By Paul Tomkins.
It’s still hard to comprehend what took place 23 years ago – in the moments in which the Hillsborough disaster unfolded, and with the shameful deflection of blame in the immediate aftermath. The good news is that the truth is finally out in the open, with Liverpool fans having long held the belief that they were the victims of a smear rather than simply wallowing in a victim culture (as stated as recently as 2004 in a Spectator piece edited by Boris Johnson). Today’s report by the hugely professional and reputable Hillsborough Independent Panel, which started work in 2009, has helped lift a burden from so many people, and worked towards shifting that burden onto those who deserve to shoulder it.
The Prime Minister today made a profound apology, which went further than many were expecting. Obviously as fans we still want to know what his political party knew at the time, but in this sense there was at least some Scouse goodwill towards a Tory leader.
Hillsborough didn’t have a safety certificate. Like Heysel it was an out of date ground, not fit for purpose, although at Heysel Liverpool fans possessed some culpability (even though no one anticipated a creaking old wall collapsing and lives being lost). Here there was none. After almost two decades of lies and innuendo, Liverpool fans have been exonerated. The true culprits have been identified.
The advice of the fire service was ignored. Records were falsified by both police and ambulance services. Blood alcohol levels were tested on the deceased, including a ten year old boy, in an attempt to frame fans as a drunken mob, with, quite scandalously, a couple of pints enough to fit the criteria of inebriation (how much wine to people at the opera consume before a performance? Would their bodies be tested if a balcony collapsed?).
The saddest fact is that as many as 41 lives could have been saved beyond the 3.15 cut off point that the coroner laid out; saying that, just fifteen minutes after the semi-final kicked off, everyone was either dead or so badly injured that life could not be preserved, when the opposite was true of almost half those who perished.
Erstwhile Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie has finally ‘apologised’, but in doing so he claims to have been mislead. It’s far from an unequivocal admittance of blame, and he seems as slimy and elusive as ever. He’s maintained that he was right too vociferously, for too long, in the face of mounting evidence, in order to be able to take him seriously. (In 2006 he gave a kind of apology only “because Murdoch told me to. I wasn’t sorry then I’m not sorry now…”)
But whether or not he means it – and I doubt he does – at least his lies can now be seen by those who, at the time and in the intervening years, have believed his sick story. Fans of other clubs can now see that we – and I merely speak as someone who first attended a game a year after the disaster – were not lying to defend ‘ourselves’, but that the police were in fact the ones guilty of inhumane behaviour.
It’s incredibly hard to write a brief editorial on the issue, given that the issue is so wide-ranging, and the report so extensive; frankly, I don’t feel qualified. The editor of this site, Chris Rowland, was at Hillsborough, but unfortunately is away on annual leave at the moment. In his absence, I’ve asked Daniel Rhodes, TTT’s deputy editor, to help compile a list of the important information that has come to light today, as well as a link to the report – just in case you happen to stumble upon this website, without realising the wealth of information that exists out there.
Information on the Hillsborough Independent Panel
April 15th 1989:
Liverpool play Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup semi-final at Sheffield Wednesday’s home ground, Hillsborough. Ninety-six people die.
Twenty-three years later, at 12:34pm, in the House of Commons, Prime Minister David Cameron makes this statement:
Today the Bishop of Liverpool, The Right Reverend James Jones, is publishing the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel. The disaster at the Hillsborough football stadium, on April 15, 1989 was one of the greatest peacetime tragedies of the last century. 96 people died as a result of a crush in the Leppings Lane terrace at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. There was a public inquiry at the time by Lord Justice Taylor which found, and I quote, ‘that the main cause of the disaster was a failure of police control’. The inquiry did not have access to all the documents that have since become available. It did not properly examine the response of the emergency services. It was followed by a deeply controversial inquest and by a media version of events that sought to blame the fans. As a result, the families have not heard the truth and they have not found justice. That is why the previous government and in particular, the Right Honourable Member for Leigh, have set up this panel. And it is why this government insisted that no stone should be left unturned and that all papers should be made available to the Bishop of Liverpool and his team.
Mr Speaker, in total, over 450,000 pages of evidence have been reviewed. It was right that the families should see this report first. I have only had a very limited amount of time to study the evidence so far but it is already very clear that many of the report’s findings are deeply distressing. There are three areas in particular – they are the failure of the authorities to help protect people, the attempt to blame the fans and the doubt cast on the original coroner’s inquest. I want to take each point in turn.
