By David Kirk (Workers Liberty)
After 23 years of struggle the Justice for 96 Campaign have forced out the truth about the 1989 Hillsborough disaster and the deliberate cover up and smear campaign by the ruling class to shift the blame to the fans. The report of the investigation by the Hillsborough Independent Panel has not only vindicated the campaign by the victims’ families: it has made plain the cover up was much more widespread and calculated then even they realised.
This was a entirely avoidable and also entirely predictable illegal killing. From the 70s onwards fans, journalists and managers had been pointing out the dangers of tightly penning in fans on crumbling terraces. There had been plenty of previous disaster and near disasters that should have been heeded. However most football club owners were more bothered about maximising paying customers and spending the least possible money on safety or renovation. The police and the government treated fans with contempt; they were a “public order issue” to be penned in and treated as cattle.
Just before 3pm on 15 April 1989 South Yorkshire Police started forcing far too many Liverpool fans into one particular section of the Lepping’s Lane end of the Sheffield football ground. Because of the cages and barriers a crush quickly developed. Instead of responding to the fans cries for help the police treated the crush as “crowd trouble” and literally beat back fans trying to climb out.
Ambulances were kept out of the ground by the police who were still insisted it was hooliganism even as the fatalities became apparent. Only one ambulance crew defied the order and drove on to the pitch.
This latest Hillsborough investigation argues that up to 41 of the deaths may have been avoided if the police response to the crush had been prompt.
Within hours of the disaster the cover up and smear campaign began. The local leader of the Police Federation, senior police officers and a local Tory MP met to decide the official line. That line was to blame the Liverpool fans themselves.
Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper repeated these lies saying fans had urinated on the dead and dying, that ambulance workers had been attacked, the dead people had been looted. They also said fans had been drunk and violent. The lies were printed under the headline, “The Truth”. The Hillsborough Panel have proved these stories to be sick fabrications.
The campaign for justice and truth throughout has had to take on the police, the rightwing press and both Labour and Tory governments. Even though an earler inquiry and report, the Taylor Report, led to vastly improved safety in football grounds, the police made sure that the real truth did not come out. Over 100 police officers statements were changed to avoid evidence of police culpability.
The Tory press and party’s contempt for the people of Liverpool was well known. Liverpool’s trade unionists were too militant, their politics too socialist. So when the Labour government was elected in 1997 there was hope for justice. However these hopes like so many others were dashed by New Labour.
Through years of demonstrations, campaigning in the press, through the unions and through Labour Party branches the campaigners kept the issue to the fore. This still did not stop the smears and accusations of self pity coming from the right, including from Boris Johnson.
Now the apologies are coming thick and fast. The campaign will continue to demand police officers are brought to account and that the inquest be re-opened.
Hillsborough, along with the cases of Stephen Lawrence, John Charles De Menzenies and Iain Tomlinson, remind us how far the ruling class will go to cover up police brutality and incompetence. The families’ campaign also remind us how vital it is despite all the smears and obstacles to continue the struggle for truth and justice.
Justice for the 96!