Justice for all

Posted: September 14, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Football is a sport that, more than most sports, attracts the worst kinds of tribalism. You only have to attend a typically bad-natured derby to understand this. The Glasgow derbies were filled with sectarian chants, abuse, missiles and even death threats. But, outside of religious hatred, one might have been tempted to write off England’s problems as ‘crude banter’. That is, until it comes to Manchester United-Liverpool matches. Anyone aware of the two clubs’ illustrious histories will also know of the tragedies that have defined them as much as the trophies.

On February 6th 1958, a plane carrying the Manchester United squad from Munich-Riem airport, as well as journalists and other club staff, crashed on a slush-covered runway on its third take-off attempt, killing twenty of the forty-four passengers, and eventually leading to the deaths of three more.

On April 15th 1989, an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest was abandoned at half-time, after a seething mass of people in the Leppings Lane end of Sheffield’s Hillsborough Stadium were forced in by metal crash barriers, resulting in the deaths of ninety-four people on the day, and ninety-six in total.

Moronic sections of ‘fans’ from both sides still use the events as an abusive term towards each other; proving that raw tribalism does not do irony, or empathy. Ironically and happily, the Hillsborough disaster led to widespread changes in the nature of football grounds, particularly the removal of crash barriers and standing terraces, meaning today’s fans have very little chance of ever seeing such horrific carnage again.

We have only officially heard the full nature of events on that fateful day, more than twenty-three years later, and many otherwise politically apathetic people are beginning to question our institutions, outside of the usual ‘bloody tax’ gripes. And so they should.

What this debacle has illustrated is, as a wise friend of mine has said, that the corruption at the very heart of our democratic process would shame a Banana Republic. A collusion at the heart of the then Conservative Government, and the South Yorkshire Police to smear the victims of the disaster by suggesting it was them and their peers in Leppings Lane who caused their own demise by drunkenly charging into the barrier, was evidently for the purpose of shifting any potential recriminations from them, and has been proved to be totally false.

But the real story here isn’t so much that people in power tried to cover their backs and close rank. That’s par for the course. The real, scary story is that successive politicians and governments talked of releasing the report, but somehow still kept it hidden for over two decades; enough time for the officers involved to rack up twenty three years’ more service, if not comfortable retirement, while families of the victims, knowing their loved ones suffered a harrowing end to their lives, were strung along under the cloud perpetuated by the Sun that somehow their loved ones were culpable in their own deaths.

Everybody makes mistakes, some with dire consequences. Being responsible for a catastrophe which directly leads to almost a hundred horrific deaths would break most people. Yet the knowledge that some officials involved in the disastrous decisions to pen the larger Liverpool following into the smaller Leppings Lane end, to open a third gate into an already-packed section of the stadium, the non-deployment of police horses or adequate stewards outside the stand, and, in the aftermath, the incredible decision to test the blood-alcohol levels of some of the victims, including children, were getting on with their lives and careers regardless, must have been more than the families could bear. Sir Irvine Patnick, formerly Conservative MP for Sheffield Hallam, was found to have passed on lies about drunken fans attacking police to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who, after the Miners’ Strike and Union breaking, needed to ensure the reputation of the police was not irreparably damaged.

There is something inherently sinister about the truth being covered up for so long, as though hoping that the culprits could not be found so guilty after the passing of so much time. Kelvin MacKenzie, editor of the Sun at the time of the notorious set of lies entitled ‘The Truth’, is a man who craves power for the feeling of lording it over others, like a mouthy weed threatening all and sundry because he’s flanked by the school bullies. He has in the past retracted statements of apology, suggesting they were forced out of him by his boss. Not often you find someone beneath even Rupert Murdoch in the contemptibility stakes, but there you go. Now that the truth has finally been revealed, let us hope that the families of all victims see all involved in this most reprehensible of cover-ups tried and punished for their culpabilities and fraud thereafter.

And, if there is another side to this tragic tale, maybe it has opened the politically apathetic’s eyes to the scale of corruption amongst the people meant to protect and serve them. Do not tolerate injustice and corruption from your government or police force. Everybody has to face the music some time, and the more voices of dissent, the sooner that is likely to be.


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