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The victory of the Hillsborough families in their long struggle for justice was won against an establishment that viewed them and their loved ones as nothing more than scum and which, make no mistake, continues to do so today. Harsh words, perhaps, but true nonetheless. For at the very core of this scandal is the issue of class and the legacy of a prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who throughout the 1980s waged war against working class people, communities, and sought to destroy the bonds of solidarity that provided them with their strength and pride in who they were.
Along with the miners’ strike of 1984-85, Hillsborough stands as both an indictment of Thatcher’s legacy and a Tory establishment, New Labour included, which regards working people and their lives as eminently dispensable. Into this mix belongs the now discredited South Yorkshire Police, whose leading officers in the wake of the disaster engaged in a conspiracy to distort and cover up the evidence in order to deflect responsibility onto the supporters.
And then we have the Sun newspaper, owned then and still today by the execrable Rupert Murdoch, a man whose role in disfiguring British society these past three decades, via his newspaper empire, should never be forgotten or forgiven.
In parenthesis, Kelvin MacKenzie, the man responsible for that infamous Sun front page defaming those who died and their fellow supporters, should be made to crawl at the feet of the families today.
There are no words available to express the enormity of the scandal of Hillsborough. It was an entirely avoidable and man-made disaster that occurred at a time when football had become one of the last repositories of working class identity; the terraces on a Saturday where people could still congregate to experience the solidarity and oneness which by 1989 had all but been ripped asunder in service to the new Britain represented by the City of London, property developers, entrepreneurs, and all the other accouterments of the greed and individualism at whose feet society had been conditioned to genuflect.
In this regard, the tribute paid to the Hillsborough families and campaigners by David Cameron has to be considered an act of cynical opportunism. This is a prime minister and a man for whom Thatcher and everything she stands for represents all that is good, while the Liverpool football supporters at Hillsborough, the miners and the working class in general represent all that is bad. We know this because of the way his government has continued the work she began with the vigour of men and women on the same mission to purify working class people with pain.
Over the past 27 years the Hillsborough families have been one of the few islands of decency in the swamp of corruption, greed, and mendacity that underpins British cultural values in the wake of Thatcher. Those values are the values of Eton and Oxbridge, of those happy to see the benefits of poor people cut while themselves avoiding tax by salting their wealth away in tax havens in places like the Bahamas and Panama. They are the values of a class and establishment that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Who knows what the men and women who have fought a relentless campaign for justice for their loved ones have been through? At times the prospect of seeing anything approximating to justice must have appeared bleak at best. The damage to health, families, and marriages cannot be underestimated, nor the sense of being treated as an irritant at best by various government ministers, officials, and the police. Thatcher’s former press secretary, ‘Sir’ Bernard Ingham, is a case in point.
In a letter he wrote to one of the relatives of the victims of Hillsborough, Ingham said: “It is my unhappy experience to find that most reasonable people outside Merseyside recognise the truth of what I say.” He goes on to write: “…who if not a few tanked up yobs who turned up late determined to get into the ground caused the disaster? To blame the police, even though they may have made mistakes, is contemptible.”
The 96 who died and 766 who were injured on that awful day in April 1989 were the victims of a monumental policing failure and an attempted cover up in the aftermath. They were not killed by fellow supporters, nor were their bodies desecrated, violated or in any way criminally interfered with by their fellow supporters.
On the contrary, many of those fellow supporters lost their lives and many more were injured trying to save others, while many who survived only did so because of the selfless actions of others on that day. Their courage stood in stark contrast to the actions of the police, who refused to open the gates in the fence in the face of the disaster that was unfolding before their eyes.
They were viewed as human animals and treated as such on the day and for years afterwards by the likes of Sir Bernard Ingham, a despicable human being by any objective measure. The fact he refuses to apologise for the disgraceful sentiments he expressed in his 1996 letter is evidence that he views this verdict not as a deserved victory for justice but as a defeat of everything he believes in as a disciple of Thatcher’s Britain.
That Britain, a country that has delivered so much misery to so many people over thirty years, has just been found guilty.