UK police lied to cover up Hillsborough tragedy
David Cameron has admitted to Parliament that police deliberately lied in blaming Liverpool fans for the Hillsborough football tragedy of 1989 in order to cover-up the role of police incompetence in the death of 96 spectators.
After a 23-year campaign by victims’ families the Prime Minister yesterday released a report which detailed the remarkable cover-up and exposed startling failures by the police, ambulance services and even the original inquest into the deaths.
A panel headed by Liverpool’s Church of England Bishop James Jones spent three years inspecting previously unseen official documents and found that 114 statements by police officers at the ground were later doctored in a campaign run by senior officers and backed by the police union to remove any criticisms of the poor policing that led to the fans being crushed to death at an FA Cup semi-final.
There were immediate calls yesterday by MPs and victims’ families for criminal charges and other legal action against those involved in both the disaster and the cover-up, with the government considering whether to apply for new inquests into the deaths.
In one of the most shocking conclusions of the panel it said that up to 41 victims could have been saved by better rescue efforts in the period after the initial crushing of fans.
The original inquest declared that all of the victims were dead or brain dead within 15 minutes of the game’s 3pm kick-off, a finding which led the inquest to ignore the performance of emergency services after that time.
The panel’s medical advisor, Dr Bill Kirkup, said that in fact “41 people had potential to survive after the period of 3.15. What I can’t say is how many of those could have been saved.”
A 1989 inquiry found that the main cause of the disaster was poor policing but MPs gasped yesterday as Mr Cameron told a packed House of Commons of the extent of the errors by officials, and of the subsequent cover-up by the South Yorkshire police force.
“The new evidence that we are presented with today makes clear that these families have suffered a double injustice,” he said.
“The injustice of the appalling events – the failure of the state to protect their loved ones and the indefensible wait to get to the truth.
“And the injustice of the denigration of the deceased – that they were somehow at fault for their own deaths.
“On behalf of the Government – and indeed our country – I am profoundly sorry for this double injustice that has been left uncorrected for so long.”
Margaret Thatcher was prime minister at the time but Labour leader Ed Miliband told the House that the Labour governments from 1997 to 2010 should also have done more to reveal the truth about the biggest tragedy at a UK sporting event.
“It shames us as a country that it has taken 23 years to get to the truth of what happened at Hillsborough,” he said.
“All governments during this period bear their share of responsibility for the failure to get to the truth, so we on this side also apologise to the families that we didn’t do enough to help.”
The panel found that the campaign to cover-up the poor police planning and leadership by wrongly claiming that Liverpool fans were drunk and violent included police doing national computer data checks on all the victims to try to find criminal records which could be used to denigrate the victims.
Several senior police officers and a local Conservative MP Irvine Patnick, now Sir Irvine, had also briefed the local White’s News Agency with accusations against the victims.
A subsequent report by the agency led to some newspapers reporting those claims with the most notorious example being The Sun newspaper, which ran a controversial front-page story four days later that amplified the allegations under the headline “The Truth”.
The Sun report accused Liverpool fans of attacking and urinating on police who were trying to save lives and claimed they had picked the pockets of victims. The tabloid newspaper has been boycotted by much of Liverpool ever since.
Kelvin Mackenzie, the editor who wrote that headline, apologised yesterday but claimed that he had been misled by the news agency report.
“I published in good faith and I am sorry that it was so wrong,” he said.
“Twenty-three years ago I was handed a piece of copy from a reputable news agency in Sheffield in which a senior police officer and a senior local MP were making serious allegations against fans in the stadium.”
“I had absolutely no reason to believe that these authority figures would lie and deceive over such a disaster.
“It has taken more than two decades to discover to my horror that it would have far more accurate had I written the headline The Lies rather than The Truth.”
White’s News Agency responded with its own statement saying “the agency had no control over how the allegations were presented and were shocked by the way the story was presented by The Sun. Other newspapers reported the allegations in a different way.”
Spokesmen for the victims’ families also rejected the apology from Mr Mackenzie as “too little, too late”, with Trevor Hicks of the Hillsborough Families Support Group calling the former editor “lowlife – clever lowlife, but lowlife”.
Mr Hicks, who lost two daughters in the disaster, said the families would now fight for legal action against those responsible for the tragedy.
“We feel a breakthrough has been made. The truth is out today and the justice starts tomorrow,” he said.
South Yorkshire’s Chief Constable David Crompton offered “profound apologies” and said he was “absolutely shocked” by the wrongdoing exposed by the panel.
“When police lost control, lies were told about how that happened,” he said.