Liverpool’s Bloody Sunday

Not the incident itself but the official cover up. For once Chris Donnelly treads more lightly than he might have. Even in the Leveson era, this is much bigger than a media travesty. 

Even if the Liverpool inquiry has delivered the plain unvarnished truth, to treat scores of Liverpool football fans  almost as sub humans apparently unworthy of rapid emergency treatment was surely the worse crime committed in Sheffield that day and subsequently.  

Later, two senior judges although critical of police negligence, in the end believed police lies in preference to the victims’ relatives. Football fans in general may have partly deserved a poor reputation in those days.

But stereotypical thinking is the enemy of integrity. Uneasy as I usually am about following mass outrage, it is better to face what is obvious and not look for excuses, when it comes to the terrible particular.

The parallels between Londonderry and Liverpool are tragically clear. There were of course differences of follow up after the earliest whitewash. In Derry 30 years on a massive public inquiry was part of a political process that already included police reform.

Political insurgency of a kind although not unknown in Liverpool never compared with anything in Derry eight years before the Hillsborough disaster. Thankfully the community there was spared serious  “radicalisation,” although Scotland Road still has the capacity to ignite.

But the problems of Toxteth have little to do with Liverpool football fans and should not be confused through metropolitan bigotry.

As Simon Jenkins points out, it was local initiative that nailed the South Yorkshire police. The Sheffield Hillsborough disaster will give a huge boost to English police accountability that is currently inferior to the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

Ironically it was that champion of the NI variety Hugh Orde who found himself on the wrong side of the argument back in England after last year’s riots.

Orde’s defence of the quality of the police response and his dismissal of the significance of David Cameron’s intervention may well have cost him the leadership of the Met. It gets harder and harder to decide who is the good cop these days.   

Good cops were shockingly thin on the ground in Sheffield in 1989.  Today, police accountablity has still some way to go. They would  do themselves  a big favour and the communities they serve to embrace accountability rather than try to sabotage the latest efforts, as they have so often in the past.

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  • There was a great article on The Rangers Standard today about what it was like watching football in the late 70s-for a lot of 80s. The fact that football fans were regarded by the State, the cops and “nice” society as scum was the implicit justification for the likes of Hillsborough, Bradford and going a bit further back, Ibrox.

    I followed Utd home and away in the mid 90s and even for someone brought up with the delicate nature and sensitive behaviour of the RUC was shocked at how normal, law abiding and.. yup decent folk were treated by the Merseyside, West Midlands and Met cops.

  • davidcouper

    Allegations of police corruption or use of excessive force hurts everyone – especially the police — in terms of lost cooperation, support and trust – which, in turn, diminishes their effectiveness. Are the four major obstacles to police reform “arresting” your police? See, “Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Protest, Racism, Corruption and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police” ( in US and EU). And visit my blog at

  • Turgon

    I found the article you mentioned: It is an excellent article. I think some of the attitude persisted later even than that. I have only been to one football match. It was Rangers (against Kilmarnock) early 1990s. I went to help take a group of BB children: one of my friends was the Captain.

    I still remember the amazement (and discomfort) of a police woman on a horse. I was brought up around horses and was very used to them. I went over to the horse, was patting it and asking her about it, explaining it was very like my own horse. She was completely incredulous that someone could be attending a football match who could own a horse. She also seemed highly concerned that I had no fear of the animal. It was as if my lack of fear of the horse meant that it did not intimidate me and hence, somehow I was a threat.

  • wild turkey

    Firstly, Brian, a clear and cogent post. thanks.

    “Good cops were shockingly thin on the ground in Sheffield in 1989.”

    but Brian, plus ca change, plus la meme.

    from todays guardian (link to full article below)

    Hyde’s suspension brings the number of the country’s most senior officers who have faced or are facing disciplinary action or investigation by the police watchdog to nine. It is unprecedented for so many senior serving officers to be the focus of investigations at the same time.

    brian, many many moons ago you noted my hunter thompsonesque proclivities. whatever. but like the good dr said, THE SCUM ALSO RISES.

    so maybe i imagined this. but once upon a time were there, or were there not, serious allegations about the freemasonary of the upper echelons of british policing?

    for example, when in a generous mode and recalling Cressida Dick, the gold commander in the control room during the operation which led to the death of the Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes, i do not focus on her god given surname, but merely ponder this question:-

    ‘Is this just another comfortably appointed maisonette?’

  • But let’s not jump the gun. I have a relative in a fairly high position in his profession who was suspended following serious allegations. The inquiry found that the allegations were not only untrue, they were malicious. The alledger got his/her just desserts.

  • I’m not sure I understand what is Mr Walker’s essential point here.

    If it amounts to the demonisation of a particular lower “caste” by the Thatcherite establishment, I’m with him.

    To appreciate that we’d need to start from noting that Hillsborough came after a decade of those in power decrying “the enemy within”. OK, OK: that phrase only emerged with the Lady addressing the 1922 Committee in July 1984, but the mind-set had been evident long before. “Attacks on democracy and the rule of law” (same speech) amount to “they” are attacking “our” institutions. [Cf: the hunger strikes.]

    The irony of Thatcher’s attitude to “class” is that:
    — she decried the very idea, as in “”Class,” she insisted, “is a Communist concept. It groups people as bundles, and sets them against one another.”
    — her policies and the attitudes that went with them developed the most caustic version of class-warfare we have had in recent British history.
    — above all else she propagated values of inequality, which went beyond acceptable meritocracy: “The pursuit of equality itself is a mirage. Opportunity means nothing unless it includes the right to be unequal and of freedom to be different. One of the reasons why we value individuals is not because they’re all the same but because they’re all different … Let our children grow tall and some taller than others, if they have the ability in them to do so.” So men, having reached the age 26, not driving their BMWs, but travelling by bus are unmanly.

