Context of the Hillsborough Cover-Up 107

It is plain that Home Office officials had a very good, immediate understanding of the causes of the Hillsborough Disaster. Having spent twelve hours reading through the documents released, and drawing on my experience as a senior civil servant, for me the key document is the briefing for the Home Secretary’s statement to the House of Commons two days after the disaster.

On pages 16 and 17 of this PDF, are some of the the “supplementaries” which civil servants prepare (indexed answers replying to possible follow-up questions which MPs may ask in debate). Here a civil servant has prepared for the Home Secretary answers on whether the Hillsborough Ground complied with the “Guide on Safety at Sports Grounds”. His answers include these:

3. Does the ground comply with the guide?

(A) Entry turnstiles – appears unlikely
(B) Rate of Entry with Route – Not when gate opened, well overloaded
(C) Stewards/Police – Not clear yet whether numbers and dispersal adequate
(D) Entry to Terrace from Route – Need to see plans – Appears there were no control barriers
(E) Radial/Lateral Gangways – Need to see plans – Film indicated that these were not defined or kept clear
(F) Crash Barriers – Engineer’s statement that they were tested and complied for strength
(G) Pitch Perimeter Fence – From film it appears that emergency gates are rather narrow and limited in number

So just two days after the disaster, and one day after Thatcher’s and Hurd’s visit to the site, there was a full understanding of the actual causes of the disaster. There is no mention of hooliganism or crowd violence or alcohol in the Civil Servant’s briefing. But – exactly as the Murdoch media’s campaign of demonisation of the Liverpool fans was getting into full swing – Douglas Hurd has put his pen through all the above list of causes and written “Matters for the Inquiry”. Not to be told to Parliament.

So the government knew the truth, but decided to suppress it while the media vilifaction flew, pending the “Taylor Inquiry” which is unanimously now accepted to have been badly skewed.

Yet Hurd’s meeting with Taylor on 26 April 1989 lifts the lid on how “independent” these “judge-led” inquiries really are, with Hurd telling Taylor not just what the government would like him to say but precisely when it would be helpful to the government for him to say it.

If you read that minute through, you will see that Hurd shows no interest at all in the question of what happened at Hillsborough. This is only mentioned by Taylor, three quarters of the way through the meeting, which is overwhelmingly about Hurd steering Taylor to support the government’s position on compulsory membership cards for football clubs.

Justice for the victims of Hillsborough was plainly nowhere on Hurd’s list of priorities.

Anyone who lived through the Thatcher years will never forget her demonisation of “The enemy within”. My belief is that you cannot understand the government cover-up of Hillsborough without putting it in the context of Thatcher’s successful drive to remodel society on neo-conservative lines by economic deregulation and making the country fit for banker capitalists to become incredibly rich.

There is to me a psychological connection between the terrible, bitter and eminently avoidable confrontation with the miners, the poll tax, and the attitude to Hillsborough of Thatcher, Hurd and Murdoch. Football terraces were nothing if not a display of community solidarity between working people. Furthermore the police were used in paramilitary fashion by Thatcher against the miners and poll tax rioters: of course they would be supported as in the right at Hillsborough.

None of which helps the bereaved, and in many ways yesterday’s assertion that almost half the victims had some potential to be saved given a better police and emergency response must be just awful for them. I cannot fully imagine how they feel, though of course I am pleased that the shadow of official blame has been lifted.

But I also hope strongly that the undoubted evidence of co-ordinated cover-up and massive doctoring of documents helps people come to an understanding that government cannot be trusted. The lies about ticketless Liverpool fans leaping turnstiles reminded me of the lie about Jean Charles De Menezes leaping a turnstile – a lie also propounded by the Police and Murdoch.

Government conspiracies do indeed happen. They happen more often than you think.

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107 thoughts on “Context of the Hillsborough Cover-Up

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  • Jives

    Thatcher,Cameron,Blair,Murdoch,The Sun,News International,the Guardian,Daily Mail,Telegraph,BBC,ITV,Channel 4,Scotsman,Record,Herald,Independent,the Spooks,the Freemasons…et al..

    They’re all in it together.

    If you can’t see that you’re blind.

  • Mary

    Back to Bliar, Straw and Sir John Morris now Baron Morris of Aberavon, respectivly Prime Minister, Home Secretary and Attorney General in 1998.

    Hillsborough: Police cover-up ‘known for years’

    Tributes to those who died were left at the Hillsborough Memorial at Liverpool’s Anfield stadium

    Continue reading the main story
    Hillsborough papers
    Chief apologises over statement
    Thatcher row over police cover-up
    Key excerpts
    Key findings

    Files detailing police cover ups over the Hillsborough disaster were given to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) 14 years ago, it has been claimed.

    Alun Jones QC led a private prosecution for manslaughter against senior police officers who were in charge when 96 Liverpool fans died in April 1989.

    Mr Jones said the CPS needed to explain why it did “absolutely nothing”.

    A report published on Wednesday laid bare a police cover-up which attempted to shift the blame on to the victims.

    Writing in the Independent newspaper, Mr Jones said the Hillsborough Family Support Group launched the private prosecution of Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield and his deputy Bernard Murray because of the Director of Public Prosecutions’s (DPP) failure to act.

    Mr Jones wrote in the newspaper: “We furnished the DPP, and Attorney General, with an analysis demonstrating the gravity of the conspiracy, but also proving that critical evidence of non-police witnesses had been withheld from the DPP and coroner in 1990.


  • Courtenay Barnett

    @ Nevermind,

    Between 1969 to 1999 – over 1,000 dead while in police custody and not one conviction..duh..huh.

