Archive for September, 2012

15 April 1989 – finally, the truth. Now for justice?

On the last anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, I wrote this, which summed up my feelings about an appalling tragedy which happened just across the valley from my home:

…the awful truth is that no matter how many of those fans were drunk and how many were there without tickets, if there had been stewards in front of the entrances to the Leppings Lane pens, directing fans away from the already crowded central pen, then no one would have died.  No one.  It’s horrifically, tragically, simple.

Taylor called this a ‘blunder of the first magnitude’.  From this blunder stemmed the desperate attempts by South Yorkshire Police to cover their own backs, to blame the fans, to propagate distortions and falsehoods that would persuade the public that what we had here was yet another example of football hooliganism, rather than a terrible error by those in authority.  That’s why, despite the regular calls for the victims’ families to ‘move on’ and ‘let it go’ (clichés favoured in general by those who have not experienced anything approaching this degree of trauma ), there is still a need for information to be brought into the public domain, for light to be shed and records to be set straight.  If there had been a swift acknowledgement that a hideous mistake had been made, and the energies of the authorities had been channeled with as much vigour into helping both the victims and their families as they were into blaming them, then the families would be grieving rather than campaigning, commemorating the ones they’d lost rather than fighting for the truth to be told and the lies to be nailed once and for all.

Today we have a report which vindicates the victims and their families, which confirms that the biggest disaster at a sporting event in our history triggered the biggest police cover-up in our history.

There’s now a mass of information available, and analysis of that information, and I don’t intend to attempt to  summarise that here.   The thing that has struck me most forcefully is how early the ‘disgraceful lies’ began.  Even whilst people were still dying on the terraces and on the pitch, the allegation that a gate had been forced influenced the initial reaction to the unfolding disaster.  The first reference to ticketless fans came soon afterwards, and by the following day the ‘surge’ of fans had become ‘crazed’ and allegations of drunkenness were introduced.   The language became more and more extreme and hostile – violent, beasts, frenzy – and, on Tuesday 18 April, ‘writing in the Liverpool Daily Post, John Williams noted that ‘the gatecrashers wreaked their fatal havoc’, their ‘uncontrolled fanaticism and mass hysteria … literally squeezed the life out of men, women and children …It was ‘yobbism at its most base’ (2.12.24).  The allegations that would form the basis of the Sun‘s infamous ‘The Truth’ report appeared in the Sheffield Star on the 18th – ‘yobs’ attacking and urinating on the emergency services and this was elaborated further with stories of thieving from the dead and dying.   Subsequently, as we now know, police and emergency service records were changed to support this version of events, and to camouflage the loss of control and the failures of judgement of those in authority on the day.

How was it possible for the truth to be buried so completely under a mountain of lies?    You start with a little lie, that plays on a potent and widely accepted stereotype.   You let that little lie grow, and accrue details that add to its verisimilitude.   You allow comments made in the middle of chaos by distressed and traumatised people to be disseminated as objective first-hand statements, as long as they back up the little lie and its accretions.  And you bury, redact and suppress all testimony that contradicts them.

The odd thing is that the little lie was corrected on the day of the disaster.  No matter, its work had been done.  And the Taylor report nailed most of the stories that had grown from that first lie.  No matter, every time Hillsborough was mentioned in the ensuing decades, the calumnies would be trotted out again, and again.

Maybe now that will change, finally, with the report and the apology from South Yorkshire Police, which acknowledges not only the loss of control on the day but the disgraceful attempt to cover it up with lies.

But now that we have the truth, the survivors and the families of those who died – the 96 who need not have died if a football match had not been hideously mismanaged, the 41 who perhaps might not have died if the emergency services had responded swiftly and appropriately – want justice.    And with the possibility of criminal prosecutions, and new inquests, maybe justice too will prevail.

RIP the 96

Jack Alfred Anderson, 62

English: Hillsborough Disaster Memorial - 2, H...

English: Hillsborough Disaster Memorial – 2, Hillsborough, Sheffield 1254629 1254666 1254673 1182326 725321 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Colin Mark Ashcroft, 19, student

