Hillsborough disaster: deadly mistakes and lies that lasted decades
April 26, 2016 6:08 AM   Subscribe

In 1989, ninety-six Liverpool fans died as a result of the crush in the Hillsborough Disaster at the 1989 FA Cup Semi-final (previously). Today, after 27 years of campaigns calling for justice, an inquest has finally ruled that their deaths were unlawful. The result of deadly, and tragically avoidable, mistakes and failures by the Police and Ambulance services.

The Guardian's latest long read, Hillsborough disaster: deadly mistakes and lies that lasted decades, published today, provides a full overview of the disaster and of the new inquest's findings for both those familiar with the disaster and those not, Be warned, it is heartbreaking reading about a disaster that affected, and still affects many people today:
The 96 people who died or were fatally injured in “pens” three and four, standing right behind the goal, so by definition Liverpool’s hard core of support, were honoured by their families in achingly tender personal statements read out in court. They came from all walks of life: working-class, middle-class, wealthy, hard-up, from Liverpool, the Midlands, London and around the country. They included a heartbreakingly large number of young people – 37 were teenagers – because to watch an FA Cup semi-final then cost only £6. They were sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, one wife – Christine Jones, 27 – and partners. Twenty-five were fathers; one, 38-year-old Inger Shah, was a single mother with two teenagers: altogether, 58 children lost a parent .
Further context for those unfamiliar with the disaster:

One of the reasons justice took so long to come was due to the behaviour of the infamous South Yorkshire Police, the force responsible for policing the ground. The Battle of Orgreave in which the Force had beaten and charged (on horseback) striking miners in 1984 had cemented their reputation as a brutal, disciplinarian force and - critically - one prepared to go to great lengths to cover up any mistakes. After Hillsborough, the current inquest has now finally ruled, the Force lied, surpressed and fabricated evidence in order to place the blame on the football fans present that day.

They were aided and abetted in this, in the press, by the Sun Newspaper who infamously ran a front page story proclaiming:
The Truth.
Some fans picked pockets of victims
Some fans urinated on the brave cops
Some fans beat up PC giving kiss of life.
None of which has ever been born out by evidence.

A first, highly controversial, inquest in 1989 reached a verdict of "accidental death." Finally, in 2009 after many years of campaigning by the families, Liverpool FC and the football community at large, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith ruled that secret papers related to the Hillsborough disaster should be made public. This marked the beginning of a move towards finally acknowledging the need for a new inquiry.

That inquiry was convened in March 2014, and finally reached the aforementioned verdict of Unlawful Killing today.

Outside the hearing venue in Warrington, the families of the victims joined together for a heartfelt rendition of 'You'll Never Walk Alone'.
posted by garius (62 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Even though I was a little 10-year-old kid in a different country, I somehow heard about what happened and to this day when I'm at a music fest or concert I get the heebie-jeebies. I seriously cannot think of a worse way to die than to be crushed, surrounded by people who cannot help you and in turn, you cannot help them.
posted by Windigo at 6:22 AM on April 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:24 AM on April 26, 2016 [7 favorites]

The CPS said: "In due course the CPS will formally consider whether any criminal charges should be brought against any individual or corporate body based upon all the available evidence."

Please. From the rhino whip scandal, to the Miners' Strike, to Hillsborough, to facilitating child abuse and exploitation in Rotherham, the police in South Yorkshire have failed the society they are meant to protect.
posted by Emma May Smith at 6:25 AM on April 26, 2016 [19 favorites]

Reading through the list of causes of death it is mainly 'compression asphyxia' with a gut wrenching sprinkling of people drowning in their own stomach contents. Horrible, horrible with the horror compounded by the police and shitrags that call themselves newspapers blaming the fans.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:42 AM on April 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

Fuck The Sun.
posted by Artw at 6:45 AM on April 26, 2016 [37 favorites]

A useful note on twitter that 20 years ago, Bernard Ingham (Thatcher's chief press secretary) laid blame only at the door of 'tanked up yobs', and 10 years ago, as editor of The Spectator, Boris Johnson stood behind Simon Heffer's blame of 'mindless' 'drunken fans', noting that The Sun's talk of people stealing from and pissing on the dead was basically true, albeit 'tasteless'.

Some of the most powerful hold significant numbers of their fellows in such contempt that it does not matter whether they live or die. God knows how the families had the strength to fight this for so long.
posted by robself at 6:46 AM on April 26, 2016 [33 favorites]

Hillsborough inquests: The 96 who died

Short writeups on each victim. YNWA
posted by josher71 at 6:46 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

And in a poor move, MLS was founded in 1996 and now have jerseys you can buy that have the number "96" on the back of them to commemorate the founding of the league.

