Saturday, 5 June 2010


Although far too cowardly to own-up to it, rabble-rouser and SchoolFatBoy, Simon Heffer, was the author of the infamous Liverpool editorial in the Spectator, a political wankmag for rightwing nutters, and left Boris Johnson, his editor, to take the flak. A darling of hangers 'n' floggers, Fatboy has often said he would pull the gallows traplever on a condemned man, and probably woman, too. Just as long, Simes, as they were, like Liverpool, wrongly convicted, eh?

HT mr a young anglot-irish catholic.
This, below,  from blog ak13 sets out the position:
Eyes wide shut
Stereotypes of Scousers have hurt more than just pride, says Andrew Coombes.
Andrew Coombes
The furore that followed the Spectator's 16 October leader, where the magazine suggested that the outpouring of grief on Merseyside for the murder of Ken Bigley was disproportionate, fuelled Liverpool's already deep mistrust of the press.

Editor Boris Johnson made a trip to Liverpool to apologise for the leader column, stuttering and stammering his way past each caller that phoned up BBC Radio Merseyside to publicly excoriate him. The reaction that the Spectator piece provoked in Liverpool was very much like that of a cornered animal, lashing out in an attempt to defend itself. Not surprising, given that Liverpudlians are perhaps the only UK residents that still endure not just comedic ridicule, but utter contempt from other areas of the UK.

This contempt is apparent in the Spectator's leader, particularly in its view of the 1989 Hillsborough football stadium disaster. It is worth examining the Spectator's editorial in detail here. "The deaths of more than 50 Liverpool football supporters at Hillsborough in 1989 was undeniably a greater tragedy than the single death, however horrible, of Mr Bigley; but that is no excuse for Liverpool's failure to acknowledge, even to this day, the part played by drunken fans at the back of the ground who mindlessly tried to fight their way into the crowd that Saturday afternoon."

The leader goes on to say: "The police became a convenient scapegoat, and the Sun newspaper a whipping-boy for daring, albeit in a tasteless fashion, to hint at the wider causes of the incident." Taking these paragraphs apart, there are a number of errors and more than a few instances where journalistic rigour has been subsumed to mistrust of Liverpudlians.

It is necessary to put the Spectator's comments up against the true facts. 96 Liverpool fans died at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989, following a crush at the Leppings Lane terrace. The failure by the police on the day to ensure safe entry to the terraces contributed directly to the disaster. On entry into the ground, fans were steered into the central pens directly behind the goalmouth.

Meanwhile, the outer pens on the Leppings Lane terrace did not fill up to the same extent as the central pens. When Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield ordered that an access gate (Gate C) be opened to let in the fans – due to the failure of the turnstiles in processing the fans on arrival – police failed to divert incoming fans into the side pens on the terrace. Instead, they sent them into the two already crowded central pens.

A huge crush occurred in the central pens, killing 95 fans on the day – Tony Bland died a few months later after never regaining consciousness, taking the death toll to 96. From the immediate moment of the crush, the myth making began – in favour of the police against the victims.

Indeed, Chief Superintendent Duckenfield told a shocked Graham Kelly of the FA that fans had forced entry onto the Leppings Lane terrace. "Within hours this information was circulating around the world as the key cause of the Disaster, with the word 'stampede' embellishing the story", notes Phil Scraton, Ann Jemphrey and Sheila Coleman in their exhaustive investigation of Hillsborough, No Last Rights. Tellingly, this initial lie came be the central plank of the mainstream media's Hillsborough coverage.

The Interim Taylor Report concluded that the failure of the police to inhibit access to the crowded central pens, once Gate C had been opened, caused the disaster. It stated that the central pens had not been monitored sufficiently, leading to heavy crowd density.

In short, the police failed to recognise the immediate consequences of their decision to open Gate C, following the difficulty of processing a large amount of Liverpool fans through a comparatively small number of turnstiles, many of which had malfunctioned. At no point in Taylor's interim report was blame laid at the door of Liverpool supporters at Hillsborough.

One should not expect to continually recount the above facts 15 years after the tragedy, but Hillsborough was no ordinary disaster. Time after time, the stereotypical view of 'Scousers' has over-ridden a true representation of what really caused the tragedy. The Taylor Report is available from most public libraries, so the Spectator's failure to speak authoritatively on the cause of the disaster is inexcusable. The fans were innocent, while South Yorkshire Police's operational order failed.

