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.