23 years ago an unforgivable slur was lain at the feet of the people of Liverpool by police, the national press and certain politicians alike. The slur followed one of the worst disasters british football has known at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield.
When my colleague Cllr Flo Clucas from Liverpool tabled a notice of motion at a subsequent North West Liberal Democrats conference condemning the slurs and lies aimed at the people of Liverpool I spoke to the motion on behalf of the Manchester Liberal Democrats calling for a full, fair and open inquiry into the police handling and press coverage of the disaster.
It has taken 23 years from the disaster for that inquiry to take place and for one of the great injustices of the last century to finally have light shed upon it.
I congratulate the people of Liverpool for their tireless pursuit of this review, and I repeat now what I said then on behalf of the Manchester Liberal Democrats, in the pursuit of the truth surrounding this disaster you will never walk alone.
My colleague, John Leech MP, was in the chamber yesterday for the Prime Minister’s statement on Hillsborough. He said that “The atmosphere that descended was so quiet and reflective, such a marked changed from the raucous Prime Minister’s questions which proceeded it, that you couldn’t help but realise the enormity of what David Cameron was saying.”
The Prime Minister highlighted three areas where the report had concluded there were failures by the police and emergency services on the day and by the police during the investigation when they attempted to cover up their mistakes and blame the victims and the official inquest which failed to adequately consider all the facts.
The PM also revealed that the coroner had tested all victims, including children, for the presence alcohol. There was no justification for this other than to attempt to find something that could smear the victims and put the blame for their deaths at their own door, and in a similar vein, the police ran the names of the victims through the National Police Database to find information that could be used to tarnish them.
The key points highlighted by the report are that:
- The ground was unsafe. Known safety deficits were not tackled
- The police briefed the media in a way which implied the tragedy was caused by hooliganism, alcoholism and a conspiracy between fans to arrive late at the game, many without tickets. The panel found what the Hillsborough families and many others have long known, that this was not true.
- 164 police statements were altered to reflect what they were briefing.
- 116 statements explicitly removed negative statements of the police
- The coroner has wrong when he stated all victims had died by 3.15pm:
- 28 people did not suffer asphixiation.
- 31 people had heart and lung injuries that could, if help had arrived quicker and been better allocated, have been treated.
- The Sun was wrong. Their sickening accusations about the behaviour of Liverpool fans were untrue and had no basis in fact.
I am a Manchester Man, and Manchester and Liverpool have a long history of rivalry, but I recall the busses traveling from our great city to theirs, I recall the scarves lain at the gates of Anfield and I recall the tears in this City for the losses in that. I recall that incident as a seminal moment when two great northern cities forgot their differences and remembered what unites us.
I have not bought the Sun in 23 years, and their front page apology comes 23 years too late for me to change my mind on that.
The nation now knows what the the families of the victims, the people of Liverpool and many more of us have known for 23 years, that the victims were not to blame, that some could have been saved and that the vitriol that they and those of us such as the North West Liberal Democrats faced for supporting them against the amassed might of the press, the police and many national politicians have faced was entirely unjustified.
The families always knew this, we knew this, and finally the documents now released reflect this.