The leak of official documents on the aftermath of Britain's worst sports tragedy, when 96 football fans were crushed to death at the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield in 1989, confirms suspicions that there was something deeply political about the way the British establishment reacted to the disaster.
The claims that the tragedy was caused by drunken Liverpool fans arriving without tickets we now know emanated from senior officers on Merseyside. Originally it had been supposed that these allegations, which were later dismissed as unfounded by the judicial inquiry into the tragedy, came from the South Yorkshire Police, whose lack of crowd control was found to be the main cause of the disaster.
These events happened against the background of widespread public panic about football hooliganism in which street violence, the hurling of missiles and pitch invasions were commonplace. Four years earlier, 39 people had died in Belgium's Heysel stadium when rioting Liverpool supporters charged Juventus fans before the 1985 European Cup final. The government of Margaret Thatcher was, at the time of Hillsborough, trying to force through Parliament legislation aimed at controlling football fans by making them carry identity cards.
These leaks show that Merseyside police chiefs seemed determined to provide the Government with more evidence of the culpability of fans, despite the Merseyside Police Federation saying at the time that the accusations against Liverpool fans were "ill-informed" and "based on hearsay rather than evidence". The leaked papers also show that the Home Secretary wanted Lord Justice Taylor, who was leading the disaster inquiry, to speed up his report and back the idea of football ID cards. He did neither.
We still do not have the full story. Papers from South Yorkshire Police remain under wraps until the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which is currently sorting through 45,000 police, council and government documents from the time, publishes them in the autumn.
Let us hope that then, finally, the truth that justice demands – and the relatives of the victims deserve – will emerge.Reuse content