Unfortunately, that is not what I thought when I saw the number "96" on the back of anything soccer/football related. Could have done better, MLS.
posted by josher71 at 6:51 AM on April 26, 2016

They were aided and abetted in this, in the press, by the Sun Newspaper...

And, let's not forget, the Tories - Bernard Ingham never apologised for writing to a victim's parents and blaming the fans, Boris Johnson was still peddling the same bullshit as late as 2004.

And they must've known they were repeating police lies all along - the police admitted they lied about the gate on the day, they accepted Taylor's findings in '89, there was TV footage on the day of distraught fans doing everything they could to help their dying friends, and showing they had tickets...
posted by jack_mo at 6:59 AM on April 26, 2016 [8 favorites]

Okay I just spent too long reading about human crushes, and how they work, and now I am utterly terrified.
posted by entropone at 7:07 AM on April 26, 2016


In the Guardian article, this drew my attention:

In [experienced officer] Mole’s place, Wright promoted Duckenfield, who had never commanded a match at Hillsborough before, nor even been on duty there for 10 years. A trail of former officers bleakly confirmed the farce behind the switch: a bullying prank played on a probationary constable by officers in Mole’s division the previous October. . . . On 20 February 1989 Wright personally sacked four officers and disciplined four more for this excessive internal prank.

If what they're saying is accurate, this unrelated prank was the rolling handful of pebbles that started an avalanche that killed almost a hundred people. We are so much at the mercy of internal politics in government agencies, in ways that the office-holders themselves may never be aware of.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:08 AM on April 26, 2016 [11 favorites]

I've kept it together okay today until I saw this. https://twitter.com/BBCNWT/status/724956801528111104

I can't imagine the loss and I continue to be astounded by the strength, courage and determination of the families to find justice. Now there needs to be accountability.
posted by IanMorr at 7:09 AM on April 26, 2016 [11 favorites]

this unrelated prank was the rolling handful of pebbles that started an avalanche

It's why Duckenfield was in charge, yes. I cannot recommend the ESPN 30 for 30 Documentary on Hillsborough enough. It's enlightening and full of moments that I hadn't known, such as the reasons behind the Duckenfield promotion. I hope they'll repeat it soon for those who missed it, though I don't know if I could stand to watch it again.
posted by IanMorr at 7:13 AM on April 26, 2016 [6 favorites]

IanMorr: "I've kept it together okay today until I saw this. https://twitter.com/BBCNWT/status/724956801528111104"
Here are some poignant words from the same Mr Hicks at the inquest:
The loss of a child is one of the worst things that can happen to a loving parent. Loss of all your children is devastating. It is not that two is twice as bad. It's that you lose everything. The present, the future and any purpose.
posted by brokkr at 7:15 AM on April 26, 2016 [7 favorites]

For those of you who read Emma May Smth's comment above and wondered about that rhino whip...
posted by Prince Lazy I at 7:21 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Certainly not too little, but surely too late. A lot people lived and died under the lies propagated by the South Yorkshire Police, the Government, and The Sun. Great for those alive to see themselves and their friends and family vindicated, but I feel for those who are not alive to see this day. 27 years to bring the (actual) truth to a shameful situation is too long.
posted by lmfsilva at 7:33 AM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Now there needs to be accountability.

The reason it took 27 years for the truth to come out is exactly to remove any possible repercussions to the (ir)responsible people. All anybody can do at this point is be indignant. Or maybe sacrifice a goat to Nemesis* if you have more energy than you know what to do with.

* late 16th century: Greek, literally ‘retribution,’ from nemein ‘give what is due.’
posted by bukvich at 7:39 AM on April 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

posted by colie at 7:40 AM on April 26, 2016

posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:41 AM on April 26, 2016

People Have The Power - Patti Smith

The Arc of The Moral Universe is Long, But It Bends Towards Justice - MLK

Fuck Rupert Murdoch in the ear - me
posted by C.A.S. at 7:47 AM on April 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

They were aided and abetted in this, in the press, by the Sun Newspaper who infamously ran a front page story proclaiming:

Reminds me of the people who wanted, desperately needed, to believe that the Katrina shelter at the Superdome was a war zone of murder, rape, and theft.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:50 AM on April 26, 2016 [11 favorites]

posted by lalochezia at 7:51 AM on April 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

Ingham, today, refuses to apologise. Unbelievable.

