Wednesday, 12 September 2012


The Hillsborough disaster was a watershed moment in British sporting history. Not only and obviously for the poor 96 souls who lost their lives, and their families, but also the impact it had subsequently on sporting grounds. It instigated a revolution in stadium safety both here and in world football.

It was, however, a disaster that wasn't a one off, it was a long time coming and inevitable. When the initial reports came in on that fateful Saturday most fans knew immediately which end of the ground it was in - crushing in antiquated terraces was the norm. I'm sure I wasn't the only to view the images on television and think to oneself: "there but for the grace of God go I..."

At the time Britain's grounds could claim the worst safety record of any other developed nation, despite no fewer than eight official reports into crowd safety between 1924-85. Hillsborough was no freak, and we all knew it, it was the culmination of complacency, neglect, low investment, bad management and prejudice. It's no coincidence that in the 20 or so years since the famous Taylor Report, who recommended significant changes to stadia safety, that no major incident has occurred, yet in the 20 years prior to 1989, we had involving British fans; Ibrox 1971, Bradford fire, Heysel, and of course Hillsborough.

We also knew from the outset, that Hillsborough was a cover-up, particularly by South Yorkshire Police. Whatever ones thoughts on the game of football, or the futility of sport in general, a parent with a child in a so-called civilised society should be able to attend a sporting game on a Saturday afternoon and return home safely after. And when that doesn't happen there should be a proper inquiry into all institutions involved. With Hillsborough, though, it was clear from the start that a major cover-up ensured: UEFA, FIFA, the Thatcher Government, MPs (even recently), the media, the coroners, and most notably South Yorkshire Police all closed ranks (for many years Sheffield Wednesday refused to have a memorial at their ground, like it was an embarrassment). The blame was pinned quite decidedly by Lord Justice Taylor on South Yorkshire Police.

Yet today I'm surprised with the contents of the publication of an independent report into the disaster. I must confess that I was cynical from the outset: the files would be delayed 'till the 30 year rule comes in 2019, they would be redacted and they would be incomplete. But I was wrong, and even for a hardened cynic like myself, when it comes to the behaviour of police at football I'm rather taken aback by some of the revelations:
  • Some 164 police statements were amended, he says. Many removed comments attacking the police.
  • Officers carried out police national computer checks on the dead to impugn their reputation.
  • Blood tests were also taken from the dead to see if they had been drinking, including from children.
  • At the time of the Taylor Report [Margaret Thatcher] was briefed by her private secretary that the defensive and – I quote - “close to deceitful” behaviour of senior South Yorkshire officers was “depressingly familiar.”
    And it is clear that the then government thought it right that the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire should resign.
  • Evidence that a number of the dead survived "for a significant period" beyond the 3.15pm cut-off point imposed at the original inquest
  • ...a box of files containing police statements littered with hand-written notes saying ‘remove the last page’, ‘exclude the last paragraph’ and ‘rewritten as requested’.
This is wholesale corruption and cover-up by the authorities, one that hasn't come to light in detail for over 23 years.
The absence of a coroner’s report applying a verdict compatible with this assertion, or the experiences of all those who witnessed and survived Leppings Lane, is as incomprehensible and reprehensible as the actions on that initial April day.
When the coroner, Stefan Popper, decided the deaths were accidental 90 days after April 15 - on the grounds of what we can now see was tainted and doctored evidence - his judgement became emblematic of the most insidious representation of the second, institutional disaster; of the deceptions, the cover-ups, the lies and the closeted public 'servants' who idly kept their distance and shuffled off to their comfortable retirement as peers of the realm when they knew justice had not been done.
I haven't had time yet to read through the entire report but tribute must be made to the 'justice for the 96' campaign who never gave up.


  1. Hear, hear. I hope that there will be civil cases against key figures.

  2. Does anyone remember the "Cracker" story with Robert Carlyle that was based around the events at Hillsborough?

    I think it was written by Jimmy Boyle, who seemed to know most of this stuff back then, as I suspect did most people that either attended or lived nearby.

    It makes you wonder whether our government might be holding other stuff back... Like, they made a mistake over the EU...


    Windmills are never going to provide a sensible solution to our ongoing power requirements.


    Well it's too late for a southerner to come over all empathetic now innit?

  3. @John Cheshire You would like to think so, yet there's probably not much hope. Make an apology and move on will be the narrative.

