If there are any more things to say about the Hillsborough disaster in April 1989 that have not been said, it is the remarkable fact how on the day that 96 people lost their lives in the worst sporting catastrophe of Great Britain’s history, there was no crime committed. You could say that on the day there was lots and lots of bad management and indecisiveness but no criminal intent. That could have eventually have been forgiven. The crimes and there was plenty of them occurred weeks and days beforehand and weeks afterwards and continued for the next 23 years and these crimes cannot be forgiven without legal protocol being exercised.
Before the disaster, the Football Association sometime in early 1989, granted a semi-final venue to Sheffield Wednesday Football Club knowing full well that the Hillsborough ground was not fit for purpose. There had been incidents in the past that were disastrous and only luck saved the day. The FA knew that there was no safety certificate for the ground and that there had not been one since 1979 and yet still issued their invitation.
There was the football club itself, always in debt, chaired by that redoubtable Yorkshireman, Bert McGee, who weeks after the day was telling the BBC that the whole 100% of the blame for the tragedy rested with the behaviour of the Liverpool people. That fortunately was too much and he was shown out the backdoor a few months later only for another brash Yorkshire man, Dave Richards, to arise out of the ashes, but more of him later. It was good old Bert and his board of governors who accepted the invitation from the FA to hold the semi-final in the full knowledge of the ground’s incapability of holding a full house safely.
There was crime also committed by Sheffield Wednesday supporter and leader of Sheffield City Council, Clive Betts, who knew that the ground did not have a safety certificate and yet did nothing about it, but turned up in the directors box for a day’s sport. The same Clive Betts who became MP for Sheffield Attercliffe in 1992 and was making his way in the Labour Party until in 2003 he was suspended from Parliament by the Standards and Privileges Committee for trying to smuggle an illegal immigrant Brazilian rent boy onto his staff. What his partner and secretary, James Thomas, thought about this is not recorded but according to the Telegraph, he did try to unsuccessfully remove this incident from Mr Betts’ Wikipedia page. Perhaps he also was going to dip his bread in the gravy.
Mr Betts still tried to use cognitive dissonance as late as 2009 when he was saying to the media how whenever he looks back on that day in April 1989 he still shakes his head in amazement trying to understand how 96 people could have been killed at Hillsborough, the safest football stadium in the world. On his weekly blog posting this last week there was no mention of the findings of the Hillsborough Select Committee. For a man who was there on the day and played such an integral part in the disaster that seems very strange. Unless of course shame and guilt took a hand.
And then there were the officers of Sheffield City Council who were employed to insure that the letter of the law was attended to by everybody and who knew of this gross violation, this lack of a safety certificate which would have ensured the lives of thousands were not put at risk and did not whistle blow, I suppose in deference to their bosses. In most of this behaviour, money was the deciding factor, money that Sheffield Wednesday Football club never really had but for these officers of the council it was just the easy option of kowtowing to their bosses without thinking of the consequences, but this dereliction of duty is as bad a crime as the rest. All bundled up together in the legal term Corporate Manslaughter.
So there we have the crimes prior to the act, the day itself was only marred by putting the idiot and inexperienced Duckenfield in charge of police activity on the day. He it was, who in a moment of panic chose to open the large gates into the ground to ease the pressure outside the ground, to the unfortunate 96 people’s fate. That moment of panic should have got him into severe problems with his superiors and the consequences would eventually have been forgiven but he resigned a few years later on health grounds without a mark on his record even the charge brought by the Hillsborough families was struck out.
It was then that the crimes after the event started to multiply and obviously the machinations, the coverups, the unbelievable falsehoods became unmanageable but were held in check for 23 years by the power of a few. Kelvin McKenzie, the editor of the Sun, for his piece on the front page of the newspaper, for the MP Irvine Patnick and senior police officers for feeding disinformation to news agencies, for Bert McGee for continuing with the cry of woeful behaviour by Liverpool fans and ably abetted by the likes of Dave Richards, who rose like the sphinx from the ashes of Mr McGee.
Dave Richards was until a couple of months after the eventful day, a local ne’er-do-well business man with interests in water, waste and telecommunications who spent more time in receivers offices than in his own. He was appointed to the board of Sheffield Wednesday in late 1989 and within months was appointed chairman after Bert McGee’s Liverpool grouch. He steadfastly took the official line and would not even allow the erection of a monument outside the ground to honour the sacrifice of these innocent Liverpudlians. He said that he was told on legal grounds that allowing a monument to be erected would endanger the standing of the club. In the 450,000 documents perused by the Select Committee not one note on this matter was found and so the myth continued for 23 years and the guilty sat idly by. The perpetrators in the main were promoted and promoted and the Liverpool families were treated with utter disdain.
Clive Betts became an MP and might have done better except for his proclivities. Norman George Bettison, a police inspector on the day at Hillsborough was headed up afterwards to lead a diversionary campaign away from police errors and in fact produced a film reiterating the claim of drunkeness and violence causing the turnstiles to breakdown, which led to a massive influx of spectators causing the disaster. This apochryphal film was shown to MPs. Norman George was appointed Chief Constable of Merseyside Police as a slap in the eye by the Police Federation to the people of Liverpool. He is now the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police and was knighted in 2009.
And there is Dave, Sir Dave Richards, knighted in 2006 for his services to football. He is now chairman of the Premier League earning his salary of £345,000 per annum for turning up for a few meetings every year. He is a very powerful man in international football holding chairs on various other committees and boards. He is probably more famous for telling the arabs that if they were going to hold world cups then they had better start drinking and with that he took a dive into 50mm of water in a hotel fountain and was not seen again that day. A complete toss-pot.
Certainly although the day was one of grief for a lot of Liverpool people, those that propagated the myth and held off the denouement for 23 years have certainly done nicely thank you very, very much