny afternoon 96 people died 766 others where injured and despite the best efforts of Kelvin McKenzie and the Sun in collusion with the Tories and the police what happened was not the fault of the Liverpool fans drunken or otherwise.

96 people crushed to death and hundreds more injured was caused by an astonishing array of incompetence at every level and an almost callous disregard for pubic safety by those whose primary responsibility was to protect the public.

As a consequence of this second inquest the term ‘compression asphyxia’ the cause of death of all but one of the victims has entered our language.

My personal interest with this case goes back a long way. As a fan of Wolverhampton Wanderers I had attended the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough between Wolves and Spurs back in 1981. That day too the Leppings Lane enclosure was overcrowded and 38 Spurs fans where injured and many more spilled onto the pitch. A warning of what dangerous overcrowding could do in a confined space that was ignored by everyone in authority.

I had watched this unfold, fortunately for me, from the other end of the ground. Prior to this I had already developed something of a phobia when going to away games of entering what where called pens. Indeed as far back as 1976 I was thrown out of Old Trafford before the kick off of an FA Cup game for refusing to enter one.

These steel pens where an accident waiting to happen designed to stop you getting out onto the pitch no matter what happened. Of themselves however they where not enough to turn an accident into a disaster what was also needed was the public vilification and demonization of all football fans so that as less than human they could be treated like cattle.  

That job had been done by Mrs Thatcher with a supportive press. She did not like football or those who watched it, indeed she had no feeling for sport generally, and as far as she was concerned everyone who watched football was a potential hooligan.

There was one other ingredient and that was a politicised police force that saw football supporters as part of the ‘enemy within’. No force in the country was more politicised that that of South Yorkshire.

Of course what had happened between 1981 and 1989 was the miners strike when the South Yorkshire Police force developed a pattern of behaviour that would culminate at Hillsborough. That pattern was a culture of brutality and cover up.  

Nothing could symbolise this more than what happened at Orgreve. The official report stated that during the confrontation 93 arrests were made, with 51 pickets and 72 policemen injured. Of course now we look at official reports with a pinch of salt.
In 1987 after 95 pickets had been charged with riot, unlawful assembly and similar offences, a trial took place.
The trial collapsed, all charges were dropped and a number of lawsuits were brought against the police for assault, unlawful arrest and malicious prosecution from that other sunny day at Orgreave when miners out numbered by police where delivered up for a beating.
The first part of the plan worked well but over confidence and a sloppy effort at collusion meant that South Yorkshire Police ended up paying £425,000 compensation and £100,000 in legal costs to 39 pickets in an out of court settlement. Meanwhile however, no officers have been disciplined and as they settled out of court no apology ever given.
Michael Mansfield QC described the evidence given by South Yorkshire Police as "the biggest frame-up ever". He said that the force had a culture of fabricating evidence a well developed skill which we now know was fully utilised by the time they got to Hillsborough.
After the 2012 report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, NUM leader Chris Kitchen called for the investigation into the force's practices to be widened to cover Orgreave. Now we must make that demand again.
Now the Hillsborough families have the truth I hope they will press on to ensure those responsible are made accountable for their actions. What with the Shrewsbury pickets, collusion in Northern Ireland and now this Claude Cockburn’s dictum that ‘You should never believe anything until it is officially denied’, has never been truer.
For the Hillsborough families this is a tremendous victory against the whole of the states machinery but we should not rest until the full story of the role of the police in this period is bought out into the open. This is the only way to ensure that this corrupt policing will not be repeated.

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