Editorial: Hillsborough – our shame


Click to follow

The Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 people died, is an issue of class: of how people with power treat those without a voice when they are able to get away with it. Finally, last week, the Prime Minister acknowledged the culpability of the authorities in allowing so many to die and in trying to cover up their negligence.

This was a failure of so many people in positions of responsibility, as Paul Vallely writes: the police, ambulance service, football administrators, stadium owner, Sheffield council, coroner, prosecuting authorities, two judges and politicians.

But also it was a failure of journalism, a failure of the much-vaunted and self-congratulating British press, with a few honourable exceptions such as the Liverpool Echo. The "best and most vigorous press in the world", to paraphrase most witnesses at the Leveson inquiry, failed to investigate the disaster thoroughly and failed miserably to act as a brake on those in power. Although The Sun's reporting was the most shockingly offensive, it is not just The Sun that owes the dead of Hillsborough an apology.

Instead, a semblance of justice has been done now only because of the persistence of many of the relatives of the dead. It is a humbling story. As many of them showed, such as the extraordinary Anne Williams, people without power or experience of advocacy can achieve impressive eloquence when they are driven by the difference between right and wrong, and by love. They did it for those they had loved and lost.

They have had to overcome the class divide in British society. Most of those who died or were injured at Hillsborough were working class. Football fans were regarded, in the pre-Nick Hornby era, when English clubs had been excluded from European tournaments because of hooliganism, as low life.

Some police officers, by contrast, felt that they were licensed by the Thatcher government during the miners' strike to keep the working class in order and that they could act with impunity. No one would suggest that all fans were angels two decades ago, but the attempt by the police to blame the Liverpool supporters for their own deaths was a disgrace.

The casual disrespect for the dead – such as the taking without parental consent of blood samples from dead children for alcohol testing – was revealing of the attitudes of the authorities as they scrambled to disown responsibility.

Those attitudes have persisted for years, long after the basic story of official negligence was known, even if it was only last week that the full story of the conspiracy to minimise it was published. Boris Johnson lost his front-bench post eight years ago for saying that Liverpudlians "wallow" in "victim status". Even David Cameron, who made a gracious statement and apology in the House of Commons last week, said a year ago of the search for a fuller inquiry: "It's like a blind man, in a dark room, looking for a black cat that isn't there."

For 23 years, the Hillsborough relatives have been failed by those in authority and by those who are supposed to hold those in authority to account. The Independent on Sunday was launched eight months after Hillsborough, but we were part of that wider failure and, for that, we too apologise to the families and friends of those who died.