The reason it took 27 years for the truth to come out is exactly to remove any possible repercussions to the (ir)responsible people.

Yeah, it'll be interesting to see what the CPS decide to do - a stay of prosecution stemming from the private prosecution back in 2000 would have to be lifted if they want to go after Duckenfield, for one thing. I think public pressure for them to move forward will be huge, though, and this Guardian piece makes me almost cautiously optimistic - as yet unnamed police have been questioned as suspects.

But, then again, look at the fucking state of the IPCC investigation:

West Midlands police, appointed as the independent investigating force into the disaster, are themselves under IPCC investigation into whether they colluded with South Yorkshire police and improperly questioned survivors, including about alcohol.
posted by jack_mo at 8:09 AM on April 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I think we'll see prosecutions, if not convictions. I would also expect a number of resignations, though, I, personally, wouldn't like to see the fuckers get the option to go quietly.
posted by IanMorr at 8:12 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Fucking finally. Will dive into this later as I have to go to work now, but thank you for posting.
posted by marienbad at 8:33 AM on April 26, 2016

Just popped in to say that the 30 for 30 soccer stories documentary on Hillsborough is *excellent* (and available on US Netflix). Those documentaries really vary in quality but that one is one of the absolute best - it builds a palpable sense of dread and contains lots of great interviews and live footage (because there is FOOTAGE OF THIS STUFF JEEBUS). I, an uneducated American, had no idea what was coming and sobbed. But I also learned a great deal, and I'm so glad to hear of this news today.
posted by bookgirl18 at 8:41 AM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

♫ When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high ...
posted by the quidnunc kid at 8:45 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Stop buying The Sun (and The Times). They were complicit in a disgusting cover up and continue to publish lies and untruths.

posted by Homemade Interossiter at 8:59 AM on April 26, 2016 [14 favorites]

A colleague of mine this lunchtime was visibly upset, "all this has just reopened old wounds," he said. Personally I don't think the wounds ever healed. I came to Liverpool over 10 years ago, ignorant of the history, but it wasn't long before I learned why people in this city still refuse to buy The Sun. "It's not justice," he said, "they got away with it, the damage has been done," or words to that effect. He's a cancer survivor who lost neighbours and friends. Truly Hillsborough was a devastating blow for this city, one which even the valiant efforts of the campaigners cannot put right.

The reason it took 27 years for the truth to come out is exactly to remove any possible repercussions to the (ir)responsible people.

I feel like the same is happening with the Chilcot (Iraq War) Inquiry now. They are dragging it out as long as they can, until it loses all relevance and they can just tell us once more that it's "time to move on".

Fuck The Sun, Fuck South Yorkshire Police, and Fuck the Tories. With love from Liverpool xx
posted by Acey at 9:24 AM on April 26, 2016 [27 favorites]

What Acey said, up to the part of coming here over 10 years ago, and coming to understand viscerally why this matters. I wouldn't clean up after a dog with the Sun.
posted by skybluepink at 9:29 AM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was a teenager at the time and it's hard to overstate how deep the shock from this event went, and the confusion and disgust people felt at the terrible cover-up and smears afterwards. Respect to the families who overcame everything in their way to achieve this justice and some closure.
posted by colie at 10:43 AM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

David Conn's coverage of the inquest has been dogged and fantastic. I've appreciated his Tweets from the trial each day. I'm trying to avoid Twitter today because some fellow Wednesdayites are being pretty terrible (e shouldn't make this about us), but I have seen a couple of good things.

1 - From BBC 5 Live: Peter Jones' sign off of their live coverage of the FA Cup Semifinal . He talks about the scene, his memories of Heysel, and caps off the day as only a sportscaster grappling with reality can. It was hard to listen to.

2 - From the Sheffield Star: South Yorkshire Police admit their policing of the match was "catastrophically wrong". Coverage in the Star is mixed, lots of focus on the victims and the family, some on how the police caused this, but also how much the policemen's legal fees are. I'm usually pretty ACAB anyhow, but this is a case where I have little to no sympathy for the police and this shouldn't be about them.
posted by kendrak at 10:56 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Twenty-seven years things are different now historical event we apologise but it's all different now policing changed obviously we are sincere but it's all different now and obviously it's tragic but it's historical twenty-seven years policing different moved on those responsible not in force apologise different would never happen moved onapologisehistorychanged policingmovedonhistoricalchangedthoseresponsiblenot differentdifferentdifferentchanged

