Justice for the 96
In the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Party justifies its omnipotent rule in the name of a greater good. But what good was done by covering up the deaths of 96 football fans at Hillsborough is something the British government must now explain.
George Orwell’s dystopian nightmare was a figment of his imagination.
But one wonders what he would have made of the actions of police and politicians in the wake of one of world football’s worst stadium disasters, when 96 Liverpool supporters were crushed to death during an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest on April 15, 1989.
It has long been known the tragedy was caused by negligent policing.
Yet it has taken 23 years for families of victims to receive acknowledgement of that fact and an apology for the sort of evil political cover-up so presciently conceived by Orwell in his horrifying novel.
Yesterday British Prime Minister David Cameron apologised in parliament for the fact police made a concerted attempt to blame Liverpool fans for the disaster.
An independent inquiry found that police edited witness statements and removed negative comments from police reports which painted their actions in a bad light.
Little wonder, when on the day of the tragedy South Yorkshire Police officers beat back Liverpool supporters trying to escape the crush at the Leppings Lane End.
This is the same South Yorkshire Police who refused to let ambulances onto the pitch to treat casualties. The same public service which shepherded 96 football fans to their deaths in the first place.
It would stand to reason the criminally negligent actions of inept police and the barbarous security oversights which resulted in the death of so many might be investigated in the wake of such a tragedy.
Instead a systematic campaign, led by the vile Kelvin MacKenzie and his disgusting Sun newspaper, sought to portray Liverpool fans as ticket-less, drunken thugs who caused the disaster and “picked pockets of victims” and “urinated on brave cops”.
The equally execrable Margaret Thatcher was happy to play along with the narrative, eager as she was to demonise all football fans as maniacal hooligans hell-bent on destruction.
Yet Lord Justice Taylor’s report – published as early as January 1990 and which ultimately led to the total overhaul of the way fans watch football inside English grounds – found that police were overwhelmingly to blame for the Hillsborough disaster.
Why has it taken so long for the British government to publicly acknowledge that?
Clearly the heinous actions of police and the politicians who shamefully turned a blind eye to the cover-up reflected the zeitgeist of the time.
Though there was no link between events at Heysel in 1985 and the tragedy at Hillsborough four years later – other than the fact Liverpool fans were present at both – authorities found it easy to blame the death of football fans on the work of ‘hooligans.’
There is no doubt the two tragedies form important chapters of Liverpool FC’s history, though the danger exists of constructing a victimhood narrative which overwhelms the club’s proud on-field achievements.
But no one deserves to die at a football match.
No mother or father deserves to wave their sons and daughters off at the door, happy to see their children enjoy the spoils of youth only to recoil in abject horror as sickening sights beam into their living rooms on TV.
No brother or sister, son or daughter, friend or relative should ever bear witness to the terrifying sight of people dying around them for the simple act of buying a ticket to enter a football ground.
A mere apology for the behaviour of police and politicians in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster isn’t enough.
Only one thing will honour the memory of those who lost their lives.
Justice for the 96.
Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he has settled in Brisbane and has been a Roar columnist since December 2008. Follow Mike on twitter @Mike_Tuckerman