    “I hope that every policeman who has perverted the course of justice is punished, not just investigated.
    Why should this stop at investigating? when the force of the law is unable to enforce the law within its own organisation.”

    And then Blair preses his views post the Stephen Lawrence cae, indicating the endemic racism within the Metropolitan Police.

    So then the statement:-

    “”I hope that every policeman who has perverted the course of justice is punished, not just investigated.
    Why should this stop at investigating? when the force of the law is unable to enforce the law within its own organisation.”

  • dunwich

    I’m afraid I’m not sure I’m quite as impressed by the Panel’s report as Craig and the rest of the media seem to be. Almost any criticism seems to be completely off bounds to the extent that on CiF for example, almost any mildly contrary position has been modded. It seems to me rather more scepticism is required and for the following reasons.

    First, this was a very oddly composed panel. It had 7 members. It was led by the Bishop of Liverpool (why a bishop? and why the bishop of Liverpool of all places?) who seems to have viewed the whole thing as a pastoral exercise, and it had two members who had taken quite strong positions on the Hillsborough previously, one having written a book on it supportive of the families, the other having produced a film.

    Secondly, we’re being invited to believe that finally we’ve got the truth, yet it seems to me the bare bones of the panel’s report do no more than restate findings made by Taylor at the time. Yes there may have been attempts by the police to shift the blame, but the case put forward by the police had been rejected at the time. There was an attempt at a cover up and – read Taylor – it failed.

    There’s only one area where it seems to me that something new may have emerged and that’s in the allegation that some of those who died might have survived if they had been treated properly, with a unusually precise figure (40 something was it) for the number of victims to which this applied. I’m not entirely convinced about this. It rather suggests to me an approach that wasn’t really very vigorous.

    My own view is that the police made some pretty gross mistakes, and that Taylor took a sensible and practical approach in his recommendations by looking at what could be changed and how crowds could be managed safely, rather than as the police and the government at the time might have preferred, simply blame it on the fans.

    I can’t help feeling however that to insist that no Liverpool fans played any part whatever in the events that ensued that day must be wholly unrealistic. It is perhaps a product of a bizarre football culture which insist that one’s own tribe are beyond fault at all times, and everyone is against you.

    I’d go further however and suggest that until that can be admitted by football fans and the people of Liverpool, then any supposed “closure” will be a false one.

  • CE


    What ‘part’ do you think some liverpool fans played in the tragedy?

    They just wanted to watch a football match and support their team. Was it their fault that the ground and the emergency services present were not fit for purpose?

  • Gatsby


    Really. You think that the fans were encouraging the police to herd them more tightly into the pens so more would die perhaps.

  • dunwich

    Well I rather think that if no one at the back is pushing, no one at the front gets crushed against a fence. Not read anything to convince me otherwise.

  • Guy Ropes

    ….but still suspicions remain. The Families Support Group (alone) received advice on Sunday morning regarding future actions which they could implement to get ‘justice’ – from Charlie Falconer and Michael Mansfield – which is confidential and will remain so (but which I am absolutely convinced is correct and impartial). Reading respective histories of The Families Support Group and The Justice Campaign though, one cannot be but very uneasy about who ultimately might have their (unseen?)hand on the tiller here in the search for a final and just conclusion.

  • Gatsby


    You are assuming that the people at the back were not being herding into an already overcrowded pen and knew about those being crushed at the front. By telepathy perhaps. Once you start being crushing instinct make you want to push back to avoid the crush. In a crowd you can be both crushed and doing the crushing. Crowd control is something for those who have or should have full knowledge, and one of the first things to do is avoid overcrowding at all costs. There is no suggestion of riot or fighting so you cannot blame the fans. Would you blame the audience (apart from the initiator) if someone in a cinema shouted falsely that there was a fire and people were killed in the scramble to get out. Indeed would you blame then if there was a real fire and most people were killed by the crush not the fire.

  • Harris Tweed


    You’re letting your prejudice show.

    A crowd is fluid, it has mass and momentum. The bodies at the back were being herded into destinations from which there was no escape – pens designed for 1600 holding 3000.

    It was a completely predictable disaster which the police should have anticipated. When they realised the full scale of their cockup, they put the blame onto the Scousers, and everyone – media, politicians, police and the population in general, gleefully lapped it up as the typical antics of worthless Liverpool scum.

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  • Mark

    Craig reminds us that South Yorkshire had been used in a paramilitary fashion by Thatcher and her gang in achieving her goals during the miners strike and the Met in similar fashion during the poll tax riots. This also happened at the notorious Battle of the Beanfield, near Stonehenge. A few years later, in May 1994 I witnessed public order situations being deliberately created by police at Fratton Park Portsmouth to achieve prosecutions and again by the Met on an anti Criminal Justice Bill March in October of the same year. Plus the Welling bookshop riot where the accounts I read at the time were corroborated by one of the policeman placed in danger by foolish(?) management. Reading Craig’s analysis here, and the linked memo of a meeting between Douglas Hurd and Sir Peter Taylor an awful thought occurs. What if these events were deliberately created, like the others to which I bear witness, in pursuit of policy objectives which were clearly well advanced? Hurd is very persistent in pursuit of support for his membership card policy, with no interest in the causes. This would explain the astonishing decision to replace the experienced senior officer so close to the day with someone who was confident he would not need to take his colleague’s advice, despite the under reported near miss of the previous year. What if instead of making an error Duckenfield was following a plan the consequences of which had not been fully thought through?

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