James Gary Aspinall, 18

Kester Roger Marcus Ball, 16, student

Gerard Baron Snr, 67

Simon Bell, 17

Barry Sidney Bennett, 26

David John Benson, 22

David William Birtle, 22

Tony Bland, 22

Paul David Brady, 21

Andrew Mark Brookes, 26

Carl Brown, 18

Steven Brown, 25

Henry Thomas Burke, 47

Peter Andrew Burkett , 24

Paul William Carlile, 19

Raymond Thomas Chapman , 50

Gary Christopher Church, 19

Joseph Clark, 29

Paul Clark, 18

Gary Collins, 22

Stephen Paul Copoc, 20

Tracey Elizabeth Cox, 23

James Philip Delaney, 19

Christopher Barry Devonside, 18

Christopher Edwards, 29

Vincent Michael Fitzsimmons, 34

Steve Fox, 21

Jon-Paul Gilhooley, 10

Barry Glover, 27

Ian Thomas Glover, 20

Derrick George Godwin, 24

Roy Harry Hamilton, 34

Philip Hammond, 14

Eric Hankin, 33

Gary Harrison, 27

Stephen Francis Harrison, 31

Peter Andrew Harrison, 15

David Hawley, 39

James Robert Hennessy, 29

Paul Anthony Hewitson, 26

Carl Hewitt, 17

Nick Hewitt, 16

Sarah Louise Hicks, 19

Victoria Jane Hicks, 15

Gordon Rodney Horn, 20

Arthur Horrocks, 41

Thomas Howard, 39

Tommy Anthony Howard, 14

Eric George Hughes, 42

Alan Johnston, 29

Christine Anne Jones, 27

Gary Philip Jones, 18

Richard Jones, 25

Nicholas Peter Joynes, 27

Anthony Peter Kelly, 29

Michael Kelly, 38

Carl David Lewis, 18

David William Mather, 19

Brian Christopher Matthews, 38

Francis Joseph McAllister, 27

John McBrien, 18

Marian Hazel McCabe, 21

Joe McCarthy, 21

Peter McDonnell, 21

Alan McGlone, 28

Keith McGrath, 17

Paul Brian Murray, 14

Lee Nicol, 14

Stephen Francis O’Neill, 17

Jonathon Owens, 18

William Roy Pemberton, 23

Carl Rimmer, 21

Dave Rimmer, 38

Graham John Roberts, 24

Steven Joseph Robinson, 17

Henry Charles Rogers, 17

Andrew Sefton, 23

Inger Shah, 38

Paula Ann Smith, 26

Adam Edward Spearritt, 14

Philip John Steele, 15

David Leonard Thomas, 23

Pat Thompson, 35

Peter Reuben Thompson, 30

Stuart Thompson, 17

Peter Francis Tootle, 21

Christopher James Traynor, 26

Martin Kevin Traynor, 16

Kevin Tyrrell, 15

Colin Wafer, 19

Ian David Whelan, 19

Martin Kenneth Wild, 29

Kevin Daniel Williams, 15

Graham John Wright, 17


Our Island Stories

We need to talk…

… about Britishness, about patriotism and national identity.  About these questions, prompted by our recent, slightly embarrassing, outbreak of national pride:

So, do we treat Danny Boyle’s vision of the Isles of Wonder as a requiem for what we value about our country, or a celebration?  Or even, perhaps, a warning and a call to action? Do we allow our ‘normal state of being’ to be reinstalled in the British psyche, without protest, without attempting to hold on to what we briefly experienced?  As Billy [Bragg] asks in his blog, ‘Has the euphoria of the past two weeks has caused a seismic shift in the meta-narrative of Britishness? … Can a new spirit of engaged and transformational patriotism emerge from this experience? One that seeks to build a fairer, more inclusive tomorrow, rather than constantly rehashing a narrow vision of the past?’

The Our Island Stories blog is a place where that conversation can continue.

We’ve launched it with a powerful piece by Mike Press.  He says that

‘Following the Olympic and Paralympic Games, a number of us starting discussing a new sensation we were experiencing – national pride. For those of a certain generation who are broadly speaking on The Left, national identity and patriotism have been problems over the years.My contribution is far less any form of profound reflection on these questions – more an explanation of how I ended up having a highly vexed relationship with the idea of Britishness. Flagging up the issues focuses on my experiences during two days in 1977. If strong language and descriptions of violent acts offend or disturb you, then please do not read it.’

My own piece is a personal reflection on Englishness and insularity.  We hope to feature diverse contributions that are academic, political, philosophical, personal (or all of the above).    If you’re interested in being part of the conversation, contact me here.

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Running for Refugees

Above:  A Runner, Another Runner, Me

Well,  I never said I’d run the Great Yorkshire fast.  In fact, I quite distinctly and explicitly said I’d run slowly, and I did.   Slightly more slowly than last year, in fact.   However hard I try, I find myself falling back towards the rear of the last wave of runners, alongside people who are in fact walking, and people in cumbersome fancy dress.   If I’m honest, I do mind that, a bit.

I don’t expect to cross the finish line to a ticker tape welcome, cheer leaders waving pom poms, reporters queuing up to interview  me about the experience.  But for the stragglers, those last few runners to stagger over the line, there’s a bit of a sense of anti-climax as we stumble on suddenly jelly like legs to grab the last few goodie bags, and head home, as if we’ve arrived at a party after the booze has run out, and the music’s been turned down low.

I like to think, however,  that there’s something a little bit heroic about my continued efforts in a field where I am so clearly not gifted.   I like to think that the kind and cheery people who still line the route to the bitter end, who call out ‘Well done Catherine, keep going, you’re doing fine’, recognise a certain bloody-minded determination, whether or not they recognise or value the cause for which I run.

In recent weeks there have been cheers and tears for a Somali born refugee who’s proud to say that this is his country and to wear the British flag around his shoulders as he kneels on the track to pray.  And as we marvel at the Paralympics we remember also that it was a refugee from Nazism, Ludwig Guttman, who saw that people with spinal cord injuries who had been written off, left to die slowly and in despair could be given new hope, purpose and the chance to achieve through therapy and sport.  (And Guttman wouldn’t have been here without the help of the Society for Protection of Science and Learning, now the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics.)   This doesn’t prove anything, of course, except that amongst those who make their way here are some exceptionally gifted individuals.  But to me it says that a country that is confident enough in itself to be open and generous, hospitable and inclusive, will be enriched by that.    If we were to take away from our culture the contribution of refugees, we’d lose more than that gold medal, and more even than the Paralympic Games.  We’d lose landmark buildings, high street names, publishing houses, works of art  – in every field of business, politics, science, arts, sports, we’d lose.  The societies that drive people out because of their beliefs, their race, their sexuality, they lose.  And if the displaced and the exiled are not given sanctuary, then those people, gifted or not, destined to be famous or not, will be lost too, along with those who never got the chance to escape.

So, actually, I do like to think that I can use not only something I am quite good at (writing, communication) but something that I’m really
rather rubbish at, both for the same purpose, both to support the same cause, because more and more I believe that it is one of the most
important things we can do, to support refugees.

Refugee Action

If you’d like to help, you can sponsor me here:

Find out more about the work of Refugee Action here:

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