Cut, paste, rinse, repeat.
posted by reynir at 11:05 AM on April 26, 2016 [10 favorites]

posted by idb at 11:19 AM on April 26, 2016

The families have been utterly incredible in their tenacity and strength, as have the survivors. An inspiration to everyone.
posted by threetwentytwo at 11:29 AM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy's poem, written for the Liverpool Echo after the 2012 independent report on Hillsborough:


The Cathedral bell, tolled, could never tell;
nor the Liver Birds, mute in their stone spell;
nor the Mersey, though seagulls wailed, cursed, overhead,
in no language for the slandered dead...
not the raw, red throat of the Kop, keening,
or the cops' words, censored of meaning;
not the clock, slow handclapping the coroner's deadline,
or the memo to Thatcher, or the tabloid headline...
but fathers told of their daughters; the names of sons
on the lips of their mothers like prayers; lost ones
honoured for bitter years by orphan, cousin, wife -
not a matter of football, but of life.
Over this great city, light after long dark;
Truth, the sweet silver song of the lark.
posted by Catseye at 11:37 AM on April 26, 2016 [11 favorites]

Here's a video of former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie calling the police handling a disgrace. He doesn't take any responsibility for what he printed in his newspaper. It's like he's in an alternate reality.
posted by kendrak at 11:39 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

A special memorial bench.
posted by hfnuala at 12:01 PM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

For liberty there is a cost, it's broken skulls and leather cosh
From the boys in uniform, now you know whose side they're on
With backing, with blessing, from earthly gods, not heaven
A stone's throw away to it all

Whatever pleasures those who get from stripping skin with rhino whip
Are the kind that must be stopped before their kind take all we've got
With loving, with caring, they take great pride in working
The stone's throw away to it all

Whenever honesty persists, you'll hear the snap of broken ribs
From anyone who'll take no more of the lying bastards' roar
In Chile, in Poland, Johannesburg, South Yorkshire
A stone's throw away, now we're there
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 12:41 PM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Every Paper in the UK has it on their front page, except The Scum and the supposed paper of record The Times. Gutless. Despicable. Murdoch.
posted by IanMorr at 3:16 PM on April 26, 2016 [13 favorites]

I am finding it a bit difficult to stomach the press coverage.

'We finally have a clear picture of what happened'.

Only if you haven't been listening to the survivors or the campaigners, watching the BBC footage of the match, Jimmy McGovern's docu-drama, or read anything that David Conn has written etc etc for the past 27 years.

The only revelation today is that the jury came to the conclusion that it was unlawful killing having been informed that this would mean they were accusing Duckenfield of criminal negligence having listened to days of his testimony.
In reaching a verdict of unlawful killing over the deaths, the inquest jurors had to be convinced that the chief superintendent owed a duty of care to those who died, that he was in breach of that duty and that the breach amounted to gross negligence.
West Midlands police force were picked to investigate South Yorkshire's handling of the Hillsborough disaster for the Taylor Enquiry. West Midlands have been under investigation by the IPCC for a number of years regarding allegations of a coverup of the South Yorkshire force's coverup.
posted by asok at 3:34 PM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Times gives up the last pretence of being a newspaper.

Imagine what it must be like being an actual ordinary journalist there and knowing what you are, who you work for, what your job really is: letting an old man shit in your mouth and then spitting it out on command.
posted by reynir at 3:44 PM on April 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

Be warned that the 30 for 30 is gut wrenching. Like, really.
posted by josher71 at 3:54 PM on April 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

David Conn's long read (linked to in the intro paragraph in the original post) in the Guardian is gutwrenching, moving, brilliant ... whichever other superlatives you wish to add.

It is a tragic thing to read, but a brilliant brilliant piece of extended writing.
posted by chris88 at 4:02 PM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

That 30 for 30 is actually going to be airing Saturday night for anyone who is interested.
posted by LizBoBiz at 4:39 PM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Billy Bragg wrote this song after the News of the World hacking scandal broke, but Hillsborough is its genesis:
Never Buy The Sun (greenroom version) and onstage version
posted by oh yeah! at 6:49 PM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

That 30 for 30 is actually going to be airing Saturday night for anyone who is interested.
Though as I understand it, not in the UK, even though it's a BBC co-production. Something to do with prejudicing High Court proceedings. But those proceedings were concluded and the resulting second inquest has returned its verdict, so perhaps it will become available. Though I guess the potential prosecutions will continue to prevent its airing.
posted by chill at 8:34 AM on April 27, 2016

Andy Burnham's speech in Parliament is good. He makes it clear that the whole truth won't be out until the Truth about Ogreave is out, and that the whole SYP needs overhauling.
posted by kendrak at 10:49 AM on April 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

