What a day. Let’s remind ourselves of its significance with the words of David Conn, the Guardian journalist who has waited so long to be able to write this:
“Since the Hillsborough independent panel published its report on 12 September, blowing away the myths and police lies about how 96 people died at the FA Cup semi-final on 15 April 1989, there has been a sense that consequences are falling almost naturally into place.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission is conducting an inquiry into the South Yorkshire force’s mismanagement of the event that day, the alteration of 116 of their own officers’ statements to blame supporters’ misbehaviour and deflect culpability from themselves, and the West Midlands police’s investigation of the disaster.
The director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, is examining whether any criminal charges should be brought over what happened at Hillsborough and its aftermath. A new police investigation, into the failures which caused so many people to die at a football match on a sunny spring day in the 1980s, was announced just as court 5 on the Strand was preparing for the application to quash the inquest verdict.
So even the bereaved Hillsborough families, who lost their loved ones and have ever since battled the legal processes which failed to deliver the truth and justice, had to remind themselves of the historic significance of this day. The inquest into the Hillsborough disaster, whose conduct, attitude, procedures and verdict of accidental death they always considered an outrage, has been quashed, 21 long and terrible years since it concluded.”
No laws have been changed to enable the original inquest verdict to be overturned. And brilliant though the work of the Hillsborough Independent Panel was, what it proved had been long and widely thought to be true. So what we saw at the High Court yesterday, what David Conn describes as ‘a sense that consequences are falling almost naturally into place’ I see as the ending of a 23 year cover up by the British establishment.
Interviewed on the evening of September 12th, the day the Independent report came out, it was QC Michael Mansfield, working for the families of the 96 who first used this phrase ‘an establishment cover up’. The establishment of government, financial, legal and societal institutions, having decided its position can no longer be maintained, is withdrawing from it as quickly as it can. David Conn again:
“The wheels of justice have turned quickly since; few believed the hearing to quash the inquest verdict would possibly be held this side of Christmas. Having listened to Grieve’s application and QCs Michael Mansfield and Pete Wetherby representing the families, the three judges retired for just four minutes before returning to quash the inquest. After a 23-year campaign, the hearing took an hour and a half.”
Four minutes, after 23 years. Good, about time.
But in the morning, afterwards, here in Liverpool, I’m looking at the damage that’s been done. Not just to the families of the 96. Not just to the survivors of Leppings Lane. And not just to the people and the city of Liverpool. But to the British working class. To where we live. How we work. To what we like to do. To who we are.
Because I don’t believe the British establishment would have behaved as it has over Hillsborough for all these years unless it was very confident that it could now get away with doing more or less what it liked with the majority of the people who live in Britain. In his book ‘Chavs, the demonization of the working class’ Owen Jones takes great care to describe what’s been happening here since the early 1980s as a ‘class war.’ I think he might be right. Let’s have a look around.
At where we live. Over this past quarter century and coming to a crescendo with the despised Housing Market Renewal Initiative, large areas of housing in our cities have been blighted, then demolished, and some then handed over to developers. All on the back of the blatant untruth that ‘People’s desire to live in houses like these, in places like this is now over.’ So we have fields of wasteland, some now sprouting new developments, where ‘the market’ is setting prices that the former owners and inhabitants and their grown up children mostly can’t afford. I’ve worked amongst this in Granby for the past couple of years. It has blighted the Welsh streets and Smithdown Road, near to where I live. And I saw it most graphically of all on the Anfield Home Tour. The streets around Liverpool FC’s ground look like there’s been a war happening. Maybe there has?
At where we work. The country ran its heavy industries down like they all had contagious diseases. Without thinking about or even appearing to care about what would replace them. What we would work at once the pits and the ship yards and the factories were gone. We can’t all work part-time at Asda. Generations were wasted and we were told we had to be more ‘flexible’ about pay and conditions to ‘compete’ in ‘the market’. And when ‘the market’ ate itself and the banks all ‘had to be’ bailed out, we were punished with ‘austerity’ and labelled’ workshy’ and ‘benefits scroungers’. And next we will be pushed out of our homes by pointlessly punitive housing benefits changes. It feels like we’re under siege. Maybe we are?
Under siege where we live, how we work. And on into future generations. Our children leaving colleges with debts to control how and where they can live. Even our young, it seems, are caged. By ‘the market’. By the establishment.
And looking at the things we like to do brings me back to football. Here too the interests of ‘the market’ have taken precedence over the people. The charlatan football pools owners and carpet manufacturers who used to run the game have largely sold out to Sky for television rights and to much richer charlatans from elsewhere, who can ‘lend’ the clubs enough money to ‘compete’ in the pumped up economy ‘the market’ has now created. Leaving us, the people, divorced from the teams we can mostly no longer afford to go and actually watch.
But all is not lost. We have the example of the families of the 96 to inspire us. For the past 23 years, leading up to yesterday, we have seen what it’s possible to achieve if you refuse to take no for an answer.
And now we are finally approaching justice and vindication on Hillsborough, now the establishment seems to have been revealed so harshly, maybe more of us will now find the courage to say no to them more often? No to the destruction of our cities. No to the devaluation of our lives. No to the market ruling everything. And yes to our football clubs being owned by their true supporters.
Well, maybe that’s a start to my ‘wishes for 2013’ list then.
Oh and one more thing. I don’t usually care about who gets the Christmas number 1. I don’t even much like ‘He ain’t heavy’, never have. But this year let’s get the Hillsborough single to that number 1, ok? Because I don’t want a nicey-nicey end to the year where everbody stuffs themselves, rolls over and forgets what’s happened.
This year we got the truth, and the beginnings of justice, at last. And it matters that that is noticed and remembered as the year closes and is reviewed. So if you haven’t bought it yet, please do.