PAUL ROUSE: Fundamental lesson of Hillsborough not learned

And so the disgrace continues.

When David Crompton, the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, stood in front of the microphones in the aftermath of the new inquest into the Hillsborough Disaster, he had the opportunity to do the right thing.

He singularly failed — and his failure is inexcusable.

His statement was abject.

For all that it accepted the verdict of the inquest that the victims had been unlawfully killed and for all that it contained an unreserved apology to the families of the 96 people who died because of the failures of his police force, Crompton went on to say that the lessons of the day had been learned by all.

He noted: “The Hillsborough Disaster changed the way in which major sporting events are policed and very many lessons have been learnt. With improvements in training, communications and technology, it is almost impossible to consider how the same set of circumstances could arise again today.”

All of that would seem plausible, if it did not entirely miss the essential point.

The great gaping chasm here is the utter failure to address the lies, inventions and much worse that the police engaged in even as men, women and children lay dying on the terraces at Hillsborough.

The scale of this cover-up is scarcely credible — and so too is its fundamental cruelty.

The torrents of grief that flowed through the lives of those who lost their family and friends, the guilt felt by many who survived, the mental anguish and misery, the raw pain of loss and suffering that were the inevitable outcome of such an event are incomprehensible in themselves.

In that context, that the police should have indulged in an orgy of vile slurs of those who died and those who survived is simply disgusting and reveals the absence of the most basic qualities of humanity.

These slurs led directly to some of the worst journalism in the sordid history of the British tabloid press.

Most notorious of all was the report in The Sun under the headline ‘The Truth’, which claimed that some Liverpool fans stole from those who were dying in the crush, that other fans urinated on police officers, and that still more beat up ‘brave cops’ who were trying to help.

Ultimately, the entire events of the day were ascribed by police to the appalling actions of a ‘tanked-up mob’ of Scousers.

All of this was made up to deflect from the decisions — and non-decisions — of an inept policing operation which resulted in 96 people dying at a match.

Ultimately, the cover-up and lying which perverted the course of justice was both epic and tawdry.

And when it comes down to it, this is all about class and power.

The culture of perjury, brutality and callous disregard for the lives of ordinary people which defined the South Yorkshire Police was already well-practiced by the time the events of Hillsborough unfolded.

It was a culture that been revealed, for example, in the response to the Miners’ strikes of the early 1980s where excessive police violence in dealing with the strikes mixed freely with a willingness to commit perjury and the absence of basic ethical probity.

In all of this, there is no doubt that senior police officers in the force saw themselves to be untouchable. And – more than that – they clearly considered that the dishing out of beatings to miners was a form of natural justice – the miners were getting what they deserved and the notion that a striking miner may, too, have had rights was neatly dismissed.

In itself, this was a perfect reflection of the political culture of England in the 1980s. The visit of Margaret Thatcher to Hillsborough after the tragedy, and the manner in which she – and her odious acolytes – were all too willing to accept the police version of events, was as predictable and it was shameful.

That unity of the police, The Sun and Thatcher speaks volumes for the type of society which the Tories wished for and which they sought to create by their policies.

The echoes of their righteousness, and of their contempt for the type of people which they imagined Liverpool fans to be, can still be heard today.

It was evident even in the behaviour of the Police during the new inquest over recent years — and the manner in which they sought to portray themselves. This was scathingly dismissed by lawyers for the families of the victims, who said that it was “all the more shameful that, rather than focusing on the search for truth and despite having made public apologies, the approach to the inquests taken by South Yorkshire police and the Yorkshire ambulance service was to fight tooth and nail to avoid adverse findings by the jury.”

The anger that runs through those words is vivid and real.

But even after the verdict, Crompton had the chance to make some sort of redress — however minor — by offering a proper apology. It did not come.

Within 24 hours of making that statement, Crompton had been suspended. South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Billings said that he ‘had been left with no choice’ other than to suspend him ‘following the run-up to and delivery of the Hillsborough verdicts’. However, it is certain that the statement issued by Crompton was not a solo run, rather it was one surely confected by the management group at South Yorkshire Police. And the issues that flow from it stand undiminished.

The nub of the matter is straightforward: It may very well be the case that the police now know how to manage major sporting events, but the importance of Hillsborough extends far beyond sport.

Its meaning lies more in the importance of ensuring that every person – regardless of who they are, or where they are from, or how much money or status they appear to have — is equal before the law.

Has the culture of the police (and of the state) been transformed to ensure that respect for the rights of ordinary people is not something that can be given or taken at the whim of an officer?

Or, when it comes down to it, does there remain a residue of contempt for those who are considered to be in some way lesser beings?


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