There is new evidence about how the authorities failed. There is a trail of new documents which show the extent to which the safety of the crowd at Hillsborough was, and I quote, ‘compromised at every level’. The ground failed to meet minimum standards and the deficiencies was well known. The turnstiles were inaccurate, the ground capacity had been significantly over-calculated, the crash barriers failed to meet safety standards and there had been a crush at the same match the year before. And today’s report shows very clearly that lessons had not been learned. The report backs up the key findings of the Taylor Report but it goes further by revealing for the first time the shortcomings of the ambulance and the emergency services’ response. The major incident plan was not fully implemented, the rescue attempts were held back by failure of leadership and coordination. And significantly, new documents today show there was a delay from the emergency services when people were being crushed and being killed.
Second, the families have longed believed that some of the authorities attempted to create a completely unjust account of events that sought to blame the fans for what happened. And Mr Speaker, the families were right. The evidence in today’s report includes briefings to the media and attempts by the police to change the record of events. On the media, several newspapers reported false allegations that fans were drunken and violent and stole from the dead. The Sun’s report sensationalised these allegations under the banner, ‘The Truth’. This was clearly wrong and caused huge offence, distress and hurt. News International has cooperated with the panel and for the first time, today’s report reveals that the source for these despicable untruths was a Sheffield news agency reporting conversations with South Yorkshire Police and Irvine Patnick, the then MP for Sheffield Hallam. The report finds that this was part of police efforts, and I quote, ‘to develop and publicise a version of events that focused on allegations of drunkenness, ticketlessness and violence’. In terms of changing the record of events, we already know reports were significantly altered. The full extent was not drawn to Lord Justice Taylor’s attention.
Today’s report finds that 164 statements were significantly amended and 116 (statements) explicitly removed negative comments about the policing operation including its lack of leadership. The report also makes important findings about particular actions taken by the police and the coroner while investigating the deaths. There is new evidence which shows that police officers carried out police national computer checks on those who had died in an attempt, and I quote directly from the report, ‘to impune the reputations of the deceased’. The coroner took blood-alcohol levels from all the deceased including children, and the panel finds no rationale whatsoever for what it regards as an ‘exceptional’ decision. The report states clearly that the attempt of the inquest to draw a link between blood-alcohol level and late arrival was fundamentally flawed and that alcohol consumption was unremarkable and not exceptional for a social or leisure occasion.
Mr Speaker, over all these years, questions have been raised about the role of government, including whether it did enough to uncover the truth. It is certainly true that some of the language in the government papers published today was insensitive but having been through every document, and every government document including cabinet minutes will be published, the panel found no evidence of any government trying to conceal the truth. At the time of the Taylor Report, the then Prime Minister was briefed by her private secretary that the defensive, and I quote, ‘close to deceitful behaviour of senior Yorkshire police officers,’ was, and I quote, ‘depressingly familiar’. And it’s clear that the then government thought it right that the Chief Constable of the South Yorkshire Police should resign. But as the Right Honourable Member for Leigh has rightly highlighted on a number of occasions, government then and government since have simply not done enough to challenge publicly the unjust and untrue narrative that sought to blame the fans.
Third and perhaps most significantly of all, the Bishop of Liverpool’s report presents new evidence which casts new doubt over the adequacy of the original inquest. The coroner, on the evidence of the pathologist, believed that victims suffered traumatic asphyxia leading to unconsciousness within seconds and death within a few minutes. As a result he asserted that beyond 3.15pm there were no actions that could have changed the fate of the victims and he limited the scope of the inquest accordingly. But by analysing post mortem reports, the panel found that 28 people did not have obstruction of blood circulation and 31 did have evidence of heart and lungs continuing to function after the crush. This means that individuals in those groups could have had potentially reversible asphyxia beyond 3.15pm and that is in contrast to the in findings of the coroner and the subsequent judicial review. And the panel states clearly that is highly likely what happened to these individuals after 3.15pm was significant in determining whether they died.
Mr Speaker, the conclusions of this report will be very harrowing for the families affected. Anyone who has lost a child knows that the pain never leaves you, but to read a report years afterwards that says, and I quote, ‘ a swifter, more appropriate, better focused and more properly equipped response had the potential to save more lives’ can only add to that pain. It is for the Attorney General to decide whether to apply to the High Court to quash the original inquest and seek a new one. In this capacity he acts independently of government and he will need to examine the evidence himself. It is clear to me that the new evidence in today’s report raises vital evidence which must be examined and the Attorney General has assured me he will examine this new evidence immediately and reach a conclusion as fast as possible. But ultimately it is for the High Court to decide. It is also right that the House should have the opportunity to debate the issues raised in this report fully. And my Right Honourable friend the Home Secretary will be taking forward a debate in government time and this will happen relatively quickly when the House returns in October.
