I am a Liverpool supporter and was the regional organiser of the Merseyside socialists 1980-1992.
As Liverpool fights for our dreams by winning their first league title in 24 years, thoughts of the Hillsborough 96 overshadow events.
The families of the 96 Liverpool football fans crushed to death at Hillsborough 25 years ago are reliving their indescribable pain and loss, at the opening days of the Coroner's Inquests, ordered by the High Court after it quashed the original, rigged verdicts of 'accidental death'.
April 15th 1989 witnessed the worst ever British sports disaster; the same day saw the launch of a monstrous campaign of pernicious lies from police chiefs, press and politicians, who tried to frame and blame the 96 who died.
Truth at last!
When the Hillsborough Independent Panel's Report was published in 2012 (my article from 2012 is HERE), their names were cleared, in a victory for the superhuman tenacity, courage and heroism of the victims' families and other fans who fought for justice for 25 long, cruel years.
"JFT96" was inscribed on thousands of banners and tens of thousands of people's hearts, as they fought to expose the truth of what happened. A new wave of bitter rage followed the 2012 Report's revelation that 41 of the 96 (some medical experts reckon 58) could still be alive today if they'd received prompt medical attention - denied them by the incompetence of police chiefs, which meant only 2 out of the 48 ambulances that arrived on the scene actually reached the pitch, deterred by police lies that the fans were rioting.
Millions were shaken to the core in their assumptions about the police, press and ruling powers by the horrific evidence in the 450,000-page Report. It proved police chiefs organised a blatant, corrupt coverup, crudely doctoring documents and witness statements - with successive Tory and Labour governments aiding their smearing of the dead in order to camouflage their own responsibilities for this man-made slaughter.
The Report's naked exposé of corruption in ‘high’ places forced the Crown Prosecution Office and Independent Police Complaints Commission to initiate an unprecedented scale of inquiry into police officers and the football authorities, potentially leading to charges of gross misconduct and even manslaughter.
Whilst pressing for prosecutions of those responsible, we should not lose sight of the wider, deeper implications of this appalling episode.
It reveals a system that is steeped in class hatred for working class people, with the establishment, all the various arms of the state, implicated – a brutal reminder of just how low these people are prepared to stoop to retain their power and privileges.
Some of us had lived through the savage class brutality of the Tories during the miners’ strike four years before Hillsborough – with Thatcher’s use of South Yorkshire and other police forces as well-fed, well-paid, beefed-up government militias that treated working class people as scum, rampaging like uniformed thugs in the pit villages.
But even veteran socialists were gob-smacked at the crude corruption of senior police - including the subsequently knighted Sir Norman Bettison and the South Yorkshire Police solicitor - who altered 116 junior police officers' statements to erase all criticism of police actions.
Tragedy waiting to happen
This was literally a tragedy waiting to happen, through blatant failure of football club owners to invest their profits in crowd safety measures, and police chiefs' refusal to learn from their own incompetent past performance.
They had plenty of warning: the very same FA Cup semi-final, between the same Liverpool and Notts Forest, was held at the very same Hillsborough the previous season, 1988. Overcrowding, lack of ground safety measures and incompetent policing had led to a near-disaster, with fans crushed, but no fatalities.
But absolutely nothing was done to improve matters by 1989, either by Sheffield Wednesday’s profit-conscious owners or South Yorkshire Police.
They framed the dead!
People at the match told me 25 years ago how they arrived to utter chaos. There was no proper stewarding of fans, with only two policemen outside Leppings Lane! Fans thronged into the middle terraces, even though the side terraces were half empty.
Whilst doing nothing to address this, senior police officers vastly compounded the crush by ordering the opening of Gate C (one of the Leppings Lane exits) – to reduce the logjam at the turnstiles.
Instead of delaying the kick-off, they shoved thousands of fans through Gate C and turnstiles like cattle. Disastrously, Gate C led them straight down a steep tunnel into the already-overcrowded middle sections.
In their vilification of the dead and injured, the same police chiefs who ordered the opening of Gate C then told the media that afternoon that the gate had been smashed down by fans – a malicious strand to their lies about “drunken, ticketless Liverpool fans” being the cause of the disaster.
As the crush began, rows of police, three deep, lined up outside the cages at the goalmouth where people were dying. Eyewitnesses told me how police ignored pleas for help: shoved the fence back into position when fans desperately tried to smash it down as a means of escape; refused to help a child gasping for breath who was passed over the heads of fans; truncheoned a group of fans who managed to get onto the pitch to try and rip down railings.
This callous failure to act as a rescue service largely lay in the previous training of police as unthinking, obedient servants of the police chiefs, who in turn deployed their forces on behalf of the Tories against mining communities and disaffected young people, and whose attitude to Liverpool working class people in particular was steeped in class hatred.
Tory hatred of Liverpool
It is no coincidence the police mercilessly doctored the evidence, to smear Liverpool fans and hide their own scandalous role. Thatcher’s Tory government’s fingerprints were all over this monstrous frame up.
Only four years earlier, hundreds of thousands of the city’s working class, led by socialists in general strikes and demos of 50-60,000 for jobs and services, won £60m in government funds in a massive defeat of Thatcher's Tories.
Liverpool was an inspiration to workers across the UK and beyond; the target of ruthless revenge by the Tories and their media lickspittles.
Thatcher made the trip north the day after the Disaster to meet South Yorkshire Police chiefs. In part to defend her loyal protectors during the momentous class confrontation with the miners in 1984-5 - but also fueled by the Tories’ desire to avenge their government’s 1984 defeat by the rebellious Scouse working class, led by socialists.
In their demonisation of Liverpool, the press didn't even wait for the dead to be buried before spewing out their vitriol.
A Sheffield Tory MP, Irvine Patnick, passed the Sun a packet of vicious lies, peddled by police chiefs, which the Murdoch rag gleefully published. This accused Liverpool fans of being “drunken animals”, of “urinating on the dead and police”, of “mugging dead bodies”, of “assaulting firefighters”. Sales of the Sun have never recovered since on Merseyside.
Boris Johnson, now Tory London Mayor, wrote in the Spectator magazine after Hillsborough that Liverpool “is wallowing in victim status”.
Several Inquiries and successive Tory and Labour governments buried the truth, terrified of the backlash against institutions that the rich rely on to maintain their power. But they reckoned without the Hillsborough Justice campaigners, who were adamant in their demand ‘Never again – justice for the 96′.
Monument to the 96
I stand by the words I wrote in April 1989:
"They are desperate to cover up the real culprits – the police, the Tory ministers, the football clubs who just want our ticket money. They do nothing about the clapped out, unsafe grounds, which are part of the whole rotten free enterprise system which the Tories and their press uphold…
The unity of working class people in this hour of sorrow cuts across the rivalries which big business fosters in order to reap profits…
One day the silent, choked up rage of these two million people [the number who poured into Anfield to pay tribute to the 96 the first week after the tragedy - RV] will be turned on the authorities responsible for this needless suffering and death. They will erect the best possible monument to the fallen 96 – a society where men, women and children can work, rest and play without fear of poverty or death for profit’s sake."