Hillsborough: A few individuals have shown what integrity means

The independent report on Hillsborough demonstrated that only those outside the usual authorities persisted in getting to the truth


'I felt a sense for the first time," wrote a man called Adrian Tempany after the publication of the independent panel's report into the Hillsborough disaster, "that this tragedy was no longer mine – it belongs now to the nation". Tempany was one of those who survived the human crush in Pen 3 of the Sheffield football stadium that day so long ago in 1989. Many of the 96 died in front of him.

"Unable to move for over half an hour, I was condemned to watch them cry for help, throw up, plead for their lives and die," he wrote. "A heap of corpses piled up in front of me." Over 700 others were injured. Thousands more were scarred emotionally to this day.

Yet in the face of such horror the authorities of the British state failed, egregiously and comprehensively, at level after level after level. When the truth finally emerged – like the sweet silver song of the lark, as the Poet Laureate masterfully borrowed from Liverpool Football Club's anthem – it did so because a small group of activists, burning with a sense of injustice, refused to give up.

The driving motor was the bereaved families, but others were at work, too. One was the academic criminologist Phil Scraton, who spent decade after decade diligently compiling the detailed evidence that has so shocked the nation in recent days. In that time he has produced two major reports and a book painstakingly cataloguing the incident itself, the scurrilous allegations made by the police in the days that followed and the appalling treatment of the bereaved by the political and legal establishment in the years since.

Another was the playwright Jimmy McGovern, whose investigations so frightened the police that he was tailed constantly as he prepared his documentary-drama Hillsborough. Seven years after the disaster, it reawakened the nation to the scandal which had never gone away in Liverpool, a city where solidarity has survived better than in the rest of post-Thatcher Britain. Another was James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, who oversaw the panel that tirelessly processed almost half a million official documents relating to the disaster with self-evident impartiality and pastoral commitment to his people.

In Parliament last week, the Prime Minister apologised for what he called the "double injustice" of Hillsborough. But the truth is that the injustice done was ten- or twelvefold. Police, ambulance services, football authorities, stadium owner, local council, coroner, prosecuting authorities, two judges and politicians all failed and failed again. Civil, criminal and European law all fell short. Some in authority were not just defective but deliberately obstructive.

So why did state apparatus so totally miscarry? And why has an independent panel been able to turn up the truth? Its chairman has said that panels like his are not just faster and cheaper than judge-led inquiries. They can be far more considerate of victims' needs because they start in a different place.

For James Jones, it started every morning with the photograph he kept on his desk of the stadium at 2.59pm on the day of the disaster, alongside the names of the 96 who died. Judicial processes, he says, tend to distance those most affected. "People with power are often patronising to victims. A culture of blame, liability and litigation conspires against getting to the truth. They certainly conspire against enabling the victim to feel their needs and grief are being respected."

The inability, or reluctance, to begin with people rather than processes and the institutional protection of privilege, is part of what has led to the great decline of trust in Britain today. Hillsborough has focused on the police and the courts. But the same thing has happened with greedy bankers, self-serving politicians and unethical journalists. Yet the Church of England retains a lot of confidence among local communities. "It does not run the risk so much of its people being seen to be on the make," as the bishop put it.

It was that local authenticity and integrity which explains why a handful of concerned citizens succeeded over Hillsborough where the great organs of the British state so lamentably failed. What particularly annoys activists in Liverpool is that many of the facts which drew sharp intakes of breath from MPs last week in the Commons had been in the public domain for years, through Scraton's research and McGovern's drama. The local MP, Andy Burnham, had disclosed the same details of senior policemen ordering the doctoring of the notes of ordinary officers in the Commons a year ago. No one listened.

But the panel's scrutiny of 450,000 documents from over 80 organisations added the detail that made the assertions of bereaved relatives incontrovertible. It also offered new revelations about the ambulance service, and proved that the coroner's 3.15pm cut-off was wrong. It disclosed that many in authority knew beforehand that the stadium was not safe, and showed how the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire used the Police Federation to disseminate untruths.

For years, the establishment sneered that McGovern and Scraton were conspiracy theorists. Now we know that there was indeed a conspiracy, one that may prove to be criminal. We know, not thanks to officials, who see themselves as masters rather than servants of the public. We know, because a bunch of individuals would not take No for an answer. Through them, we have discovered, as the survivor Adrian Tempany put it, how systemically justice can be corrupted – and been reminded that right can triumph over might.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Apprenticeships

£10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an outstanding opportunity for 1...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager-Alcohol-OTE £90,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum + £50,000 OTE + Car, Mobile, Benefits: h2 Recruit Lt...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£23200 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Austen Lloyd: Company Secretary

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: EAST ANGLIA - SENIOR SOLICITOR LEVEL ROLE** -...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Hughes in Durban in 2009, celebrating the first of his two centuries in the second Test against South Africa  

Sport will always be risky – we must accept that, even in the wake of the tragic death of Phillip Hughes

Rosie Millard
Rents in five regions of England and Wales are higher than 12 months ago  

Today was a bad day for renters, landlords, and democracy

Hannah Williams
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game