By Bob Pearce.
4th March 2014
Ref: The Hillsborough disaster (Letter 10)
Dear Mr Cameron
It is now almost 25 years ago since the Hillsborough disaster on 15th April 1989. The Conservative Prime Minister at the time, Mrs Thatcher, was informed by the police that the disaster was due to ‘drunken fans’. However, upon publication of Lord Taylor’s interim report later that year, Home Secretary Mr Hurd warned her that the contents were “very damning” of the police, and attached “little or no blame” to Liverpool fans.
Mr Hurd made it quite clear that he thought South Yorkshire Chief Constable Peter Wright would have to resign, believing “The enormity of the disaster, and the extent to which the inquiry blames the police, demand this.” He went on to say “The defensive, and at times close to deceitful, behaviour by the senior officers in South Yorkshire sounds depressingly familiar.” He then concludes that “Liverpool fans – who have caused trouble in the past – will feel vindicated.”
Despite this, it is now known that Mrs Thatcher chose to respond by noting “What do we mean by ‘welcoming the broad thrust of the report’? The broad thrust is devastating criticism of the police. Is that for us to welcome? Surely we welcome the thoroughness of the report and its recommendations.” Mrs Thatcher’s trusted and loyal chief press spokesman for 11 years, Mr Bernard Ingham, expressed the very clear view that “there would have been no Hillsborough disaster if tanked-up yobs had not turned up in very large numbers to try to force their way into the ground. I visited Hillsborough the day after the disaster and I know what I learned then.”
The same year as the Hillsborough disaster, 1989, you were working in the Policy Unit at Conservative Central Office, and chose to visit South Africa on an all-expenses-paid ‘fact-finding’ trip organised and funded by ‘Strategy Network International’ (a pro-apartheid, anti-sanctions lobbying firm created in 1985 specifically to lobby against the imposition of sanctions, and sponsored by the former South African Prime Minister Mr Botha).
This was during an era when Mrs Thatcher stood against the sanctions imposed on South Africa by the Commonwealth and the European Economic Community, and described the African National Congress as “a typical terrorist organisation.” Her trusted and loyal chief press spokesman Mr Ingham again expressed a very clear view at the 1987 Commonwealth summit when, dismissing the very idea that the African National Congress could achieve power, he said “It is cloud cuckoo land for anyone to believe that could be done.”
Let us not forget that at the time of your visit to South Africa in 1989 civil servants and advisers were told not to go on such trips. It should also be remembered that by 1989 the apartheid system in South Africa was on the verge of its downfall, and negotiations for the transfer of power, along with the eventual release of Mr Mandela from prison the following February, were underway.
As you will know, politicians who seek to avoid difficult questions about the past will often use the simple technique of suggesting that certain views and actions were ‘of their time’, and that ‘the world is a different and better place now’. Many of these politicians then conveniently fail to demonstrate through their actions how they are making the world a ‘different and better place’ in their own time.
In 2006 you wrote an article in ‘The Observer’ in which you told the world about “the mistakes my party made in the past with respect to relations with the African National Congress and sanctions on South Africa.” You made it clear that you saw the Conservative party’s policy towards South Africa at the time of your trip as being from another era that you did not belong to.
Mr Tebbit, another trusted and loyal member of Mrs Thatcher’s cabinet for six years, commented that “Because of his age, Mr Cameron is looking at these events as part of history. Others of us who lived through them and had input into the discussions at the time see things very differently. The policy of the Thatcher government was a success.”
Mr Cameron, you have shown a clear desire to correct the errors of your predecessors and ensure that history correctly remembers and honours those wonderful and inspirational role models who were, for whatever reason, wrongly labelled and accused by your predecessors. Yesterday you honoured Nelson Mandela at Westminster Abbey. After 25 years it is also time for you to publicly correct ‘the mistakes your party made in the past with respect to the ‘Hillsborough Heroes’.
