The Long Ball Tactic

Hillsborough

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on April 17, 2012

I’ve been reading Professor Phil Scraton’s book Hillsborough: The Truth this week, a really interesting and comprehensive, but also incredibly moving, examination of what happened on April 15th 1989.

With the comments recently by Alan Davies and, far worse, the chanting by Chelsea fans during the minutes silence on Sunday, I think sometimes people miss the importance of Hillsborough. It irks me when people suggest others should ‘move on’ from what happened on that day, or that those who still talk about it are ‘wallowing in grief’.

The disaster itself is multi-faceted. You have, of course, the death of the 96 fans, killed in some of the worst scenes imaginable. To compound that you also have the subsequent response from South Yorkshire police, the smear campaign against the victims and the clamour to alleviate themselves of any responsibility for their failure to implement proper crowd control procedures.

Incredibly, people to this day still seem to believe that Liverpool fans were at least partly responsible for what went on – they weren’t, of course – and much of this must be put down to the efforts of the police and their aggressive briefing of the press in the immediate aftermath, despite the fact Lord Taylor in his report called the supporters efforts “magnificent”.

What people also forget about the disaster is that the coroner imposed a 3.15pm cut-off date at the inquests, thus meaning that families of those who died were never able to ascertain exactly what happened to their loved ones. Many families believe that some of those who died could have been saved with proper first aid arrangements, better emergency plans and without police stopping a fleet of ambulances from entering the ground.

Anne Williams, whose son Kevin died at Hillsborough, has fought for a new inquest. She found from talking to witnesses there that her son died at approximately 45 minutes after the coroner’s cut-off time, and was still alive when he was lifted out of one of the crowded pens at 3.28pm. Pathologists have argued that, with medical attention, Kevin could have been saved just by putting a rubber tube down his throat to assist his breathing.

The pain for those involved still endures until today. No one is taking responsibility and families still wait, after 23 years, for a proper inquest. The initial verdict of ‘accidental death’, clearly does not tell the full story. The writer Jimmy McGovern put it best when he said: “the thing the establishment forgot was that this is primarily mothers fighting for their sons. And having lost their sons they saw them attacked, which made them keep on fighting. If someone had put their hands up and said “we’re really sorry, this is what happened” they would have been happy. But nobody has, which is why they’ll keep on fighting”.

Combine this with the police witness statements, which were amended with notes from senior officers saying “These are his own feelings. He also states that PCs were sat down crying when the fans were carrying the dead and injured. This shows they were organised and we were not. Have [the PC] rewrite the last two pages excluding points mentioned.”. And, of course, the infamous lie that supporters forced open Gate C, and you can see why we are far from being able to ‘move on’ from this tragedy.

The descriptions in Prof. Scranton’s book that are hardest to read tell of families being led through dead bodies in the Hillsborough gymnasium trying to identify their missing loved ones, of being shown polaroid photographs of dead bodies and being asked to pick out anyone that might be their son or daughter, and then, to pile insult on top of injury, being questioned as though they were suspects rather than victims. “Was your son drinking alcohol?”, “which pubs would he have been drinking in?”.

One mother, who told police her deceased 23-year-old son hadn’t drank or smoked during his short lifetime, heard one officer remark to another “she’ll be telling us he was a virgin next”.

Even for those who didn’t lose their lives the tragedy still looms large. 23 years is a long time to wait for justice, but its a short enough time to mean that many of those who attended that game and saw friends and family crushed and asphyxiated are still alive today. Many of those, like the families who had to walk through dead bodies to find relatives, were not given proper counselling and have not sought it themselves. If you read the Hillsborough forums on Liverpool FC message board you’ll find posts from survivors who describe how they kept the details of that day bottled up inside, some find the forums a good way to release some of that, other still find the events too traumatic to fully discuss.

If this wasn’t bad enough, imagine having also to fight to clear the names of those who died, to remind people they did nothing wrong, despite the police and the Prime Minister’s press secretary talking of “a tanked up mob”. Imagine not knowing whether your dead child could have been saved because  no one has tried to investigate anything that happened after 3.15pm.

They attended a football game, some of them had a drink beforehand, like most of us have, their only mistake was to walk down the tunnel after going through the turnstiles, or after police had opened the gate, and find themselves in pens 3 and 4.

On 17th December 1996 a debate in parliament was held over Hillsborough. The Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle put forward several unanswered questions about the disaster:

– Why was Chief Superintendent Duckenfield put in charge of a major semi-final only 21 days before the game when he was relatively inexperience at policing football games?

– Why, unlike the 1988 semi-final at Hillsborough, were there no barriers or cordons to filter the crowd outside the Leppings Land end?

– As the danger unfolded why was the kick-off not delayed?

– Why did the police not recognise the build up in pens 3 and 4 when TV commentator John Motson and the video technician Roger Houldsworth clearly saw what was happening?

– Why was the tunnel which led to pens 3 and 4 not sealed off as it had been in 1988?

– Why did Chief Superintendent Duckenfield tell the FA that fans forced open gate C when he ordered it to be opened?

– Why did it take until 3.30pm to make an announcement on the public address system to inform or instruct fans and to seek medical personnel to help the dying or injured?

– Given that 42 ambulances reached the ground, why did not more of them get on the pitch to provide expert medical help?

– Why was the city’s major medical disaster plan never put into effect?

These questions remain pertinent today.

I wish everyone would read David Conn’s articles on Hillsborough to gain a greater understanding of the many unanswered questions and the clear lack of justice after 23 years. The links can be found here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2009/apr/13/hillsborough-disaster-police-south-yorkshire-liverpool

http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2012/apr/12/hillsborough-battle-orgreave

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