There has been no lack of contrition from The Sun newspaper in the past 18 months as it seeks reconciliation with the people of Liverpool over its infamous reporting of the Hillsborough disaster. The paper published a full-page apology in July 2004 for what it called "the most terrible mistake" in its history and sent the managing editor Graham Dudman into local radio studios on a Boris Johnson-style mission.
That was then. Any hope of a lasting truce was shot to pieces last night as Kelvin MacKenzie, architect of a front page which has made The Sun a pariah in the city for 17 years, was reported as saying he was not sorry for his decision. He had apologised afterwards only because the newspaper's owner, Rupert Murdoch, had ordered him to do so.
Mr MacKenzie apologised publicly when the Press Complaints Commission condemned his paper's descriptions of Liverpool fans urinating on the Hillsborough dead and stealing from their bodies, in an edition headlined "The Truth". But judging by his comments to a business lunch staged by the law firm Mincoffs in Newcastle upon Tyne, he did not mean a word of it. "I was not sorry then and I'm not sorry now," Mr MacKenzie told his audience. "All I did wrong there was [to] tell the truth." Unrepentant barely defines what followed next from Mr MacKenzie. Responding to a seemingly innocuous question about how often he visited Liverpool, he launched into a general attack on Liverpudlians - possibly unaware that a journalist from The Journal newspaper was present.
He said of Hillsborough: "There was a surge of Liverpool fans who had been drinking and that is what caused the disaster. The only thing different we did was put it under the headline 'The Truth'. I went on [BBC Radio 4's] World at One the next day and apologised. I only did that because Rupert Murdoch told me to. I wasn't sorry then and I'm not sorry now because we told the truth."
There have been recent signs that Mr MacKenzie is losing patience with Liverpool. In an interview with The Independent in June he said he had apologised thousands of times for the Hillsborough coverage and that the idea that people should still not be buying the paper was "ridiculous". "If those people are just rejecting [The Sun], I just wouldn't bother at all," he said.
The backlash arrived quickly yesterday. The Liverpool Echo launched a withering attack on Mr MacKenzie while Phil Hammond, chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, whose son died in the tragedy, urged Mr MacKenzie to "come and tell the families this to their faces".
Mackenzie's greatest front pages
4 May 1982. Gotcha!
The headline about the sinking of the Belgrano remains Mr MacKenzie's personal favourite.
13 March 1986. Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster
The story had it that Starr put Supersonic the hamster into a sandwich.
19 April 1989. The Truth
Alleged that "some fans picked pockets of victims" and "some fans urinated on the brave cops".
9 April 1992
Page 3 of this general election issue featured an overweight woman headlined: "Here's How Page 3 Will Look Under Kinnock!"Reuse content