The appalling tragedy at Hillsborough was a disaster waiting to happen. Years of politicians and police branding football fans as mindless hooligans ensured near a hundred died when they were herded into cages from which there was no escape.
Police sparked the tragedy by packing thousands more into the Liverpool end of the ground than it could take.
They made matters worse by:
- Refusing to open gates on to the pitch. When fans climbed over the eight foot fence, they were thrown back into the crowd.
- Refusing to help fans desperately trying to tear down the fence.
- Busying themselves cordoning off the Liverpool fans from Nottingham supporters supporters caged at the other end.
But the root of the tragedy lay in police treatment of football fans as little more than animals – to be herded, abused, caged and finally crushed behind wire mesh.
It was the fans themselves, many only just emerged from the suffocating throng, who provided first aid and ferried survivors, the dead and the dying away.
Why couldn’t 800 officers, with the most sophisticated equipment on hand, manage the crowd? Why couldn’t cameras which can spot a “trouble maker” at 100 yards, warn of the impending disaster?
South Yorkshire chief constable Peter Wright remained unrepentant, continuing to blame the fans.
In a grotesque slip of the tongue he revealed his true feelings about working class football crowds. “The accident”, he said, “was caused by the crowd of people at the Lemming Lane end.”
Wright is the man who oversaw police operations during the 1981 Toxteth riots and at Orgreave in 1984.
Thatcher shares his view, as she made clear after the Heysel tragedy in 1985. “There are three sources of violence in our society,” she said. “Ulster, football hooliganism and picket line violence.”
On Monday home secretary Douglas Hurd vowed the government would press on with its national identity card scheme, a measure that can only increase the chance of similar disasters.
He claimed Hillsborough was a result of the authorities’ efforts to avoid disasters caused by “hooligans”.
But no one ever died from running on a football pitch. No one would have died at Heysel – where safety measures had been ignored for decades – if a crumbling wall had not collapsed.
More restrictions on fans won’t improve safety, nor will more police. Those Liverpool fans died because government and police refused to treat them as human beings. And all the Tories propose is more of the same.