David Cameron says that all Cabinet papers relating to the Hillsborough disaster will be handed over to a commission set to investigate the truth behind exactly what happened on that day in April 1989.

The move comes after 100,000 people signed an epetition on the Number 10 website that forced a Commons debate on the subject and follows over 20 years of lobbying from MPs and charities.

But the Hillsborough Justice Campaign has also called on The Sun newspaper to publish any documents relating to its sources for a number of horrendous, false allegations subsequently rubbished by the Taylor report.

These sources – the same sources quoted conservatively and subsequently retracted in other news sources – amounted to a few officers within the South Yorkshire police, determined to cover their own backs and apportion the blame elsewhere, and Tory MP Irvine Patnick who was reportedly the source for The Sun’s front page report.

The man personally responsible for mocking up the notorious “The Truth” front page was Kelvin MacKenzie. MacKenzie apologised for printing the allegations that LFC fans picked the pockets of dead fans, urinated on police trying to help stricken fans and abused the corpse of a young girl – but he then retracted his apology. He has since been unrepentant on the matter.

Here’s what The Sun’s newsroom made of the front page, recounted by Peter Chippendale and Chris Horrie in their book Stick it Up Your Punter!: The Uncut Story of the “Sun” Newspaper.

“As MacKenzie’s layout was seen by more and more people a collective shudder ran through the office, [but] MacKenzie’s dominance was so total there was nobody left in the organisation who could rein him in except Murdoch.

“Everyone seemed paralysed, ‘looking like rabbits in the headlights’, as one hack described them. The error staring them in the face was too glaring. It obviously wasn’t a silly mistake; nor was it a simple oversight.

“Nobody really had any comment on it – they just took one look and went away shaking their heads in wonder at the enormity of it. It was a ‘classic smear’.”

A toxic mix of politicians, police forces and right-wing press birthed the lies about Hillsborough, but Kelvin MacKenzie was at the heart of it. Reportedly with odds with the rest of the Sun newsroom over the credence he gave to the lies that had emerged from the South Yorkshire Police and a Patnick, MacKenzie took it upon himself to dress up the worst of the allegations as hard fact.

It is to be hoped that the new documents give some sense of closure or comfort to the people involved – and it’s important that the whole sorry business is brought out into the light; 22 years on all the relevant parties seem to be in agreement on that one.

Well, almost all. As of today The Sun has neglected to print one article over the last month related to the release of documents outside of its sport section. Seemingly the story isn’t considered important.

MacKenzie too has been uncharacteristically silent – despite the high media profile afforded to him by the Daily Mail, BBC and Guardian.

The Sun attempted to apologise for its Hillsborough coverage in 2004, but until the day all the relevant parties offer a fulsome apology and acknowledge their role in one the vilest smears perpetrated in British journalism, Hillsborough will remain a chapter in Liverpool’s history with no end in sight.

Image by Eric The Fish (2011), Flickr

2 Responses to “Hillsborough: A classic smear”

  1. R S Davies

    The Hillsborough disaster and the media response to it is not entirely dissimilar in relation to the medias’ stance towards Liverpool as that of the Holocaust in relation to antisemitism. As with antisemitism, antipathy towards Liverpool and its inhabitants in the media was well established long before Hillsborough. What Hilsborough, initial media claims, Liverpool’s reaction and the subsequent inquiry have done it end the pattern of anti-Liverpool sentiment for the most part.

    Anti-Liverpool sentiment seems from my experience & observation to be as thoroughly irrational as antisemitism, and just as pernicious. The defamatory allegations made by the Sun about the behavior of Liverpool fans has resonance with the obscene claims made by the Nazis about Jews.

    This attitude of the Sun especially is particularly revealing. While on one hand it was happy to defame Scousers at Hilsborough, the Sun claimed the armed forces as it’s own – the armed forces where Scousers are overrepresented in the ranks. It bizarrely has parallels with Nazi Germany. The Nazis were similarly obssessed with their armed forces, but conveniently overlooked / ignored the fact that by the end of WW1 German Jews were 12 times more likely to hold the Iron Cross for bravery than their non-Jewish counterparts. German Jews were also far more likely to volunteer for the trenches and to return there than non-Jews.

    Perhaps like Jews, Scousers are the “Other” that an inadequate England needs as an object of hatred. Perhaps like the Jews, Scousers can only look to themselves to end this.

  2. I think the comparison between scousers and Jews horribly ill-conceived to be honest. I think the Sun’s coverage boiled down to one man’s hatred of an entire class of people. Liverpool just happened to be the most chippy, and made itself a a target as a result.

    There’s a good reason that there’s a theoretical law about invoking Nazis in internet debate – it slingshots any debate or discussion into absurdity and horrible hyperbole.

    To compare the treatment Liverpool has received – admittedly terrible on a frequent basis but comparable to the treatment meted out by various media and governments to various other regions and minorities over the years – to that suffered by Jews during the Holocaust is terribly misguided and in rather poor taste.

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