James Lawton: A Hicks knighthood would at least balance the Hillsborough account
He wouldn't accept that the victims might be forgotten or still less that their memories be sullied in any way
Some weary of the endless ramifications of Hillsborough. They point out that the establishment has done some tidying up. They say the Prime Minister has delivered an abject apology from the despatch box of the House of Commons and that give or take a touch here, a stroke there to the public record, it is essentially time to move on. They are quite wrong.
There is always something to remind us of Hillsborough and the extent of the betrayal of decent values it represented in the official response.
Quite what, for example, could do this more vividly than the possibility that the former chief constable of West Yorkshire, Sir Norman Bettison, will ultimately succeed in his attempt – officially described by the Independent Police Complaints Commission as "manipulative" – to beat the system.
Bettison, who retired with his £83,000-a-year pension and knighthood intact and thus removed himself from the possibility of disciplinary repercussions for misbehaviour by serving officers, does face a separate investigation by the police watchdog into claims that he took part in a smear campaign against Liverpool fans designed to mislead the media, Parliament and the public after the loss of 96 lives.
We cannot yet know the outcome of these procedures but we can certainly accept the invitation of the IPCC to make a judgement on their findings.
Such a reaction has been instant and predictable in the trenches still necessarily occupied by the Hillsborough families who have fought for so long for something that smells of justice rather than official evasion.
There have been calls from that quarter for Bettison to be stripped of his knighthood, his pension and even his fellowship from Liverpool's John Moores University. One Conservative Yorkshire MP has supported the popular view on Merseyside, saying Bettison should lose his knighthood if he is unable to clear his name.
In a world of basic accountability this would happen quite inevitably, but of course we cannot be sure.
There is, however, something that might be done quite painlessly and the feeling here is that it would have value, however lightly you regard the significance of the honours system, however much you believe it has descended ever more deeply into a mishmash of celebrity culture and recognition for time-serving politicians, civil servants and, come to think of it, chief constables.
It would mean that the whole tortured affair reached a point of some redemption when an honour was bestowed rather than just having another removed for a failure of responsibility.
It would be a balancing act of some potent symbolism. It would say that if the tragedy of so many innocent people revealed a shocking lack of competence and honesty in public service it also highlighted the determination of one man, among other men and women, not to let the matter lie, who refused every day of his life to allow it to become ever more poisonous and divisive in the public mind.
This would be the only construction to put on a knighthood for Trevor Hicks, the man who lost two daughters at Hillsborough and many other of his certainties, including his marriage, but then never at the cost of his understanding of what was right and what was wrong as he led the grieving families against odds which so often, and so egregiously, seemed impossible.
Anyone doubting the feasibility such a development should check with the website Awards Intelligence, which points out that just as a cat can look at a queen a most humble subject can make a nomination for a knighthood.
Helpfully, AI lists the relevant criteria for such a move. Here are the seven of eight boxes Mr Hicks ticks so impressively:
- He made a difference to his community;
- He brought distinction to British life and enhanced its reputation;
- He exemplified the best sustained public service;
- He carried the respect of his peers;
- He changed things, with an emphasis on achievement;
- He improved the lot of those least able to help themselves;
- He displayed moral courage and vision in making and delivering tough decisions.
And what was the box that wasn't ticked? He didn't demonstrate innovation or entrepreneurship. He didn't make a whole lot of money, he didn't pave the wave for his version of The Apprentice or a cape of ermine.
What Hicks has done day by day for 24 years now is demolish resistance to the uncovering of lies. His tactics haven't always been universally applauded by his action group. There have been splinter movements, revisions of strategy, but never at the risk of Hicks surrendering the power of his long-term leadership. Still less has he surrendered his commitment to speaking for all those lost at Hillsborough, to cry, with a force which never suffered because of a loss of restraint, that if their lives had gone their good names could still be restored.
In this he most perfectly and poignantly fulfilled that requirement to improve the lot of those less able to help themselves. There was no help for them at Hillsborough when they were taken away from their families, at least not from so many who were charged officially with their safety, but Hicks and his allies did all that was left to be done. He wouldn't accept that they might be forgotten and still less that their memories be sullied in any way.
While he was doing it, he also helped tear down a whole skein of official lies.
What's in a knighthood? It is still another question, of course, but let us assume it still represents honour and achievement and steadfastness and dignity under fire. If this is true, it is not easy to think of too many more deserving recipients than Trevor Hicks.
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