Socialist Worker

'We know that the Hillsborough cover-up came right from the top'

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2321

The Hillsborough disaster which killed 96 football fans, and the cover-up that followed, are indictments of the entire political system.

After last week’s publication of an independent report into the disaster, some politicians and media commentators have tried to limit blame to a few individuals.

But as Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman put it, the case shows “the corruption of the society we live in”.

“We have no doubt whatsoever that the cover-up came from the top,” she said. “It might have been orchestrated on the day by South Yorkshire Police but Margaret Thatcher met them the next day. Clearly she was looking to protect them.”

The families of Hillsborough victims wanted details of what the Tory prime minister and the cops discussed. But the report says there are no records.

Sheila feels the report “let Thatcher off the hook”. She says West Midlands Police, who were in charge of investigating South Yorkshire Police in the aftermath of the disaster, “also got off scot-free”. “This was the same force that put away the Birmingham Six for 17 years,” she adds.

And while Sheila welcomes the report’s vindication of Liverpool fans and their families, she points out that it “is still an establishment version of events”. “There’s no evidence from survivors in the report,” she says. “All the evidence comes from authorities.”

For Sheila, the disaster can’t be separated from a wider political context. “This was a context of the battering of the working class by Margaret Thatcher’s government,” she says.

This affected how ordinary people were seen. Sheila says, “Football supporters were treated like animals. The terminology employed is animal terminology. Fans would be ‘corralled’ or ‘herded’ into ‘pens’. They were treated as sub-human.”

Some people look at the policing and cover-up of the Hillsborough disaster and claim that things are different now. Yet Sheila says she worries about how groups of people are policed today.

“You only have to look at Ian Tomlinson who died during protests in London,” she said. “There is an agenda that anyone protesting or exercising their democratic rights is viewed through a negative lens. It’s then a green light to treat people in a particular way.”

Sheila is clear that the fight for justice for Hillsborough victims, survivors and families will go on. Describing the original inquests as “corrupted by the police”, she says there should be fresh inquests and criminal proceedings against those responsible for the deaths.

“This isn’t the end,” she says. “But it won’t be a quick thing. The key is keeping it high-profile. The mainstream media exploit the emotion of Hillsborough. That lets the government off the hook.

“They don’t want the facts, they want to see people crying. But we haven’t got this far by crying. We never shied away from being political or proactive. If you wait for the state to do the right thing you’re going to be waiting a long time.”

Inquest failed to find out how 96 died

The coroner at the inquest into the deaths at Hillsborough, Dr Stefan Popper, initially said he wasn’t sure if post mortems were necessary.

That’s because, within 24 hours of the disaster, he’d decided that “a probable conclusion would be traumatic asphyxia” for all who had died.

Popper refused to look at any evidence after 3.15pm. He said this was based on pathologists’ reports that by that time it would have been impossible to save those who later died.

Pathologists claimed that irreversible brain damage resulting from asphyxia would occur within four to six minutes. But the panel found evidence that 41 out of the 96 who died could have survived if they had been able to get access to emergency services.

And it found that, “the portrayal of an unvaryingly rapid and inevitable death was not supported by the post mortem findings in a substantial number of cases”.

It said, “In 28 [cases] the findings described clearly do not support the occurrence of ‘classic’ traumatic asphyxia”. In other words they did not die straight away from crush injuries.

It said that had people been given proper medical attention and placed in the recovery position, they may have survived. Crucially it found evidence of cerebral oedema (an excess of fluid in the brain) among some victims.

This can lead to coning, which is when pressure on the brain pushes parts of it towards the spinal cord. It was “clearly described in 31 of the post mortem records”. This was “sufficient to cause coning in 16 of these”.

Cerebral oedema “takes significant time to develop and longer to progress to the point at which coning occurs”. Its existence shows that some of the dead survived longer than a few minutes.

The panel notes that the most seriously ill victims who subsequently survived also had cerebral oedema. The report adds that this evidence “clearly challenges the assumption that their condition was irreversible”.

Why aren’t these three in jail?

Sir Norman Bettison, chief constable, West Yorkshire Police

Bettison is the most senior officer involved with the Hillsborough policing operation who is still serving. He says he has “nothing to hide”.

Even after last week’s report exonerated Liverpool fans, Bettison claimed they had made policing “harder than it needed to be”.

For some reason he is now a “Sir” and head of West Yorkshire Police. He should lose his knighthood and get the sack.

Paul Middup, Police Federation spokesperson

Middup played a key role in spreading lies about the disaster. He said, “I am sick of hearing how good the crowd were. They were arriving tanked up on drink.” He told the lurid tales of fans urinating on officers and victims, stealing from the dead and attacking police.

The day after the disaster he called the fans a “mob” and said “what can you do?” Middup still works at South Yorkshire Police headquarters.

Sir Irvine Patnick, then Tory MP for Sheffield Hallam

Patnick was a local Tory MP in Sheffield at the time of the disaster. He was instrumental in defending the cops.

Patnick went on TV within hours calling for pubs to be closed near football grounds when matches take place—and saying fans could be breathalysed.

He is another of those implicated in the cover-up who has been knighted. If David Cameron was really “sorry”, he would take it off him.

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