The Spectator's defence of the Sun's reporting of Hillsborough is a further pointer to how the Spectator views the disaster. The Sun's infamous piece 'The Truth' was, in fact, one of the most mendacious pieces of journalism ever committed to print. In this piece, the Sun did not merely 'hint' – as the Spectator states – at the wider causes of the incident. Amongst other damaging statements, it falsely reported that drunken Liverpool fans raided the pockets of the dead and injured, and urinated on police officers that were attempting to give the kiss of life.

The idea that this kind of behaviour would occur at a tragedy of this magnitude is unthinkable. Yet the Sun reported this as fact, a 'smear' without any shred of substantiation. Raiding the pockets of the dead? Liverpool fans were actually looking for identification on the victims, and families of the bereaved reported no thefts from the dead to the Hillsborough Family Support Group.

Urinating on police officers and the dead? Phil Hammond of the Hillsborough Family Support Group told John Pilger: "We got all the clothes back; they hadn't been washed; none of them smelt of urine". The Sun took a litany of pejorative assumptions about the behaviour of Liverpudlians and published a piece that had a devastating effect on survivors, and the families of the bereaved, as they tried to cope in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

Over fifteen years on, the Spectator has chosen to place fiction before fact, even after the Sun apologised – albeit belligerently – for 'The Truth' story in July 2004. A prestigious intellectual publication has shown professional sympathy for a newspaper that lied.

The Spectator's reference to an 'unfortunate' sense of victimhood among Liverpudlians is deeply offensive to those who lost loved ones at Hillsborough. 15 years after the disaster, no one has been prosecuted for the failure to ensure public safety on 15th April 1989.

The Hillsborough Justice Campaign's fight continues to have a new inquest opened that rejects the highly contentious 3.15pm cut-off point – all evidence after this cut-off time was not deemed admissible by the coroner at the original inquests, despite the fact that several witness statements state that many fans who died were still alive after 3.15pm. Yet the brave refusal to give up on justice is, instead, portrayed as an excuse to wallow in self-pity.

The Spectator's view that Liverpool has a 'deeply unattractive' psyche is by no means unique. Jonathan Margolis wrote for the Sunday Times in 1993: "The tragedy is . . . that Liverpool is stuck in a groove, refusing to listen to criticism, clinging to past charms and triumphs, desperate not be seen as provincial but managing to appear just that by cutting itself off from the world. When the world is against you, how gratifying it must feel to know that you really do walk alone."

It would be so easy to shrug one's shoulders and say that a free press has an inalienable right to publish comment that is uneasy or difficult to swallow. However, in a clear case of power without responsibility, ill-researched scattershot broadsides have been allowed to pass as constructive comment in the case of Hillsborough.

The negative mythic assumptions concerning the disaster and its aftermath have been so well choreographed as to deny the Hillsborough families a full and proper hearing in the inquests and judicial review. A true example of the power of the press in shaping negative attitudes towards the disaster is the callous remark by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith at the Judicial Scrutiny into Hillsborough on 6 October 1997, shortly after the new Labour government had taken power.

On meeting the families for the first time, Smith breezily remarked to one bereaved father: "Have you got a few of your people or are they like the Liverpool fans, who turn up at the last minute?" The common-sense, yet incorrect, view of Hillsborough that repeatedly passed as 'journalism' predicated how the judicial process was steered, leading to an abdication of impartiality by the judiciary and, in turn, an abrogation of justice for the families.

The Spectator's view that Liverpool has a 'flawed psychological state' is an insult to the families that continue to seek redress for the failures of Hillsborough. On speaking to Anne Williams, a mother who lost her son Kevin in the disaster and who now calls to have a new inquest opened, one does not sense any self-pity but a sense of righteous anger and, above all, devotion to her son's memory. These qualities are in stark contrast to the snobbish and arrogant posturing of the Spectator, which, in seeking to address the emotional outpouring after Ken Bigley's sad death, has only increased the hurt and suffering of innocent families across Merseyside.

Boris Johnson may feel privately that the fact he had to apologise to Liverpool for the column proved its very point – that Liverpool is a tribal city with a deep sense of injustice. However, when distortion of the facts in cases such as Hillsborough occurs, it is to be applauded that communities take a pro-active stance against the libelous excesses of the press.

Just as the Sun's sales never recovered on Merseyside after 'The Truth', so the Spectator will lose out, circulation wise. That, however, is not the point. It is an outrage that the piece ran in the first place, and one can only wonder what other inconsistencies are in its pages.

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