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Hillsborough: The Truth

Larry Neild on the dignity and outrage in Liverpool

Published on September 13th 2012.

Hillsborough: The Truth


THOSE searching for the truth always knew the guilty were shielding themselves behind a wall of lies. But as the families of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough tragedy discovered for the first time 23 years ago, that wall was bombproof.

The Prime Minister has apologised on behalf of the Government, Sheffield Wednesday has apologised for the failures at its ground and what happened that fateful day in South Yorkshire.  

Trying to say 'it didn’t happen on my watch' 
won’t do. The subsequent parade of senior 
officers from South Yorkshire Police - and others - should have to explain why they kept 
their mouths shut for more than two decades

Now, after being ordered by David Cameron to "face up to his own responsibilities", Kelvin MacKenzie has “profusely apologised to the people of Liverpool” for the outright lies his newspaper printed, under the infamous headline “The Truth”, following the 1989 disaster.

The ShameThe ShameHe is still not taking responsibility though: "I too was totally misled,” he added in a statement which went out at 3.06pm, precisely at the moment the city began a two minute silence to remember the dead.

It all came on day of tears and relief, a day that families sat down and steadied and readied themselves for the onerous task of reading, line-by-line, a thumping report as thick as a phone directory. 

On those pages they would learn the extent of the way The Establishment sought to divert blame from themselves to their loved ones. People who never came back, who never got to answer back.

And it was staggering beyond belief. 

As if reading about the cowardly cover-ups were not bad enough, it emerged that 41 of the 96 who died could potentially have been saved.

South Yorkshire Police set out to tell the world they were as clean as a whistle, honest guv, while a coroner tested the blood alcohol levels of the dead, one as young as 10, as they lay 80 miles away in makeshift morgues.  

And to ensure that message was written in stone, 164 police statements were altered and in well over 100 statements comments critical of the police were erased.

Worst still, a campaign of character assassination was launched, even looking at the backgrounds of the deceased, half of them under 21, to see if there was any chance that culpability could be levelled at them.

What is incredible is the extent of the deceit.  Many, many people in authority must have been in on it. Yet it has taken the tenacity of the families, the search for justice for the 96 and the pressure by MPs like Steve Rotheram, Maria Eagle, Andy Burnham and others to extract the truth for all to see.

It raises the question about those in positions of authority who later came to sit in the same uneasy seats of those who sewed the deception in 1989.  Should they have spoken out, especially as it was clear to those with eyes to see that a mother of all cover-ups had been orchestrated?

Trying to say “it didn’t happen on my watch” won’t do. The subsequent parade of senior officers from South Yorkshire Police, and others, should have to explain why they kept their mouths shut for more than two decades. 

No wonder one of the witnesses at Hillsborough said on that dreadful day his respect for authority and the police ended.

The 400-page report is too much to take in and absorb in one go. As every word, every sentence and every paragraph is analysed it will open up more questions and fresh demands for justice for the 96.

Campaigners sought The Truth and they have it, more or less, but that won’t bring closure. It will help end one chapter on one of Liverpool’s darkest hours. But it will open new chapters and questions that could take years to resolve.

Should there be a re-run of the inquests?  Should there be prosecutions or disciplinary action against those who need to be brought to book?  Wrong doing and injustice does not diminish with time

Words failWords fail

Rain descended on Liverpool today as the world’s media eavesdropped on what was a momentous breakthrough. The bells across the city rang out in honour of the 96, but for whom or what else did they toll?  They were sending a loud and clear message that this city has been wronged. We knew it and now the world knows it.

Nobody could say the panel, led by Bishop James Jones, was in any way fighting a partisan corner. They had one mission – to extract the truth and the whole truth.

More important than today is what happens in the coming days, weeks and months. Closure has been partial, but it will be some time before that final justice will come.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel, as part of its remit, has not been able to make specific recommendations.  That could be seen more as a strength than a weakness, as the panel set about sifting through half a million pages of notes, reports and statements. In that way the panel is a Trojan horse – breaking through that wall of silence.

Will a new campaign be needed to demand a criminal investigation and prosecutions?

Will The Sun, making the news yet again,  do the right thing and print a page one splash apology tomorrow – and not just in its northern edition?

It has just expressed its "deep sense of shame".

If it does it would only be the start, and a small one at that, of the paper’s rehabilitation in the city.  Many more will see it as too little, too late.

Read the Hillsborough Independent Panel's report here and the official documents here.

The full text of the Prime Minister's apology can be read here

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