The Hillsborough police briefing and official propaganda

Posted: March 15, 2012 in Current affairs, LIverpool FC, The Footie

Commemorating the Hillsborough Disaster. 20th Anniversary, Anfield.

The recent leak to BBC Radio 4’s World At One (15 March) of confidential cabinet papers on the Hillsborough disaster provides a fascinating insight into the workings of official propaganda. The papers recall a series of briefings given by Merseyside Police to Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, just four days after the disaster; essentially, they supported the view of colleagues in South Yorkshire Police that Liverpool fans were to blame for the deaths of the 98.

We have always known in the aftermath of the disaster that the police had privileged access to the media and to the very centre of government; and thus the opportunity to get their version of events on the record in public and in private as quickly as possible. Indeed, the scurrilous news headlines at the time, blaming the fans and exonerating the police operation at the ground that day, were not simply media inventions. In all likelihood they derived from police briefings, whose version of events and the headlines it generated are actually still believed by many today.

The Sun's take on the Hillsborough Disaster, 1989. All lies and no doubt sourced to police briefings.

It was very reminiscent of how quickly and effectively the British Army promoted its false version of events on Bloody Sunday in Derry on 30th January 1972, telling the British and international media that the 13 people shot dead by paratroopers that day were nail bombers and gunmen when in fact they were all innocent.  The army propaganda machine was so successful at this that some remarked on how quickly lies march around the world before the truth gets its boots on. The Widgery Inquiry into Bloody Sunday, just 11 weeks later, shamefully accepted and endorsed the army version and it took nearly 40 years for the Saville Inquiry to establish the truth that all 13 victims were innocent and for the British Prime Minister to formally accept this in parliament.

This is the kind of thing the Hillsborough families have faced ever since the loss of their loved ones in 1989. They’ve heard the lies of the media; they’ve seen the injustice of the inquest with its verdict of “accidental death” rather than “unlawful killing”; they’ve had the flawed verdict of the original Hillsborough (or Taylor) Inquiry of 1989, which left many questions unanswered but at least concluded that the police bore primary responsibility for what happened that day; and they’ve had to bear the insult of the Blair-sponsored judicial review by Lord Stuart-Smith in 1998, which decided there was no new  evidence on which to challenge the original Taylor Report.

Most recently came the news that the release of thousands of confidential papers that might help answer still unanswered questions would be delayed until this Autumn at the earliest because of the sheer weight of information they contain. Sheila Cole of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign accepts the reasons for the delay but she and many others will think it curious indeed that this particular document is being leaked now. We don’t know who leaked it and what interest they have in perpetuating the lies about how and why the disaster happened, which is a problem in itself. But the Hillsborough families, Liverpool Football Club and Liverpool fans everywhere will no doubt have strong suspicions that the police are, once again, getting their version out before the full range of papers are released, papers that might rightfully damn the police version once and for all, answer the still unanswered questions, and vindicate the finding of the original Hillsborough Inquiry that the fault for the disaster lay fully and squarely with the police and their operation at the ground that day.

Though I’m sorry to say personally and as someone brought up in Derry during the Troubles, I don’t hold out too much hope that the families will get justice from the British police anytime soon.

  1. Rab says:

    Here’s the Artist Taxi Driver on the leaked papers. Thought this might interest you. He’s very, very angry…

    • That’s deadly, comrade! Thanks!

      I will have to post url on the version I did for the LIverpool site – don’t think they’d let me embed it though! 😀 It’s really censorious. So I can’t use the word “Bloody” in the context of “Bloody Sunday”. Neither would they use the word “nastiness” in the context of the Sun’s brand of journalism.

      It is pretty disgusting, though. After everything the Hillsborough families have been through, fighting to get through to people that the police with the help of the media told a pack of lies, the BBC is somehow happy to republish same lies on the basis of an anonymous leak. And every time I think the Beeb might be doing something right for a change, they come along and stick their noses in the trough – right in there with the Red Tops that they’re always so sniffy and superior about. Feck’s sake. Or as they might on the Liverpool site…Heaven’s above!

  2. Rab says:

    I’ve been thinking recently. Actually this has been slowly creeping for a while… but would it really be so bad if the BBC fucked off? I know that’s heresy in some circles. But other than the fact that that I believe in public service broadcasting, I cannot formulate a single argument in defense of BBC news or drama. I generalise a little but only a little. I don’t expect it to be in the vanguard of the revolution but its obsequiousness in the face of power means that it is utterly incapable of providing the public service that is its duty. Ironically for someone who once thought of himself as a defender of the Beeb, i look along my television drama DVD collection and I am struck by how much of it comes from ITV. Did the BBC make Hillsborough? Or either of the Bloody Sunday films? Shameless? The Royle Family? Most of Bleasdale’s work? John Pilger? What was the last documentary he made for the BBC?

    • It’s the dead hand of consensus broadcasting, comrade!

      I too find myself thinking that we must defend the BBC because it’s somehow the best we have and, after all, we’re supposed to be its funders via the license so we have an interest in keeping it honest bla, bla, bla ad nauseum. But the question that nags at the back of the mind is: whose consensus does the BBC represent? In terms of politics, the UK electorate is split asunder – the old two party system is dead. Identity? The Beeb goes on about representing “the nation” yet is there any common or majority idea about what Britain is or what being British means? So in fact the consensus the BBC presumes to represent is narrowly liberal and elitist and is about as relevant to contemporary Britain as David Dimbleby is to the woman at the back with the purple top.

      Damn…I feel another post coming on.

  3. Mikey says:

    Ah! A chance to air a few questions:

    1. Why was it possible for fans to receive crush injuries uder any circumstances in a stadium designed for lots of people to watch football in safety? Was no consdieration given to how exits and entrances could be wrongly used?

    2. Why were fans (English ones, of course) held to blame over the collapse of the Heysel Stadium when any civic structure designed to take a load is (in responsible civil engineer paid enough to the job properly world) actually OVER stressed – that is, it should equal to several times the load it might reasonably be expted to carry?

    This is where REAL health and safety begins – not with “council conkers bonkers”, which is the excuse used by deregulators who never expect THEIR families to use trains (Grayrigg, Potters Bar) or go to football etc.

    Is there anyone out there who knows a factual answer to these points?


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