FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Holding the Police to Account in the UK

“It is also a story of deceit and lies, of institutional defensiveness defeating truth and justice. It is evidence of a culture of denial within South Yorkshire Police.”
Anne Burkett, BBC, Apr 27, 2016

It took 28 years for the tables to turn on the South Yorkshire police regarding the Hillsborough disaster that took the lives of 96 fans. The 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest saw a sporting catastrophe that was portrayed as less a matter of institutional accountability as the consequence of loutish, irresponsible fans.

The finger pointing began instantly, with the police arguing that the bad behaviour of the fans, fuelled by alcohol consumption, was the primary cause. (This, notwithstanding the fact that some of the injured and dead were children.)

There were, in fact, no limits as to what the fans had done wrong. They supposedly arrived too late; they obstructed the police in accomplishing their tasks; they forced open a gate; many were supposedly ticketless. What mattered in the police narrative and technique was not safety but control.

The ground was laid after the finding by inquest jurors in April 2016 that the fans in question had been unlawfully killed. It had been the longest jury case in British legal history, involving the families and supporters of the Hillsborough Family Support Group (HFSG) and Hillsborough Justice Campaign.

Interest naturally turned towards police conduct not merely on the day itself, but subsequently. The latter point was of particular interest to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which was charged with the task of investigating allegations of a cover-up.

On Wednesday, six people, including two former senior police officers, were charged for criminal offences linked to the disaster. Significant here was the alleged cover-up that ensued. Sue Hemming of the Crown Prosecution Service’s head of special crime and counter-terrorism, after reviewing the material, “decided that there is sufficient evidence to charge six individuals with criminal offences.”

Prominently featured is David Duckenfield, the South Yorkshire officer who oversaw policing at the semi-final, charged for the manslaughter of 95 people. (The 96th, Tony Bland, would only die four years after the incident, making a charge of manslaughter inapplicable.) He had eluded the clutches of a private prosecution in 1999 with a stay by the senior judicial officer. For a prosecution to take place, that stay will have to be lifted by application from the prosecutors.

Duckenfield, the grim star of a very grim show, received specific mention from Hemming. During proceedings, the CPS intends to show that Duckenfield’s conduct that day was “extraordinarily bad and contributed substantially to the deaths of each of those 96 people who so tragically and unnecessarily lost their lives.”

The focus on Sir Norman Bettison, former chief constable of Merseyside and West Yorkshire police, an inspector in the South Yorkshire force during the disaster, was one of misconduct. He faces four counts of the offence in public office.

“Given his role as a senior police officer,” stated Hemming, “we will ask the jury to find that this was misconduct of such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in the office holder.”

Donald Denton and Alan Foster, both former police chiefs, were charged with perverting the course of justice in allegedly fiddling witness statements used during the original investigation and inquest into the deaths. Dozens of such statements were allegedly doctored to suggest a picture of police control rather than lethal chaos. The police lawyer, Peter Metcalf, was charged for allegedly assisting the enterprise.

Completing the institutional circle is Graham Mackrell, Sheffield Wednesday Football Club’s company secretary and safety officer that day. His charges are less grave, but no less significant: the alleged contravention of safety rules and failing to take appropriate reasonable care for the health and safety of those on the grounds.

This is the season for a reckoning. The charred ruins of Grenfell Tower have drawn necessary accusations about public safety across London. The cult of the cheap and expedient is being challenged; the wisdom of authorities questioned.

The Hillsborough families proved relentless in seeking accountability for the losses of 1989, showing that doing things by the book in calmly directed rage transformed the alleged responsibility of the victims to accountability of the authorities. It is with some historical irony, given the state of Brexit, that these efforts would been further hampered but for the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights via the Human Rights Act 1998.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
Vijay Prashad
5.5 Million Women Build Their Wall
Nicky Reid
Lessons From Rojava
Ted Rall
Here is the Progressive Agenda
Robert Koehler
A Green Future is One Without War
Gary Leupp
The Chickens Come Home to Roost….in Northern Syria
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: “The Country Is Watching”
Sam Gordon
Who Are Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists?
Weekend Edition
January 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Richard Moser
Neoliberalism: Free Market Fundamentalism or Corporate Power?
Paul Street
Bordering on Fascism: Scholars Reflect on Dangerous Times
Joseph Majerle III – Matthew Stevenson
Who or What Brought Down Dag Hammarskjöld?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
How Tre Arrow Became America’s Most Wanted Environmental “Terrorist”
Andrew Levine
Dealbreakers: The Democrats, Trump and His Wall
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Que Syria, Syria
Dave Lindorff
A Potentially Tectonic Event Shakes up the Mumia Abu-Jamal Case
Nick Pemberton
There Are More Important Things Than The Truth
Brian Cloughley
How Trump’s Insults and Lies are Harming America
David Rosen
Sexual Predators in the Era of Trump
Tamara Pearson
Everything the Western Mainstream Media Outlets Get Wrong When Covering Poor Countries
Richard E. Rubenstein
Trump vs. the Anti-Trumps: It’s the System That Needs Changing Not Just the Personnel
Christopher Ketcham
A Walk in the Woods, Away from the Screens
Basav Sen
Democrats Failed Their First Big Test on Climate
Lauren Smith
Nicaragua – The Irony of the NICA Act Being Signed into Law by Trump
Joseph Natoli
Will Trumpism Outlive Trump?
Olivia Alperstein
The EPA Rule Change That Could Kill Thousands
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
The New Congress Needs to Create a Green Planet at Peace
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
Cuba: Trump Turns the Vise
Ramzy Baroud
When Bolsonaro and Netanyahu Are ‘Brothers’: Why Brazil Should Shun the Israeli Model
Mitchell Zimmerman
Government by Extortion
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail