Hillsborough verdict: The Sun and The Times criticised after leaving inquest ruling off front page

The Sun ran an infamous front page story four days after the 1989 tragedy claiming to tell ‘The Truth’ about disaster 

Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith
Wednesday 27 April 2016 16:47 BST
A banner reading 'Truth' and 'Justice' hangs from Liverpool's Saint George's Hall
A banner reading 'Truth' and 'Justice' hangs from Liverpool's Saint George's Hall (Getty)

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The Sun newspaper has come under fire for leaving the verdict of the Hillsborough inquiry off its front page.

Four days after the disaster in 1989 that left 96 fans dead, The Sun published on its front page under the headline "The Truth" what turned out to be lies about supporters.

The article featured claims from an anonymous policeman that some fans had "picked pockets of victims", "urinated on cops" and that some beat up a policeman giving the "kiss of life".

The story did not appear on the first edition front page of its sister title, The Times, either.

A jury on Tuesday found the 96 victims of the disaster were unlawfully killed, bringing to a close a 27-year battle for justice carried out by the fans’ families. The verdict means former police chief David Duckenfield, who admitted to attempting to blame the fans for the disaster, could stand trial for manslaughter.

Instead of covering the verdict of the two-year inquiry on the front of the paper, The Sun ran a double-page spread on the outcome and covered it in their main leader.

Speaking on Sky News' press preview on Tuesday, The Sun’s political editor, Tom Newton-Dunn, dismissed questions over why the verdict was not given space on the front page when a story on the Prime Minister’s aides using WhatsApp to discuss the remain campaign was.

He said: “You can discuss editorial judgements about what should or shouldn’t be on the front page, but in our paper tomorrow there are two extremely large pages of very significant coverage which talks about the huge importance of this day for the people who have suffered and the families who have spent so long trying to right a wrong.”

Mr Newton-Dunn said “The Truth” front page story “was the worst thing we ever did as a newspaper”.

“It was our worst day, our deepest shame and it is embarrassing to be reminded of it,” adding that the newspaper has apologised several times in the past, citing a front page story ran in 2012 when the truth of the police cover-ups in Hillsborough were published in a revelatory report. The story ran under the headline "The Real Truth" and the newspaper announced it said it was "profoundly sorry for false reports."

The Sun's reporting of the disaster
The Sun's reporting of the disaster

He said the police are at the "core" of the whole story and the paper were misled by them, but added that if people are still angry over the 1989 front page he "completely understands", and said: "We deserve everything that is thrown our way."

The leader within Wednesday's The Sun states that after 27 years the "Hillsborough families finally have their first measure of justice".

It adds: "Whether they get more is in the hands of the CPS. We hope they do.

"The horror that befell Liverpool fans was, as the inquest has now found, the fault of catastrophic police blunders - specifically by former Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield - which were shamefully then covered up.

"Failures by the ambulance service were also to blame, as was the design of the Sheffield stadium.

"The supporters were not to blame. But the police smeared them with a pack of lies which in 1989 The Sun and others in the media swallowed whole.

"We apologised prominently 12 years ago, again four years ago on the front page, and do so unreservedly again now.

What happened at Hillsborough?

"Further, we pay tribute to the admirable tenacity of the friends and relatives over so many years on behalf of the 96 who died."

But the absence of coverage of the Hillsborough inquest on its front page caused the newspaper to recieve criticism on Twitter. "The Sun" became a trending topic on Tuesday night in the UK, with more than 124,000 tweets using the term.

Impressionist and comedian Rory Bremner tweeted that the relegation of the story to pages eight and nine was "extraordinary".

Actor Stephen Mangan questioned: "Wait - neither TheSun nor thetimes mention Hillsborough on their front pages?!"

Both The Times and The Sun are owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

The Times responded to criticism by admitting it made a mistake with the first edition of it front page, but "fixed it for the second edition".

The statement read: "The Times led iwth Hillsborough coverage on all our digital editions throughout the day. This morning we have covered it extensively in the paper with two spreads, the back page, a top leader and an interactive on the victims. We made a mistake with the front page of our first edition, and we fixed it for the second edititon."

A photo of the families outside the Warrington court room appeared on later editions of The Times, along with a trailer for its coverage that ran into several pages, including an editorial comment.

On Tuesday former editor of The Sun Kelvin MacKenzie, who oversaw the story published in 1989 blaming fans, also apologised for the "hurt" the story caused.

In a statement he said: "Today's verdicts are an important step in obtaining justice for the victims. My heart goes out to those who have waited so long for vindication.

"As I have said before, the headline I published was wrong and I am profoundly sorry for the hurt it caused."

On Tuesday, journalists from The Sun were asked to leave a press conference discussing the verdict. Marcia Willis-Stewart, a solicitor acting for a number of the victims’ families, said as the floor was opened up for questions: “I do hope there are no members of The Sun newspaper in this room.

“You can leave quietly by the back door.”

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