    @right_writes, sorry I never watched cracker - though the writer Jimmy McGovern also wrote the made-for-tv story of the disaster:

  4. The old regime, headed by Dave Richards, didnt have the vision or skill to pick up the pieces at SWFC after Hillsborough. It wasnt deliberate heartlessness that lead to no memorial, but the simple fact the club was shellshocked and didnt know how to respond in a fitting way.

    Which is also why Leppings Lane still stands when SWFC fans are unanimous in their desire to knock it down. Not to erase history but to begin closure.

    There was talk of 96 seats being painted red or black in memorium but that leaves them open to vandalism by a minority of away fans who hate Liverpool. However, there is one at the very entrance to the ground and there is a garden in the nearby park. The fact the one at the ground is adorned in scarves of all covers shows how it touched the critical mass of decent footy fans.

  5. @swfcinpeace Thank you for your comment and explanation. I've visited Hillsborough a few times and could never find one. It always seemed odd. As you rightly note, it happened to Liverpool but it so easily could have been any of us - I'll have to seek out the one near the entrance next time I visit.

    I can understand knocking down Leppings Lane. I've been in there as an away fan since and it always makes me feel uncomfortable in a way

  6. I can in no way defend what has gone on back then but there is another side to consider TBF.

    We have to remember that football hooliganism was at its height about then - the police forces used to turn up at matches with a siege mentality - they were ready to go to war against this thug element; it is one hell of a psychological jump from expecting to be policing a hooligan element to that of dealing with the unfolding disaster.

    I actually remember an interview with the head of a footballing fans association, a Liverpudlian no less, saying that "maybe it's time that we supporters were a little bit more responsible to each other"

    By all means prosecute any wrongs on that day but let's not forget that crowds of fans can be as ill-behaved as the police.

  7. Three times I've been to Hillsboro' for a semi and during, before and after, the fans were fighting each other in sporadic bursts of fairly vicious running scuffles. The Sheffield police did their best.

    Liverpool fans knew the ground and knew where the best vantage points were in the Leppings lane end - our lot did too: everybody did.

    From watching games as a child - we'd get there about two hours before kick off - but at around kickoff time, the hooligans and boozers would start pushing in - in a panic to see the kickoff.

    Young kids like us, were pushed out of the way - you learned how to look after yourself and when you grew a little bigger - then it was your turn.
    In the days of open terraces it was nothing personal - it was all about just move, shove and push until you got a good vantage point.

    Yeah it was rough and dangerous but we enjoyed it all the same, we were lads having fun supporting the team.

    Liverpool wasn't my club but in the sixties, seventies and eighties - they had a reputation and it was fully earned.

    It was a tragedy no doubt and my feelings for the deceased have not changed - sorrow but in the first place, some common sense would have helped.
    Liverpool, should have been given the Kop end and - I know it was easier for the Police to have the Liverpool fans in the Leppings lane end but they were the bigger support and should have had the biggest end, irrespective of geography or travel arrangements.

    The Police opening a gate was a mistake but I've seen gates smashed during the late rush, the Sheffield police were being pragmatic.

    A terrible and sad day but solely blaming the authorities obfuscates and is not the whole picture.

  8. This is the nature of things with no closure. They pop up again some time down the track - as this has.

  9. @James Higham, indeed truth always outs

  10. @Anon, I agree Liverpool should have been given the other end, but that doesn't detract from where the blame really lies. Yes fans weren't entirely angels during the 70s and 80s but their behaviour had no bearing on Hillsborough - now fundamentally confirmed by at least 2 official reports.

    As noted in my piece above in the 20 years before 1990 there were 4 major tragedies involving British fans - only one was the result of fans' behaviour (Heysel) Even then it could be argued that the crumbling Heysel stadium wasn't fit to host a major final.

    The Lord Taylor report was damning enough of the authorities' failures, the new one goes much further:

    There were failures right across the board - despite copious warnings, which were comprehensively ignored. Hillsborough ground basically failed every (then established) safety regulation going, the Police also failed on every level - admitted essentially by them by virtue of trying to cover their own arses afterwards by committing criminal activities.

    Cover up was instigated right across the authorities - Police, Ambulance service, media, football authorities, coroners and MPs - something which has ramifications well beyond football particularly when the Govt is keen on secret courts

    Tbh I'm at a loss, having now read the new report in full, how damning it has to be before some start pointing their fingers of blame in the right direction.