And here's a 5Live special that just aired: Hillsborough: The Truth. It's hosted/narrated by Kelly Cates (who was there that day, her dad is former Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish) and features survivors, journalists, and audio clips from the day. It's almost 2 hours long.
posted by kendrak at 1:52 PM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

It’s Article 2 of the Convention – which our Human Rights Act enshrines and protects the right to life – that got victims of the disaster the wide-ranging inquest they deserved. Before the Act, the UK’s coronial law didn’t include a requirement to investigate the surrounding circumstances of a person’s death. Through a series of cases brought under the Human Rights Act, it has been held by the UK’s own courts that a person’s right to life – in cases where the state has failed to properly protect it – requires a full investigation into what happened.

After a fresh inquest was ordered in 2012, an Article 2-compliant inquest was undertaken. This meant that the jury could examine how and in what circumstances the 96 died. Without Article 2, the families of the victims would not have been able to achieve yesterday’s wide-ranging and critical verdict.

Just a little something to keep in mind.
posted by rory at 4:10 PM on April 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

Just a little something to keep in mind.

Please don't use the Hillsborough Tragedy to push your personal political agenda, that is crass.
posted by marienbad at 8:09 PM on April 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was at a show in college - RHCP and Jane's Addiction I think - in a big stadium and I remember being so squished together with so many people that I had a few moments where I felt short of breath and was so conscious of other peoples ribs pressing against mine and briefly terrified. To have that pressure build unendingly and to eventually have it be your end would be horrifying.
posted by bendy at 11:31 PM on April 27, 2016

The ECHR isn't irrelevant to Hillsborough. Theresa May herself said, yesterday, that the reason why it took so long to deliver justice is that institutions protect themelves and the state identifies itself more with its own institutions than with ordinary people. The whole point of a human rights instrument like the ECHR - which can't be modified or abandoned at will by the ruling party of the day - is that it puts some power to challenge institutional self-protection into the hands of ordinary people, on the grounds of their most basic interests as human beings. Lord Falconer said that May was wrong because there has to be a source "external to a government" determining what human rights are; appalling cases of government cover-up, like Hillsborough, show us why.

Of course the tragedy itself goes beyond politics. But the failures of the last 27 years were political and institutional failures and avoiding them in the future means thinking about political and institutional structures. The ECHR is an incredibly powerful force for transparency and government accountability in this country. If it's going to be replaced, any replacement needs to be evaluated for its effectiveness in this type of situation: would it have made it easier or harder for the Hillsborough families to get justice?
posted by Aravis76 at 11:33 PM on April 27, 2016 [7 favorites]

that is crass.

The 27-years-later equivalent of "Too soon!", I guess.
posted by Etrigan at 1:41 AM on April 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Please don't use the Hillsborough Tragedy to push your personal political agenda, that is crass.

Human rights, and the HRA & ECHR as their vehicle, aren't "my" "personal" agenda. They're the very instrument that the Hillsborough families used to secure this week's verdict. This kind of outcome is exactly the sort of high-profile example that needs to be put up against Theresa May's arguments about their "preventing the deportation of dangerous foreign nationals". The fact that she's been making that argument in the same week as this verdict makes the value of the EHCR and HRA even more important to underline. So I'm glad that Liberty has.
posted by rory at 5:28 AM on April 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

The ECHR and the EU are not the same thing.
posted by colie at 11:43 AM on April 28, 2016

That's true, but May is the one who says we should (somehow) exit the ECHR and stay in the EU. That argument is awful, whatever your view on EU membership.
posted by Aravis76 at 12:48 PM on April 28, 2016

The ECHR and the EU are not the same thing.

Yes, of course; I didn't mention the EU. Arguing against the ECHR and HRA is a parallel battle being waged by certain Tories, some of whom are pro-EU and some of whom aren't. It does seem that some UK voters conflate the ECHR and EU and see cases like Abu Hamza's as a reason for leaving the EU, and some anti-EU campaigners seem happy enough to take advantage of the confusion. That would be why pro-EU May made her speech the other day, to argue that the "problem" was specifically the ECHR. And that in turn is why Liberty took the opportunity a few days later to point out that the ECHR was the exact opposite of a problem in the case of the Hillsborough verdict.
posted by rory at 8:44 AM on April 29, 2016

✊ #ynwa
posted by juv3nal at 10:41 AM on April 29, 2016

To answer myself above, the 30 for 30 Hillsborough doc is finally being shown in the UK on BBC2 on 8th May.
posted by chill at 11:31 PM on April 29, 2016

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