First the Hillsborough Panel report, exonerating Liverpool Football Club fans and laying the blame squarely at the door of the police an emergency services. The role of the media, judiciary, coroner and politicians has also come under strong scrutiny since that day in Liverpool Cathedral – prompting a raft of new apologies and resignations.
The city’s response, through the media, was an understandable mix of anger and relief. But today Liverpool City Council drafted its own response to the new Inquiry’s findings in a meeting that was attended my many of the Hillsborough families.
The cross-party response was proposed by Mayor Joe Anderson, Lib Dem Councillor Richard Kemp and Green Party Councillor Sarah Jennings – and was passed unanimously. It was hard to imagine anyone opposing the movement, yet there were contentious issues included within the motion that arguably stretch the remit of a city council.
Whether the council has the locus to ask the BBC not to employ Kelvin MacKenzie – or suggest that the normal city-wide ban on selling The Sun be extended for a further 23 years – is debatable. Councillor Steve Radford obviously thought so, but his suggested amendments were slapped down so hard by Anderson – a man who can’t utter the word ‘journalists’ without making it sound like an epithet – that no other objections would be forthcoming.
Norman Bettison – Merseyside’s former Chief Constable who was responsible for editing video footage after the disaster designed to shift the blame to Liverpool fans – did not escape scrutiny. Bettison has resigned as the West Yorkshire Police Chief Constable, as seems to be the fashion for police officers with suspected (and confirmed) culpability for the disaster and the subsequent cover-up.
Unless he is convicted Bettison will retain his £83K-per-year pension, his knighthood and honorary fellowship of Liverpool John Moores University; all issues that the council publicly deplores and is seeking to change. The chamber also heard that Bettison had omitted any reference his career prior to October 1989, when he was interviewed by the Merseyside Police Authority before taking up the post of Chief Constable of Merseyside Police.
Councillor Frank Prendergast, who sat on the Authority at the time and stated that the members were unaware of Bettison’s connections with Hillsborough, said that Bettison later claimed that “nothing about Hillsborough embarrasses me” and that he didn’t consider his work in relation to the Hillsborough cover-up relevant to his appointment on Merseyside.
The idea that the former Chief Constable did not judge his time in the South Yorkshire police force – and his work that directly related to the Hillsborough disaster’s aftermath of smearing Liverpool fans – worth mentioning at the time is simply impossible to believe. Rather the failure to mention it suggests a guilty conscience – or at least a recognition that one may have made the other impossible, or at least imprudent.
Hillsborough is never an easy topic to write about, or to spend much time pondering. But to hear first-hand the families of the victims speaking of their desire for justice or, in the case of Councillor Peter Mitchell, an account of what it was to be in Pen Three in the Leppings Lane stand 23 years ago, was sobering and distressing.
As the families filed out, having listened and waited patiently for the vote, I watched them go. They were almost businesslike as they passed me. I have no doubt that they were grateful for the council’s efforts – Joe Anderson was fulsome both in his condemnation of those he clearly believes are responsible for their continued suffering and also in his ongoing support to the families – but the toll of 23 years was clear.
23 years of listening to how their loved ones died, hearing how they were to blame for their own deaths and then learning that, but for the uselessness of emergency services, many of the 93 might have lived. Nearly quarter of a century veering between the rawest of emotions and the dusty procedures of meetings, inquests, committees and interviews. Of recorded minutes, bottled water, stenographers and self-serving bureaucracy.
I felt a little numbed by the discussion of the motion; it’s rare to experience something so powerful first-hand. But for the Hillsborough families it must have been just another day at the office, no matter how appreciated the support is. I suppose that’s what a lifetime in the purgatory of not knowing, of guilt, of anger, of frustration, of poring over the details of how your brothers, fathers, sons and daughters died must do to you.
I still doubt that the likes of Bettison, Patnick and especially MacKenzie have grasped the full horror of what happened to these people over the last 23 years because of their actions. But this stinging response from the council makes it clear that Liverpool is unlikely to forgive or forget those responsible for stigmatising the city and its people; responsible for the perpetration of a modern-day blood libel.
Read the agenda item here