We know the number and the names of those that died on the terrible afternoon of 15th April 1989. The truth about the ’96’ is now being told, and it is hoped that their families will finally see the justice they have had to demand and fight to get from their own government over the last quarter of a century. What continues to be forgotten is that what you described as “one of the greatest peacetime tragedies of the last century” would have been on a far greater scale were it not for the actions of the ‘Hillsborough Heroes’. After 25 years, in which one of the greatest acts of spontaneous humanity that this country has ever witnessed has been belittled at best, and dismissed at worst, it is time that these wonderful and inspirational role models receive the formal recognition that should have been given on the day, and has been denied now for a quarter of a century.
Your speech writers have already prepared suitable words for you. The ‘Hillsborough Heroes’, ordinary men and women who found themselves thrust into the most appalling circumstances on the afternoon of 15th April 1989 and who responded so wonderfully, were “Not just heroes of our time, but heroes of all time. The strongest impression of all when you saw them was of their extraordinary compassion. I believe that their inspiration for the future will be every bit as powerful as the extraordinary things that they achieved on that remarkable day.”
While Hillsborough was “one of the greatest peacetime tragedies of the last century”, we should not forget the fact that reason why many, many survivors are still with us today is “not in spite of the fans and their actions; it is because of them – and we Conservatives should say so clearly today.”
It is now one year since I first wrote to you on this matter on 5th March 2013 (copy attached). This is now my tenth letter. Some of these letters have been totally ignored. Some have received brief dismissive responses. Some have been forwarded to various departments (always claiming to be ‘best placed to answer the question’) who then simply provided information as a way to avoid answering my very simple question.
It is a very simple question. Mr Cameron, do you agree that the actions of the ordinary men and women at Hillsborough on 15th April 1989 deserve recognition in the form of a collective award in the same manner as other heroic acts? 20 times I have asked you this same simple question, and I have still not received your answer.
Perhaps I should remind you of some more of your speech writer’s fine words. “When you look back over history, it can be easy to see victories over prejudice and hatred as somehow inevitable. As the years lengthen and events recede, it can seem as though a natural tide of progress continually bears humanity ever upwards away from brutality and darkness towards something better. But it is not so. Progress is not just handed down as a gift, it is won through struggle. The struggle of men and women who believe things can better, who refuse to accept the world as it is, but dream of what it can be.”
It’s time for you to step up and walk your own talk Mr Cameron. You have challenged and corrected the self-serving interests that for many years described Nelson Mandela as part of a ‘typical terrorist organisation’. It is time for you to also challenge and correct the self-serving interests that for many years described the ‘Hillsborough Heroes’ as ‘tanked-up yobs’.
Perhaps you are more familiar with these three simple questions. After 25 years of negativity, Are you so blind that you cannot see? Are you so deaf that you cannot hear? Are you so dumb that you cannot speak?
Honour the ‘Hillsborough Heroes’.
5th March 2013
Ref: The Hillsborough disaster
Dear Mr Cameron
On 12th September 2012 you offered a “profound apology” on behalf of the whole country for the “double injustice” experienced by the families of those who died in the Hillsborough tragedy. I’d suggest a third injustice remains which you have still yet to address.
The news media, which had spent the previous 23 years dismissing campaigners’ calls for the truth to be told, were quick to adopt the sound bite of ‘First Truth, then Justice’. I have not yet seen one instance of any commentator making the case of ‘First Truth, then Justice, and finally Recognition’.
Thousands of ordinary fans of all ages set off that day to watch a game of football. These ordinary people found themselves thrust into the most traumatic of circumstances without warning. That terrible afternoon those ordinary people rose up and did something truly extraordinary.
It was not unreasonable for the people attending the match that afternoon to expect that the Football Association would have wanted to ensure that the stadium had a safety certificate. There was no certificate.
It was not unreasonable for them to expect that the police would have wanted to ensure their safety. Their lives were put in peril.
It was not unreasonable for them to expect that the ambulance service would have wanted to come to their aid. They did not come.
It was not unreasonable for them to expect that the media would have wanted to report the truth about the disaster. They printed lies.
It was not unreasonable for them to expect that politicians would have wanted to act in their interests as their elected representatives. They perpetuated a cover-up.
