England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Hillsborough: why the cover-up?

A memorial commemorating the hillsborough disaster

This is the second of a two-part series of articles looking at the Hillsborough disaster following the series “Anne”, currently available on ITV Hub. The first part looks at the story of Anne Williams and other families of the victims at Hillsborough. In this second part we look at the background of the events and what the cover-up in the years following the disaster represented.

In any political sewer to be found in this country you will always be sure to find Boris Johnson frolicking. In 2004, fifteen years after the events of Hillsborough, when editor of the Spectator, he still claimed that drunken fans were partially responsible for the Hillsborough tragedy and, referring to the campaign for the truth, sounded off that Liverpudlians ‘see themselves whenever possible as victims’.

It is impossible to come across a more authentic specimen of the British ruling class than Johnson. But why was there such a determined effort over many decades to prevent the truth about the tragedy coming out and why years later did he still think he could get away with comments like that?

The interests of the capitalist establishment

The reasons lie in the events of the 1980s. Thatcher and her Tory tribe came to power in 1979 with an agenda to crush the working class and their organisations. No union terrified the Tories more than the National Union of Mineworkers. Twice they had defeated the Tories under Edward Heath and brought him down. Thatcher and the police carefully planned to destroy the miners and shut down every pit in the country. The Tories felt they needed a practice run so they turned to attacking the workers in the steel industry.

Sheffield was one of the most important centres of the British steel industry. Thousands were employed in the city’s forges and foundries. On 2 January 100,000 went on strike across the country for a wage rise based on huge productivity gains. Traditionally steel workers were not militant but inflation had eaten into their wages and so for the first time in decades they struck. Thatcher secretly backed the employers and the police.

Outside the Hadfield East Hecla Works 600 police officers turned up to brutally break the picket, with 60 workers arrested. Within a few years the great miners’ strike began. For many years South Yorkshire police had a reputation for viciousness and an anti-working class culture. The played a leading and pernicious role in crushing the miners in their struggle for jobs, employing ruthless tactics against miners living in the villages and towns around the city. The police authorities revelled in an atmosphere of impunity which was encouraged by the anti-working-class outlook of the Thatcher government.

Thatcher was very grateful to the police, especially in South Yorkshire for their help defeating the miners. In her book they could do no wrong and she would not stand for any criticism of them over the Hillsborough events. After all, the fans had brought this disaster down on their own heads by their yobbish behaviour and in any case they were from Liverpool. Thatcher stated at the time that the police should emerge blameless revealing the intentions of the establishment.

Liverpool was the city that had defied Thatcher. A Militant-led council had improved the lives of so many, by building thousands of new homes, schools and other amenities. The councillors squeezed millions of pounds out of the government and had never been defeated in an election, only removed by a court.

The media, the police, politicians ran a campaign to denigrate the people of the city, conjuring up an image of lazy, feckless, drunken, scousers who turned up at the game late with no tickets and smashed their way in, crushing fans in front of them. They then supposedly abused the dead, going through their pockets, stealing from them, attempting to sexually assault victims and attacking police to prevent them helping the injured – let’s not forget the cruelty to police horses.

So deep did this narrative run that the judiciary readily absorbed this poison and made it their own. The dismissive attitude of the Coroner at the first inquest, the refusal of Stuart-Smith to consider new evidence (supported by a Labour Home Secretary), the failure of the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute until forced to, followed by failure to hold anyone truly accountable all underline this prejudice. If the judiciary of this country thinks it was all the fault of the fans at Hillsborough why should the rest of us listen to the families?

Working-class movement needed to win justice 

But there is a danger in doing all this. As the years went on it became clear to most people that this was a gross injustice. After 140,000 signatures were collected on a petition, a Commons debate was forced. The ruling class increasingly realised that they were playing with fire. Something had to be done.

Judges and those who worked in the legal profession had been now discredited. Instead of leaving it to these types the government used the tactic of a panel of people to look at all the evidence. By including journalists, medical officers, criminologists etc. the panel gained some credibility.

Capitalism does not care about people. For decades football clubs run by the rich spent next to nothing on their grounds to make them safe. Hillsborough was a death trap; a disaster was bound to happen there. They only improved with a huge injection of cash from the government!

To prosecute senior police officers for the unlawful killing of so many people would be unprecedented and undermine the legitimacy of an important tool of the state. The truth had to be dragged out of the establishment. Of course there are many still more injustices such as Orgreave, Stephen Lawrence, killings in Northern Ireland and so on. Does anyone seriously believe that there will be justice for those who died at Grenfell Tower?

We must fight for the abolition of capitalism which puts profit before the safety of working class people. To protect this system, the state and the political establishment will always look to avoid accountability when disasters such as these happen. There must be no cover up when disasters occur. Teams of people drawn from the trade unions, labour movement and community whose priority is working people should investigate and judge. The police must be fully accountable and the judicial system abolished. Working-class people are not yobs, chavs and criminals as the stereotypes go but the people who create the wealth. They must take control in a socialist society.  


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