MacKenzie apology for Sun 'too little, too late'

Former Sun editor says he was misled by a concerted plot by police

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The Independent Online

Kelvin MacKenzie, the former editor of The Sun, who was responsible for the article entitled "The Truth" which peddled unsubstantiated claims against Liverpool fans, offered his "profuse apologies" for "that headline" yesterday.

The Sun's front page, published four days after the tragedy, presented as fact baseless allegations that supporters had urinated on officers resuscitating the dying and stolen from corpses. The story provoked revulsion and a boycott of the paper on Merseyside which persists to this day.

With the words of David Cameron that he needed to "take responsibility" ringing in his ears, Mr MacKenzie issued a statement explaining the paper's actions and apologising that the story was "so wrong".

But the famously abrasive journalist stopped short of taking personal responsibility for publishing false claims, saying he was "totally misled" by a "concerted plot" by police to deflect blame on to Liverpool fans.

Trevor Hicks, a campaigner who lost two daughters in the disaster, dismissed the former editor's words, saying they were "too little, too late" and describing him as "low life, clever low life, but low life".

Mr MacKenzie's words were echoed by The Sun's current editor, Dominic Mohan, who said the paper had made a "terrible mistake" and its edition today would reflect its "deep sense of shame" at what had happened.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel laid bare the details of how The Sun's story came into being, describing how it was based on raw material supplied by a Sheffield news agency, which was published in more circumspect stories by other publications.

The panel found that the agency, White's, which The Independent understands had a small team of three or four reporters working on the disaster, had been briefed by officers from South Yorkshire Police, local MP Sir Irvine Patnick and a Police Federation official who was acting with the tacit approval of the force's then Chief Constable.

In the immediate aftermath of the story, White's sent a memorandum around Fleet Street saying that its claims were based on "four separate police sources" which it had considered "sufficient verification" for it to circulate the claims to national newspapers. In the memo, the agency said it had "watered down" its allegations, including a claim about chants from Liverpool fans about a dead young woman whose breasts had become exposed in the melee. In a statement yesterday, White's, said its actions were those of a "responsible and reputable" agency and it had been shocked by The Sun's presentation of its story.

Sir Irvine, who was found by the report to have based his comments to reporters on a conversation with police officers, last night faced calls from a Labour MP for him to be stripped of his knighthood. John Mann said that the actions of the former Sheffield MP, who served as a Conservative whip and lost his seat in 1997, were "shameful and disgusting" and he had written to Mr Cameron asking for a forfeiture process to begin. Sir Irvine, 82, made no comment yesterday.