Thursday, 28 April 2016

"Tanked up yobs"

Authentic front page, but for one minor amendment
When I began this blog in March 2009, one of the first links I installed was to the Hillsborough Justice Campaign: as someone born in Liverpool, I have always felt strongly about this terrible disaster, and the terrible injustice that followed. How the Establishment seriously thought that Liverpool would eventually just shut up and go away, I do not know. I can only guess that, not only do they not understand Liverpool, but they also don't understand ordinary human nature. A sense of injustice does not fade away in time: if anything, the opposite is true.

To remain true to the themes of this blog, I will concentrate on one specific aspect of the matter; alcohol. All other aspects are - at last - being covered thoroughly elsewhere.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster when the dead were in the improvised morgue, the injured were in hospital and the traumatised supporters were making their way home, the first priority of senior police officials was to find a scapegoat. They knew they had badly mishandled the situation, but this was only four years after the miners' strike when most of the the media had stood shoulder to shoulder with the government in demonising a workforce that only wanted to save its jobs and protect its communities. They must have felt confident they could cover this one up too, and what better to blame than booze?

95 of the 96 dead were tested for alcohol, including children: the 96th victim didn't die until four years later. Police photographers were sent out to photograph litter bins, rubbish in the road, and even motorway verges, to find 'evidence' in the form of discarded beer bottles and cans that Liverpool supporters were drunk. Stories were leaked to the press which uncritically followed the party line of blaming drunken hordes for causing the crush and behaving disgracefully; in particular, the claim that "Some fans urinated on the brave cops" immediately - and quite deliberately - suggests people who have had a skinful.

The Establishment went into overdrive to protect its own:
  • Papers released by the Hillsborough Independent Panel show that Thatcher ordered the Government’s response to the Taylor Report in August 1989 to be toned down to avoid criticising South Yorkshire Police.
  • In 1996 Bernard Ingham wrote to Liverpool fan Graham Skinner: "Who if not the 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."
  • Boris Johnson wrote in 2004 that, while Hillsborough was a tragedy, "that is no excuse for Liverpool's failure to acknowledge, even to this day, the part played in the disaster by drunken fans at the back of the crowd who mindlessly tried to fight their way into the ground that Saturday afternoon."
Thus it can be seen that the myth of the drunken fans turning up late, demanding to get in without tickets, creating a dangerous crush and, ultimately, causing the disaster itself was firmly established. Johnson's and Ingham's comments were made even though though the Taylor Report had previously exonerated the fans of blame in 1990. As recently as the last couple of years, lawyers for South Yorkshire Police at the Warrington inquest deliberately repeated the myth that fans' drunken bad behaviour was in some way a contributory factor: fortunately the truth had by then become undeniable, the fans were exonerated again, and the deaths ruled unlawful.

The 70s and 80s were full of stories about drunken football hooliganism, and there was undoubtedly plenty of it at the time. The fact that hooligans were only ever a tiny percentage of fans as a whole didn't deter the media from blaming the many for the actions of the few. Against that background, it is easy to see how the Establishment's Hillsborough myth, based on the fiction of a drunken mob, took root so firmly. 

Conclusion: I have often read in the press a shocked 'explanation' for violence or other criminal behaviour that some offender had been on a 10 or 12 hour drinking spree. Anti-alcohol campaigners regularly make assertions, often with extremely dodgy 'evidence', about the level of antisocial behaviour caused by alcohol. Back in 1989, people were then, as they still are now, attuned to associate drinking with violence and disorder. The Hillsborough myth both tapped into that prejudice and propagated it further, and in doing so condemned the bereaved to suffer for 27 years. That prolonged agony must be the greatest injustice of them all.

A personal note: I went to the Blood Tub beer festival last week, and later went on to my local. After the equivalent of a 10 hour session, I walked home safely, locked my front door after me, took out my contact lenses, hung my clothes on the chair and went to bed. If the media were right about alcohol, I should have been an out-of-control, violent yob. For the record, I don't follow football, but I do care about injustice.

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