It was not unreasonable for them to expect that the legal system would have wanted to ensure justice. They discredited and dismissed their evidence.
I can only presume that these public servants chose careers in these professions because they wished to protect and serve the public. Their actions on that day, and in the weeks, months and years that have followed will have only undermined the public’s trust and confidence in the institutions they represent. There are many who should spend their remaining days with their heads bowed in the deepest shame for the enormous damage they have inflicted on the very integrity of these institutions.
We have seen the pictures and videos from that day many times. What they show is at once shocking and amazing. What we see is that overwhelmingly it was the fans that provided whatever help they could, while those who were paid, trained and co-ordinated to provide that assistance appear to be little more than passive observers. Ordinary men and women stepped forward and took action to help fellow human beings in their darkest hour. The evidence shows that, for whatever reason, public servants, who were trained and paid to be on duty that day, chose to take a different path. They can be seen standing by and watching the heroic efforts of the football fans effectively being left to fend for themselves.
Even if they were being led and co-ordinated by trained professionals, the actions of these ordinary people would have been considered exceptional. But on that terrible day, the fact that they acted despite the almost total indifference of those they expected to come to their assistance is nothing short of heroism of the very highest order.
Thankfully there were many people that did the right thing that day. They didn’t do the right thing because it was their job. They didn’t do they right thing because they were instructed to. They did the right thing because they were simply honest, decent and moral human beings. In the heat of the moment they would have been unaware of the full scale of the disaster they’d found themselves engulfed in. They simply focused on what they could do for the individual in front of them that needed their help. This unskilled group of individuals, without leadership or co-ordination of any kind, took it upon themselves to rise up with only one thought in their mind – to do whatever they could to help total strangers, in the same way that they would have wanted to have been helped themselves.
They may say they simply ‘did what they could’. They may tell you that they ‘did what anybody else would have done in that situation’. Some will have been haunted in the years since by the doubts about whether they ‘could have done more’. I would tell them that they were part of the most incredible peace time act of unorganised mass heroism that this country has ever witnessed.
This totally selfless wish to do whatever they could to help a total stranger in their darkest hour, when all seemed lost, should be recognised and commemorated for what it really was – evidence of the wonderful spirit of humanity that resides within ordinary people in this country.
I can only presume that their remarkably selfless actions have been overlooked and dismissed because they took place within the context of the co-ordinated and self-interested efforts of corrupt public servants to cover-up their errors.
On 15th April 24 years will have passed, and five different Prime Ministers will have failed to give the appropriate recognition to these unnamed heroes for their extraordinary actions. Do you want to lead a country which for a quarter of a century has failed to recognise those whose actions showed the very best of the human spirit?
I believe that a day will come Mr Cameron, perhaps in a more enlightened time than our own, when future generations will look back on these events and be both staggered and appalled that not only were they were allowed to happen, and that public servants put their own interests ahead of those they served, but also that the heroic and selfless actions of so many men and women went unrecognised for what they were. This unprecedented spontaneous demonstration of humanity is a moment in our country’s history for which the whole nation ought to feel enormous pride, and should serve as a source of inspiration for future generations. It is a terrible indictment of so many of our public servants that almost a quarter of a century has passed since that day and still it remains unrecognised.
Like ‘Chernobyl’, unfortunately ‘Hillsborough’ is one of those place names which will forever be associated with disaster. As the full scale of the public servants failings is revealed, like ‘Watergate’ it will also become a short-hand for widespread institutional corruption. You have it in your power to ensure that, in time, ‘Hillsborough’ will also be associated with all that is best about the selfless and heroic capacity of ordinary people in this country.
The names of the 96 who did not come home that Spring afternoon will always be remembered. The Hillsborough Independent Panel concluded that 41 of those fatalities may have still been with us today if they had received prompt medical treatment from the public servants on duty that day. It is also reported that 766 survivors were also injured that afternoon. Ask yourself this question Mr Cameron – How high would the death toll have been that afternoon had it not been for the extraordinary actions of these ordinary men and women?