Dear Good Morning Scotland – an apology
But first let me explain.
Hillsborough is one of those events in life when you will forever remember where you were and what you were doing when it happened.
I was in the pub, having spent the first part of the day in the library revising (sic) for my finals. We had just settled down with our pints and everyone in the pub had their necks craned to watch the wee TVs up high in the corner of the ceiling. It was packed. There was a lot of hub bub and excitement. In those days, we didn’t get a 24/7 diet of football so cup semi-finals were a big deal to football fans of any persuasion.
But what we saw unfold caused the babble to ebb away until we all sat and stood in disbelieving silence at what we were seeing. Beer never tasted so bad: few could finish their drinks. People – grown men even – began crying openly. Still no one uttered a word. Some shrugged on their coats and hurried home, to be with loved ones. By six pm, the pub was empty and we were all at home, in a state of shock.
The appalling lies printed in the aftermath by the Sun about rioting fans robbing dead people and urinating on supposedly heroic policemen did not tally with all that we had seen. There were no riots. There were no thugs. Anyone watching the TV could see that this was a tragedy, a terrible thing to happen, caused by who knew what then, but certainly not football hooligans. So many of us who witnessed Hillsborough happen knew right from the start that something smelled rotten.
It’s important, too, to understand the context of time and place. Hillsborough came at the end of a decade of Thatcherism, whose political philosophy was to reinforce class divides. We had had an escalation of the troubles in Northern Ireland and the hunger strikes; we had had inner city and race riots; we had had mass unemployment; we had had the dismantling of mining communities and traditions, aided and abetted by brutal policing of the strike in 1984.
We had a working class way of life which was being compelled into extinction. And every Saturday, we marched in protest. Young people like me were utterly politicised by what was going on all around us, all over these islands. It is hard to believe now, but the 80s were an edgy and a brutal decade where at any moment, you sensed that it would all kick off. And Thatcher reigned over it all supreme, nurturing a sense of divide and rule, of them and us.
And love him or loathe him, Derek Hatton as leader of Liverpool City Council refused to give in. He took the fight to Thatcher and was supported by the people of his city to do so. Few of us watched the right wing establishment response to the Hillsborough tragedy and did not suspect that if it had happened to any other community but Liverpool, the response might have been different. This was Liverpool getting its just desserts for refusing to show any modicum of electoral gratitude for such policies as right to buy and inner city regeneration.
So, what the Hillsborough report made plain this week, matters. Not just, although especially, to the families and the community who have campaigned for 23 years for justice, and are still infused with a sense of righteous anger, but to us all. For it shows – definitively – that there was a campaign of concerted cover-up by West Yorkshire police, devised and planned with the help of others, including Tory MPs. And it shows that even when given the opportunity by her Home Secretary to investigate the performance of the police and emergency services on that ill-fated day, the Prime Minister refused and turned her sights instead on football, that bastion of working class maledom, which personified all that she thought wrong with our society. And it shows that everyone and anyone who had ever so much as hinted that those to blame for the death of 96 people and serious injuries of dozens more were the victims themselves were utterly wrong and complicit. And it vindicates all of us who have fostered a righteous wrath against Thatcher and all that she stood for, ever since.
Which was why I was angry that the day after the report’s publication, the feats of a world record-breaking guinea pig and of preparations of some city in the US to honour Neil Armstrong seemed as important to your news agenda as Hillsborough. Because to me, such programming suggested that you, as with most other news outlets in Scotland, had failed to appreciate the enormity of what this report represents. Not just in England, but in Scotland too.
Maybe it’s an age thing but actually that worries me more, that significant events which reflect and shape our times can appear to be dismissed by those too young to have borne witness. Hillsborough was of its time but its happening has stayed with many of us into our adult lives and indeed, has helped shape what those lives have become. It has become a symbol of all that was wrong with those Thatcher years and the report now demonstrates how wrong they were and in so many ways.
And maybe Hillsborough couldn’t happen here, what with our distinctively different policing culture. To which I respond, aye right. Because it could and it does. And to add a little contemporary twist, the creation of a single Scottish police force lacking local democratic scrutiny, with accountability only to its political masters, no matter what caveats are put in place, just made the likelihood – or at least, the possibility – of police graft and corruption on the scale of Hillsborough more likely in 21st Century Scotland.
But the airwaves and press pages in Scotland should have been dominated by Hillsborough, by forensic examination of the details of the report, with layers of reaction, for one reason above all. Because Hillsborough was not a tragic accident but effectively mass murder. Destroying not just 96 lives, but all those injured and who have never properly recovered, and their families too. And when families and a community tenacious as this hold fast for 23 years in their search for the truth, we should all pay our due respects.
So, I apologise for criticising your coverage of Hillborough last week. You are, after all, much better placed than I am to understand what needs to go into three hours of morning news to give it shape and tone and depth. But in doing so, I hope you understand, even a little, what prompted that criticism.