My least favourite labour ex minister has just raised a necessary angle regarding what led to the culture of police impunity when it came to the Hillsborough disaster cover up. A few voices have dissented, mainly Maggie’s unblinking defenders, but we should look at the particular history of that decade and why Jack Straw may have a point.
If we seek “the truth” as opposed to the products of Kelvin MacKenzie’s poisonous bile duct, then we should look at where the culture of the police and to a lesser extent the wider public was at that time. Jack Straw mentioned that it was the time of the policing of the miner’s strike that was largely when the police were taught that breaking the law was their government sanctioned privilege. He was right.
There was already a culture surrounding the world of football that dismissed all fans as hooligans, people capable of senseless violence just for the love of it, and indeed, there was such a culture inside most football clubs… but only among a very small section of the fans, for whom the tribal identity of a football club was the easiest default way of uniting a group and disallowing internal dissent from their macho, fight hungry, gang views.
Four years before the Hillsborough disaster, it was a group of Liverpool fans who were deemed to have caused the deaths of 39 Juventus fans when a wall collapsed under pressure of crowd surge at the Heysel stadium, site of a European cup final. Despite these deaths and 600 people being injured, remarkably the game was not abandoned and Liverpool went on to lose 1-0.
The game was continued because the authorities feared a worse situation of riots if they abandoned it, but even long afterwards, all the rationale and analysis of this disaster focused on the rioting fans, hardly at all upon the poor stadium design and condition. The result was largely to reinforce notions that all fans needed to be more heavily “policed”.
This disaster came just after the formal end of the miners strike – a year long class battle that had seen Maggie Thatcher’s Conservative government, triumphant… and this coming on the back of “defending” the Falkland islands and creating a jingoism among the British public that suited their ends. This helped them to force through laws akin to a police state in order to prevent so called “Flying picketing”. The police in the mining areas of the UK were moved from area to area with the specific intent of ensuring that no friendships between police and strikers could prevent the police acting on orders to provoke violence and clamp down on the strikers.
The BBC were shamefully complicit in enabling this whole farce to be sold to the public as akin to the football hooligan issue, where our brave policemen were keeping order in the face of those set on mindless violence…
The strike was officially lost, and miners in their thousands were beaten and demoralised, while the police were encouraged by the media and the government to see themselves as heroes – despite the fact that all parties must have known the level of illegal and or immoral behaviour in which they engaged.
Thatcher’s police were enabled to stop and search, block vehicles with more than one person, prevent pickets of more than 6 people, and generally turn a blind eye to any crimes of strike-breakers they were sent to protect.
No one is under any illusions that the culture of the police was far from equality and fair-mindedness before Maggie came to power, but this was the time when the worst excesses and immoral acts of the enforcement arm became truly corrupted due to the Government’s encouragement of such behaviours.
So with football fans seen as so many worthless but dangerous sheep to be policed into submission, it was no surprise that South Yorkshire’s arm (heavily involved in policing Welsh miners strike sites incidentally) decided that in the face of the Hillsborough disaster it was perfectly reasonable to use their pals the media and lie and smear the Liverpool fans in order to disguise the extent of their own massive incompetence. The public were by and large on their side.
It has taken the Stephen Lawrence affair, the SPG incidents, the Leveson enquiry and many many more exposures of the worst of the old police culture to get something resembling a modern British police force that can be seen as the citizens friend – and there are still traces and pockets of very bad behaviour, especially in the Met. But to deny that this was part of a government and media spawned horrorshow is to be blind to what allows such an anti-human culture to develop.