The release of the findings of the Hillsborough Independent Commission will come as no surprise to anyone who has shown any interest in the issue. It has been obvious for years that there had been serious judicial failings relating to the case, that lies had been told by police to shift blame from themselves, and that they were allowed to do so by a compliant government who it suited to portray football fans as raving maniacs. In short, there was a concerted cover-up for political reasons. We knew all that already. What has happened is that the tattered threadbare blanket draped over the truth has been finally dragged away, and the disgrace of it officially exposed and acknowledged by those in power. It is the end of the ability of the tenets of the cover up to be regarded as credible.
Ninety-Six people died through the negligence of those entrusted with ensuring their care. Yet the opportunity to learn from the tragedy was spurned in favour of framing the events in such a way as to suit the political narrative the government of the time wished to impose on the sport, and to protect a police force which had acted as a tool of government policy in the enthusiastic help it gave smashing the trades unions only a few years previously. The actions on the day were terrible and disgusting in their contempt for ordinary people but the cover up afterwards, a deliberate and concerted programme which included altering testimony, was criminal.
Following the release of the HIC’s findings, many have concentrated their ire on the Sun for its infamous front-page story “The Truth” printed in the aftermath which accused Liverpool fans of, among other things, stealing from and urinating upon dead bodies on the pitch, as well as being responsible for the tragedy themselves by their own actions. The Sun and the other newspapers which ran the story in the days immediately following were responsible for the disseminating of the lies which have persisted to this day. Their fault was to pass on the lies fed to them without scrutiny, but they did not construct the lies themselves, they were the willing helpers of a higher power which had decided it must be so. Vile as the Sun were and are, we must be careful not to be distracted from aiming our most concentrated criticism at those who made the decisions.
I find it difficult to understand why successive governments of all types did not see fit to open an effective investigation which could find the truth. How did the doctored documents apparently seen only now by the HIC remain hidden to the Inquiries concerned? If Andy Burnham, Labour Sports Minister in the last governemnt, could order the release of all documents to the HIC, why couldn’t the Sports Minister, Home Secretary or Prime Minister of the time have done so?
Received wisdom is that things have changed, this couldn’t happen now, and that is probably true. But contrary to what is normally implied by this, that isn’t because of any change in attitudes at the top towards the kinds of people who go to watch football. We are still held in contempt by football administrators and the powerful. The difference is that their business model has changed. A more comfortable experience is provided so as to extract more money from us, not because they care. Financial expediency , not some new found sense of responsibility, is liable to keep us safe in the future.