“During Sykes’s evidence, it became clear not only that these stories were untrue…”

The indignity endured by the families of those killed at Hillsborough was not the core of the unimaginable tragedy itself, but how a quasi-official narrative of self-infliction became mainstream

The police claimed that the gate at the Leppings Lane had been forced open by fans; there were suggestions that typical hooliganism was to blame; the Prime Minister’s press advisor said events were caused by a ‘tanked-up mob’; and the Sun newspaper, to its enduring shame, under the headline THE TRUTH, claimed that fans had attacked rescue workers and stole from the bodies of the dead.

The police investigation that followed focused more on the behaviour of the fans – specifically on whether they had consumed alcohol – than on any other aspect. From the outset it looked like a cover-up. The lies and the slurs continued, even in the face of an official inquiry conducted by Lord Justice Taylor that pointed to widespread police failures and which exonerated the fans.

The Inquest made short work of some of the abiding untruths:

When challenged by Michael Mansfield QC, representing 77 families whose relatives died in the crush on the Leppings Lane terrace, Sykes accepted a police log from the night of the disaster showed none of the 10 bodies he was referring to had been stripped of possessions.

During Sykes’s evidence, it became clear not only that these stories were untrue, but that South Yorkshire police had the evidence all along that this was the case and yet had encouraged the stories and never corrected them. As a routine practice, its officers compiled lists of any money or other items found on people who had died. Mark George QC, representing 22 families, told Sykes that research of all the property logs showed nobody had “multiple wallets”. One person had a wallet and a separate small holder for his bank card. These deeply damaging stories, which had been maintained for a quarter of a century, crumbled in moments.

And from The Times and The Sun, who did more than their bit at the time to propagate that quasi-official narrative:


Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty