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.

9 thoughts on “Dear Good Morning Scotland – an apology

  1. Pingback: Subjective truth, Singing politicians and Scantily-clad bodies – Scottish Roundup

  2. Have to say I was a little bit confused at GMS’s comparative ignorance of the ramifications of the publications into the Hillsborough report myself. True the particular climate surrounding English Football at that time saw it become the brunt of victimisation – remember Thatcher wanted to bring in ID card schemes while Ken Bates wanted to put up electrified fences all because if you were an English football fan you were seen as a holigan – never really came north. That doesn’t mean that the cover ups and the corruption couldn’t happen here.

    BTW, you are quite right to mention the merging of the Scottish constabularies, not that there was very much accountability with the previous arrangements in the first place.

  3. Yes it was a horrible thing to see and the media coverage of it was just horrific. It was like the worst aspects of the British press coming together at one point. The urination thing really bugged me at the time. There would have been a lot of urination. People were terrified,unable to get out. Others were being crushed and slowly dying. Urination happens in those circumstances. Only a moron could fail to understand that. The whole thing was hideous.

    • To be accurate, if urination-from-fear had given rise to any false claims, it’s more likely to have been tales of drunks staggering around and pissing themselves. Not purposefully stopping to do so on recumbent figures.

      It was pure mendacity.

      ~alec

  4. I was shocked by the report this week.

    We knew why it happened and where the fault lay – The Taylor report was broadly correct

    We knew the Sun lied and published a disgraceful article and that was down to Kelvin Mackenzie personally.

    We knew the police tried to santise, spin and doctor statements – but it was shocking to see the extent of it.

    We knew the authorities treated fans like cattle or criminals and viewed it as public order not safety.

    We knew about the 3.15 cut off time and how that ws wrong

    But I didn’t realise about the failure of the ambulance service and the major incident procedure.

    The fact that the crush having happened they could maybe should have some of the 96 who were not killed straight away.

    I was shocked by the pomposity and foolishness of the coroner’s report which I didn’t fully realise about.

    I was shocked by the failure of the FA, Sheffield Wednesday and presumably the local authority. Leppings Lane was a known death trap. After Bradford we knew fences weren’t safe. The ground didn’t have a safety certificate!!!!

    Why did the FA use Hillsborough? and Sheffield Wednesday knew about the problems of the inadequate turnstiles and the dangers of Leppings Lane – its down sloping tunnel, its pen, its inadequate number control, its tragedy near misses at other games in the 1980s.

    While we are getting the police – quite rightly. Why are we not prosecuting the FA and Sheffield Wednesday. We forget how culpable they were and how foolish the FA were in the 1980s.

    The authorities failed us. The body there to protect us, when push came to shove, just protected itself. It was shocking – an outrage ( a real out rage unlike Kate Middleton’s tits) and profoundly undemocratic and therefor disturbing. Which is why it is still important today and it is important to move ont the next stage in the pursuit of justice.

    But lets not forget the FA and Sheffield Wednesday who i think are as culpable as South Yorkshire Police.

  5. I’m confused – what’s to apologise for?

    Two points of historical context: To go to the football at that time was to be regarded as a lower form of life at that time, frequently by the police and the proposal that you should have an ID Card to attend a football match.

    Thinking back, it’s amazing more people haven’t been killed at matches. The exit from the away terracing at Brockville still haunts me and I still wouldn’t like to have to get out the Main Stand at Tynecastle in a hurry.

    As for South Yorkshire Plod, you could substitute the Met today, and it’s the same heady cocktail of arse-covering, newspapers and politicians. The Met just off people one at a time.

  6. I stayed in Sheffield at the time it happened. I was outside the Crucible Theatre, where I’d just been to see a snooker match, waiting for a friend. “We’re going to the match,” said my friend Emma. “Come along.” Back in those days, despite what some have said about the hooliganism thing, every northerner I knew loved Liverpool – they were just a fantastic team and it was a thrill to watch them play. So I said, well, I’d love to, but I don’t have a ticket. And Emma said, don’t worry, we’re just going to hang around outside. They’ll be showing the match on big screens.

    Big screens! That was rare then and exviting in itself. “Alright,” I said. “I’ll be along when Daz gets here.” But Daz was late, and so I just ended up going home, and it was when I got in that I saw my dad watching it all unfold on Grandstand.

    Sheffield was another place where the population in gebneral never bought the lies. They went all out to help the visiting Liverpool fans that day and stood by them in the years that followed – but for a few folk, anyway. I saw David Blunkett at a meeting about five days later. He seemed really upset, like everyone. So I guess I won’t stop wondering why later, as Home Secretary, he did nothing to expose the truth.

    I was fifteen then. Emma was the same age. She was okay, so I probably would have been too if I’d gone. She said no-one she saw was drinking. The next year I went back and stood outside the gates where red scarves were tied around the blue-painted bars. I stood beside the Liverpool fans under a bright, clear sky. It was completely silent. We all knew the truth and none of us knew what to say.

    Walking down the hill from the stadium, there is (or used to be) a high road that looks out across an industrial wasteland. One couldn’t walk along there, in 1990, and not underatand that that ruin of lives was deliberate, or at best a product of a complete lack of concern. Sheffield, Liverpool, and the industrial heart of Scotland – they all felt the same way. One way or another, they’re still calling us thieves. We’ve always known the truth.

  7. “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.”

    Likelihood? Possibility? Evidence much?

    What a terribly poor taqste thing to say, and to try and hitch disagreement with the single police service onto the Hillsborough situation is no less saddening than to report it on a par with a guinea pig. Sometimes people should just treat an issue with the dignity it deserves, rather than use it as a trojan horse for their own petty agendas.

    • Concurring with Bob. I have my doubts about a single Police force for reasons such as the wide geographical spread and differing policing needs throughout, but fail entirely to see how one would be less ‘diplomatically accountable’. South Yorkshire Constabulary exhibited all the supposed positive qualities of a force rooted in one homogenous area.

      In the spirit of hitching on unrelated subjects, the creation of a Scottish Parliament hasn’t necessarily brought ‘power to the people’ (Tm.) when power is transferred from local government to Edinburgh.

      Likewise, I don’t see the easy narrative in Thatcher’s 80s as an attack on the working classes which culminated in Hillsborough. The economic policies with their social knock-ons were rightly or wrongly – or, more accurately, both – received with no mean support from all socio-economic levels with, amongst others, Norman Tebbit being seen as an aspirational figure for working class Tories.

      In the spirit again of meta-discussions, compare disdain for football then with snootiness now for popular interest in reality television or other designated low-brow popular culture.

      ~alec

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