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Wednesday 12 September 2012

Hillsborough – The Truth

[Updates, two so far, at end of post]

So today we finally discover what most knew all along: that the Super Soaraway Currant Bun published not just a dodgy front page story back in 1989, but a wall to wall pack of lies, bereft of mere facts and loaded with casual prejudice and malicious stereotyping. It is no surprise that the paper’s then editor has not emerged from under his rock today, except to release a statement of suitable contrition.

Hillsborough Memorial at Anfield

But what is coming clear is that Kelvin McFilth based his lead story not on any factual information – indeed, reporter Harry Arnold warned him not to proceed – but on the invention of one man, who was not even involved in the tragedy, blindly supported by a Police chief superintendent playing the role of nodding donkey. The “source” used by the Sun was the then Sheffield Hallam MP Irvine Patnick.

Patnick was on the right of the Tory Party. He supported Section 28. He was in favour of reintroducing the death penalty. He opposed sanctions against the Apartheid regime in South Africa. And he has since been gifted a knighthood, following his departure from the political scene following his defeat in 1997 at the hands of the Liberal Democrats.

And why the chief superintendent went along with Patnick is also coming clear: his officers tested every one of the dead Liverpool fans’ blood for alcohol – yes, even the children – before running criminal record checks on them all. These actions had one purpose, and that was to shift the focus and the blame from South Yorkshire Police onto those Liverpool fans.

What is so dispiriting about seeing the information emerge is that it may be shocking, but it is not surprising. We’ve been here so many times, most recently with the harrowing termination of Jean Charles de Menezes on a tube train at Stockwell following Police bungling of a truly monumental scale. The first reaction is to dump mistakes onto the victim. So it was after Hillsborough.

So what will happen to Irvine Patnick now? He, like McKenzie, will no doubt be keeping the lowest of profiles. But, as the source of one of the most viciously dishonest and defamatory examples of yellow journalism ever to disgrace this country’s press, there will inevitably be calls for him to be stripped of that knighthood. He clearly didn’t merit the award and should hand it back.

That is the only way that Irvine Patnick can salvage anything from the affair. Whether Kelvin McKenzie has any way back is doubtful, although at the time the use of the press to spin for not just the Police, but any part of the establishment, was routine. Information was less readily available and accessible, and this kind of thing was a quick and easy way to deter criticism of those in power.

And ultimately, can the Sun survive after this? Now there’s the $64k question.

[UPDATE1 14 September 0950 hours: Irvine Patnick has, in the light of recent disclosures, said that he is "deeply and sincerely sorry", but has gone no further. However, the eminently sound Joe Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool, has come to the same conclusion as this blog.

Anderson has called for Patnick to be stripped of his knighthood, although I would prefer he be given the opportunity to hand it back first. If the sanction was good enough for Fred Goodwin, who never covered up over the deaths of 96 people, it's good enough for someone who did]

[UPDATE2 20 September 1230 hours: the latest issue of Private Eye has reminded readers of their prescience over the Hillsborough cover-up, but what is yet more revealing is to look at the issue concerned (714) to see what else was said. That issue is available in the Zelo Street archives.
Not only is there the "No comment" from the eponymous Inspector Knacker, but there is also a spoof piece suggesting the real drunken yobs were the hacks who descended on Sheffield in the days afterwards. Note also the imaginary pub landlord "Mr Vic Titious", alluding to the quality of much of what was being passed off as news, or in the case of the Sun, "Truth". As they say, many a true word spoken in jest]

1 comment:

dermot657 said...

In his Interim Report, published in August 1989, Lord Justice Taylor said

“Before this Inquiry began, there were stories reported in the press, and said to have emanated from police officers present at the match, of “mass drunkenness”. It was said that drunken fans urinated on the police while they were pulling the dead and injured out, that others had even urinated on the bodies of the dead and stolen their belongings. Not a single witness was called before the Inquiry to support any of those allegations although every opportunity was afforded for any of the represented parties to have any witness called whom they wished. As soon as the allegations I have mentioned were made in the press, Mr Peter Wright, Chief Constable of South Yorkshire, made a dignified statement dissociating himself from such grave and emotive calumnies. Those who made them, and those who disseminated them, would have done better to hold their peace.” [Para 257]

So there never was any evidence for the Sun “The Truth” headline and that was beyond any doubt by August 1989. There was no excuse for those concerned not apologising there and then.