Mr Speaker, I want to be very clear about the view the government takes about these findings and why after 23 years this matters so much, not just for the families, but to Liverpool and our country as a whole. Mr Speaker, what happened that day and since was wrong. It was wrong for the responsible authorities, who knew Hillsborough did not meet minimum safety standards and yet still allowed the match to go ahead. It was wrong that the families have had to wait for so long and fight so hard just to get to the truth. It was quite profoundly wrong that the police changed the records of what happened and tried to blame the fans. We ask the police to do difficult and often very dangerous things on our behalf and South Yorkshire Police is a very different organisation today from what it was then. But we do the many, many honourable police men and women a great disservice if we try to defend the indefensible. It was also wrong that neither Lord Justice Taylor, nor the coroner, looked properly at the response of the other emergency services. Again, these are dedicated people, who do extraordinary things to serve the public but the evidence from today’s report will make some very difficult reading.
Mr Speaker, with the weight of the new evidence in the report, it is right for me today, as Prime Minister, to make a proper apology to the families of the 96 for all they have suffered over the past 23 years. Indeed the new evidence that we are presented with today, makes clear in my view that these families have suffered a double injustice. The injustice of the appalling events; the failure of the state to protected their loved ones and the indefensible wait to get to the truth and then the injustice of the denigration of the deceased, that they were somehow at fault for their own death. So, on the behalf of our government, and indeed our country, I am profoundly sorry that this double injustice has been left uncorrected for so long.
Mr Speaker, because of what I have described as the second injustice; the false version of events, not enough people in this country understand what the people of Merseyside have been through. The appalling death toll of so many loved ones lost was compounded by an attempt to blame the victims. A narrative about hooliganism that day was created which led many in the country to accept that somehow it was a grey area. Today’s report is black and white: the Liverpool fans were not the cause of the disaster. The panel has quite simply found no evidence in support of allegations of exceptional levels of drunkenness, ticketlessness or violence amongst Liverpool fans. (It found) no evidence that fans had conspired to arrive late to the stadium and no evidence that they stole from the dead and the dying. Mr Speaker, I’m sure the whole House would like to thank the Bishop of Liverpool and his panel for all the work they have done and I’m sure that all sides will join me in paying tribute to the incredible strength and dignity of the Hillsborough families and the community which has backed them in their fight for justice. While nothing can ever bring back the people who were lost, with all the documents revealed and nothing held back, the families at last have access to the truth and I commend this statement to the House.
The documents disclosed to the Panel endorse Lord Justice Taylor’s key finding that the main reason for the Hillsborough disaster was a ‘failure in police control’. Yet they also reveal multiple failures within organisations that compromised crowd safety. The evidence shows conclusively that Liverpool fans neither caused nor contributed to the deaths of 96 men, women and children.
Announcing the results of its two year review of all documents relating to the disaster, the Independent Panel’s report adds significantly to public understanding of the tragedy and its aftermath.
Introducing the report to the Hillsborough families at the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool, Bishop James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool and Chair of the Panel said:
“For nearly a quarter of a century the families of the 96 and the survivors of Hillsborough have nursed an open wound waiting for answers to unresolved questions. It has been a frustrating and painful experience adding to their grief.
“In spite of all the investigations they have sensed that their search for truth and justice has been thwarted and that no-one has been held accountable.
“The documents disclosed to and analysed by the Panel show that the tragedy should never have happened. There were clear operational failures in response to the disaster and in its aftermath there were strenuous attempts to deflect the blame onto the fans. The Panel’s detailed report shows how vulnerable victims, survivors and their families are when transparency and accountability are compromised.
“My colleagues and I were from the start of our work impressed by the dignified determination of the families.”
The Panel’s research and analysis of the documents begins with a near disaster at the 1981 FA Cup semi-final when crushing in the well known bottleneck at the turnstiles led to the opening of a gate thus transferring the crush onto the terraces and many injuries.
Following that near tragedy ground modifications actually increased the dangers at Leppings Lane end of the stadium. There were further problems at FA Cup semi-finals in 1987, at the turnstiles and on the terrace in 1988. The documents show that the risks were known and that the tragedy in 1989 was foreseeable.
The documents disclosed to the Panel reveal that the flaws in responding to the emerging crisis on the day were rooted in institutional tension within and between organisations reflected in: a policing and stewarding mind-set predominantly concerned with crowd disorder; the failure to realise the consequences of opening exit gates to relieve congestion at the turnstiles; the failure to manage the crowd’s entry and allocation between the pens; the failure to anticipate the consequences within the central pens of not sealing the tunnel; the delay in realising that the crisis in the central pens was a consequence of overcrowding rather than crowd disorder.
For the first time, the documents reveal the extent of the shortcomings in the emergency response including the ambulance service’s failure to implement the major incident plan fully.
Documents disclosed to the Panel also reveal that the original pathologists’ evidence of a single unvarying pattern of death is unsustainable. This assumption was the basis for Coroner’s imposition of a 3.15pm cut-off on evidence to the inquests. It led to the mistaken belief than an effective emergency services’ intervention could not have saved lives. The Panel’s disclosure confirms that in some cases death was not immediate and the outcome dependent on events after 3.15pm.
Close analysis of the documents demonstrates that the weight placed on blood alcohol levels was inappropriate, fuelling persistent and unsustainable assertions about drunken fan behaviour not supported by evidence of moderate patterns of drinking not unremarkable for a leisure event.
It is evident from analysis of the various investigations that from the outset South Yorkshire Police (SYP) sought to deflect responsibility for the disaster onto Liverpool fans, presenting a case that emphasised exceptional levels of drunkenness and aggression among Liverpool fans, alleging many arrived at the stadium late, without tickets and determined to force entry. Beyond police accounts, there is no evidence of substance to support this view. The documents reveal an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive which found that severely restricted turnstile access, poor condition of the terrace, inadequate safety barriers and virtually no means of escape rendered the Leppings Lane terrace – especially the central pens – structurally unsafe.
Despite the range of parallel investigations into the disaster and the length of the inquests, the Panel’s Report raises profound concerns about the conduct and appropriateness of the inquests. These concerns include the decision to hold part of the inquests, for individual families, without the opportunity to examine evidence presented to the jury as factual and to hold a generic stage as a ‘rerun’ of the Taylor Inquiry.
The Panel’s analysis revisits the review and alteration of police statements showing clearly the extent to which substantive amendments were made by the South Yorkshire Police to remove or alter comments unfavourable to the police management of and response to the unfolding disaster. It also shows for the first time that South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service documents were subject to a similar process.
In the days after the disaster serious allegations were printed, particularly in the Sun newspaper, about the behaviour of Liverpool fans. The documents disclosed to the Panel show that the origin of these serious allegations was a local Sheffield Press Agency informed by several senior SYP officers, an SYP Police Federation spokesperson and a local MP.
The Police Federation, supported informally by the SYP Chief Constable, sought to develop and publicise a version of events derived in police officers’ allegations of drunkenness, ticketless fans and violence. This extended beyond the media to Parliament. From the mass of documents, television and CCTV coverage disclosed to the Panel there is no evidence to support these allegations other than a few isolated examples of aggressive or verbally abusive behaviour clearly reflecting frustration and desperation. The vast majority of fans on the pitch assisted in rescuing and evacuating the injured and the dead.
The Panel’s Report is based on research and analysis of over 450,000 pages of documents made available by over 80 organisations and individuals in the first such disclosure exercise in this country. Part 1 of the Report establishes what was known about the disaster before the Panel began its work. Part 2 comprises twelve chapters and presents 150 substantive issues that add to public understanding. Part 3 makes recommendations for a permanent archive of the documents, including the continuation of the public website which is being switched on today.
Bishop James Jones paid tribute to the individual families and to the established representative groups. The need for full disclosure came to the fore in 2009 when the Hillsborough Family Support Group met the then Home Secretary who, together with the then Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, took the decision to appoint the Hillsborough Independent Panel. Bishop James said that:
“The Panel produces this Report without any presumption of where it will lead. But it does so in the profound hope that greater transparency will bring to the families and to the wider public a greater understanding of the tragedy and its aftermath. For it is only with this transparency that the families and survivors, who have behaved with such dignity, can with some sense of truth and justice cherish the memory of their 96 loved ones.
- Appendix 1: Hillsborough Independent Panel terms of reference
- Appendix 2: Disclosure process
- Appendix 3: Research process and method
- Appendix 4: Retained tissue following post mortem examination
- Appendix 5: Freedom of information and Parliamentary debate
“This is a complete list of material that was inspected during the disclosure process, whether or not it is available on this website. Where documents have not been made available, an explanation is given. To review details of audio visual material not available through this website follow this link.
*All information from here: http://hillsborough.independent.gov.uk/
Here’s the official statement from Liverpool Football Club:
April 15th 1989 will forever be etched on the minds of everyone connected with Liverpool Football Club. It was a day when 96 supporters attended a football match and never came home.
Over the last 23 years the families who lost loved ones and the survivors of this terrible tragedy have shown immense dignity and resilience in their tireless campaign for justice.
For 23 years they have campaigned for the full disclosure of documents relating to the disaster and for someone to take responsibility for what happened. Today, following years of inquiries, investigations and setbacks, the Hillsborough Independent Panel has announced its findings in relation to the disaster.
Liverpool Football Club commends the Hillsborough Independent Panel report which acknowledges the avoidable catastrophic failures before, during and after the disaster. The club also welcomes the Prime Minister’s apology to the families and survivors on behalf of the Government and await the Attorney General’s pending review of the report. After 23 long and painful years, our fans have finally been fully exonerated of all blame. Today, the world knows what we have always known, that Liverpool fans were not just innocent on that terrible day but that there was reprehensible and hurtful misrepresentation of the truth.
Liverpool Football Club would like to thank the Hillsborough Independent Panel for its rigorous work over the past two-and-a-half years and for publishing a comprehensive report based on the in-depth research and analysis into hundreds of thousands of documents.
Tom Werner, chairman, Liverpool Football Club, said: “On behalf of myself, John and everyone at the club, I would like to extend our thoughts and prayers on this hugely significant and deeply emotional day to everyone affected by the Hillsborough disaster. Today the world has heard the real truth about what happened at Hillsborough.
“As a football club, we will continue to remember those who died and support the families who lost loved ones on that terrible day. We hope that today’s findings will give some comfort to the families and survivors and go some way to addressing some of the key questions that have hung over the Hillsborough tragedy for the last 23 years.”
“I very much welcome the Prime Minister’s apology on behalf of the Government.
“It is a momentous day that the families and the city have waited 23 years for. It is absolutely clear for everyone to see that those affected were victims not only of a terrible event, but also of an unforgivable miscarriage of justice. They were aided and abetted by some sections of the media, who should now apologise for misleading the nation and smearing the reputation of Liverpool FC fans and the city. It is to the credit of families that they have never given up on their quest to find out what happened on that dreadful day.
“Now that we finally have the truth of what happened in 1989, we must make sure the families get the justice they deserve. I am calling on the Attorney General to apply to the High Court immediately to quash the original inquest verdicts so that a fresh inquiry can be held.
“Furthermore, those who played a role in the cover up should be brought to account for their deceit and corruption. The people of Liverpool will stand shoulder to shoulder with the families as we seek to make sure they get justice they have sought for so long.
“We will never forget the impact Hillsborough disaster had on the bereaved families, on the lives of those who were caught up in the disaster and the long journey the entire city has had to endure for the truth to be heard.”
- Sheffield News Agency’s Press Release Blaming the Fans for the Deaths
- South Yorkshire Police Chief Constable is “profoundly sorry”.
- Kelvin MacKenzie offers “profuse apologies to the people of Liverpool.”
- Sun reporter Arnold’s regret of Hillsborough story.
Finally, but most importantly, the Hillsborough Family Support Group:
“We would like to start this press conference by thanking the panel for all its hard work on the behalf of everyone concerned; not only the victims but the survivors and the people of Merseyside. People kept asking me if we had trust in the Independent Panel and yes, we did. We said all along that we had trust and they have proven to us why we had the trust in them. We would like to thank Bishop James Jones, who has been a brilliant chair, and all of the Independent Panel. I would like to say, on record, on our behalf, thank you so much for what you have done. You have made our city proud. But most importantly, you have made the 96 rest in peace for the first time. Thank you very much.”
“If today says one thing to the world, it is that we are vindicated in our search for the truth. We feel for the first time in a long time that we are on the brink of a breakthrough. I think the breakthrough has been made, to be honest. Going through the panel’s findings ended in a spontaneous standing ovation for them. I think that says what the majority of the families feel. I’ve said myself on many occasions that there were two Hillsborough disasters; one that happened on the day and one that happened afterwards. And I think if this report shows anything, it shows that the aftermath was not only just a disaster but it was a contrived, manipulated, vengeful and spiteful attempt to divert the blame. One of the things we have been surprised about today has been the unreserved apology from David Cameron. We were hoping for it and we were hoping for a report that would come out as it has done. The truth is out today and the justice starts tomorrow. We intend to follow every avenue – and that is everything from prosecution through to changing for an unlawful killing verdict and every other avenue. We are not looking for scapegoats, we are looking for accountability but those responsible should hang their heads in shame.”
Here’s the link to the transcript from the press conference earlier today.
You’ll Never Walk Alone.