A cover up of 96 dead

by Hassan Mahamdallie

"The fans who died were smeared by the press in collusion with the police"

AT FOOTBALL grounds across the country fans have been standing for a minute's silence, remembering those who died at Hillsborough ten years ago. On Thursday members of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign were due to gather at Anfield, Liverpool, to lay 96 roses as a mark of respect for those men, women and children who were crushed to death at the Sheffield ground.

The Hillsborough disaster stands as a stark condemnation of the police's attitude to working class people. It is an example, as we have seen in the Stephen Lawrence case and many others, of how people find themselves battling against an establishment cover up of injustice. Kevin Robinson of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign told Socialist Worker last week, "Ninety six people died at Hillsborough. There are over 400 survivors still traumatised today. They never came back from the match either. We've had suicides. We've got a lad who was 15 at the time. He's spent the last eight years certified in hospital because of what happened. The link is there between Stephen Lawrence and Hillsborough. The police are still a law unto themselves. The government gives more and more powers to the police, CS spray and stop and search, and they use them against you and I."

Not one police officer has been disciplined as a result of Hillsborough. The Liverpool fans who had turned up to watch their team play Nottingham Forest at the Sheffield Hillsborough ground on 15 April 1989 were branded "hooligans" by sections of the press. But the crush that led to the carnage was not their fault. It was the fault of the police who opened a gate allowing thousands of fans to pour into an already packed stadium. The fans were then crushed behind spike topped fences. It was Chief Superintendent Duckenfield who ordered the gate to be opened, only to lie and say the fans had forced it open. Duckenfield escaped disciplinary action after he later retired on a full pension on medical grounds. The police did not see ordinary people trying to escape death. They saw a pitch invasion. So the police pushed back desperate people as they tried to scale the fence.

The day after the disaster the Sun front page ran: "The Truth: Some Fans Picked Pockets Of Victims. Some Fans Urinated On The Brave Cops. Some Fans Beat Up PC Giving Kiss Of Life". Sun editor Kelvin Mackenzie had wanted to use the banner headline "You Scum". The Sun lost around 200,000 copies a day after a protest boycott spread through Merseyside and beyond.

Then the police cover up began. The documentation from the internal police inquiry, including thousands of witness statements, lay for years in the headquarters of South Yorkshire police. Much of it still remains out of reach. When some police officers' statements were released last year it was found that they had been altered. As Phil Scraton says in his book, Hillsborough: The Truth, one "former officer recounted how he received back [from police headquarters] a word-processed version of his recollections. It was annotated, sentences scored out, words altered. Someone had systematically gone through his recollections and reshaped them." These doctored statements formed the basis of the police inquiry, the inquest which returned verdicts of "accidental death", and the 1990 Taylor public inquiry.

Last year's ineffectual review of Hillsborough ordered by present home secretary Jack Straw understated the truth when it said that "there was a tendency to remove opinion and intemperate language about senior officers but leave in similar material about misbehaviour of Liverpool fans." That is why when one Norman Bettison was appointed Merseyside's new chief constable last October people hit the roof. "People are so disgusted to see that there is no justice yet. A cover up has being going on for ten years, but we intend to keep the fight going", says Kevin Robinson.