    “… of freedom to be different …” Hmmm.

    Meanwhile the Thatcherite tendency was creating a state apparatus (most notably by buying the South Yorkshire Police with treble overtime, and plenty of it) to contain and suppress an under-class (most evidently by the hard-nosed police checkpoint at the A1/A57/A614 roundabout).

    In that context the very vocabulary of Hillsborough stinks (“Cage A”, anyone?).

  • Apologies, I should have given the link- this is the article I was referring to-

  • Mark

    It seems it’s not just South Yorkshire Police that fabricate evidence . After the infamous Chelsea Headhunters rioted during an FA cup match against Luton FC in 1985 , The Tory Govt decided enough was enough and set up an anti hooligan unit to infiltrate the Headhunters specifically targeting the ” generals ” . Young undercover officers spent a couple of yrs accumulating ” evidence ” and soon enough the usual dawn raids followed and 5 of the top Headhunters were arrested , convicted and sent away for a long time ( or so the police thought ) .

    The Headhunters appealed and all their cases were overturned . It turned out that the police ( surprise , surprise ) had fabricated evidence . The now innocent pillars of society / Chelsea Headhunters sued the Govt and each received around 30 grand . Two of them used the cash to open a bar in Thailand called ” The Dogs Bollocks ” . Each year postcards from Thailand would land on the desks on the police involved in the initial case .

    Two of the five who had been living in the far east since the trials collapsed were still named on a police watch list before the World Cup in Japan / Sth Korea 2002 …….15 yrs later .

  • Brian Walker

    Malcolm et al, My essential point is that the police wern’t then and still arent’ accountable in the right way.Meaning they tend to hide a raft of restrictive pratices behind ” operational independence” and can still behave like a separate caste I’m in no sense “anti-police” and believe their errors would be pounced on less if they were more accountable- ie had to justify their actions or lack of them more . As regards the theory that Thatcher owed the police in some way because of Orgreave, I’d be interested to hear more. I do know they were reined inconsiderably by the Thatcher era Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) . They now fear that elected police commissioners will make them subject to contradictory populist demands.The new commissioners plus the government will have to prove them wrong.

  • HeinzGuderian

    Let’s not kid ourselves about ‘nice’ football supporters in the 70’s and 80’s.
    Man Utd,
    and yes,even Liverpool,had some of the worst hooligans in football.
    What happened that day at Hilsborough was a tradgedy,and the Police coverup was a disgrace. But let’s not kid ourselves that all supporters were Boy Scouts,who only went to matches to pat horses…..

  • Be back in a bit. Have to go to the E.R. to get stitches in my tongue.

  • wild turkey

    ‘Let’s not kid ourselves about ‘nice’ football supporters in the 70′s and 80′s.’

    indeed, in the early 80s went to a Millwall match with a mate who was actually doing PhD work (long since jettisoned) on social class, deprivation and football supporters. scared the living shit out of me.

    Anyway, Heinz, ever read any Nelson Algren? Probably most well known work is The Man with the Golden Gun. Anyway I ask because the author was taken to task for a throwaway line in an interview (and these were pre-PC days) to the effect that

    ‘hey, have you ever noticed that a lot of the people your hearts are bleeding for are mean and stupid? that’s just a fact’
    readers, please note, the above quote in no way refers to, or infers upon, the Liverpool supporters at Hillsborough. but some thugs used football as an excuse for thuggery. and first and foremost amongst the guilty are the filth who perpetrated, and perpetuated, a sleazy slander against the Liverpool fans that day.

  • wild turkey

    sorry, above should read Man with the Golden Arm

  • HeinzGuderian

    I have never read man With The Golden Gun/Arm,no.
    What happened at Hillsborough that day was a tragedy,brought about by a series of event which,in hindsight,could have easily been avoided.
    I have absolutely no idea why the South Yorkshire Police decided to alter statements,or attempt to cover up the facts of this tragedy.
    What i am trying to point out,contrary to the first Two replies,is that a number of football supporters in the 70’s and 80’s were hooligans. That’s a fact.
    Maybe that would have had some bearing as to how they were viewed by the Police ?
    Mrs Thatcher wasn’t to blame for the Hillsborough Tragedy. Indeed,new Labour had 15 years in power to unearth the truth.

  • Clanky

    The other parallel between the 2 events is the reaction of people in both cities with no direct connection to the events on the day.

    As much as it pains me to agree with anything which comes from the mouth of a tory, Boris Johnson’s remarks about Liverpudlians desire to be seen as victims, while they were politically innapropriate, were not too far from the mark.

    Yes the events of the day were a tragedy, yes the cover up and the lies against the fans who were there that day was reprehensible, but it seems that every scouser has chosen to be personally hurt and offended by it.

    The same is true of Blody Sunday, the events of that day were a tragedy, the cover up and lies were a disgrace, but the collective weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth by people who were in no way involved in the events of the day shows the same sense of victimhood.

    It was interesting to note the difference in reactions after the bloody Sunday inquiry from the families who simply wanted the reputations of their loved ones restored, to the myriad of hangers on who were demanding apologies and prosecutions to calm their weeping hearts.

    Hopefully there will be some serious lessons learnt from both events, both in terms of policing and in terms of honesty and openess when things go wrong, but no-one seems to be asking why so many people seem to feel the need to publicly mourn those who they never knew whose death happened at an event which they did not attend.

    Those who lost loved ones or who were involved in the events on either day will hopefully find some resolution in the follow up and the new found openness surround those event, but the idea that anyone with a Kevin Keegan perm has the right to be personally offended by the tragic events in Hillsborough is no more valid than the idea that anyone who say cyar instead of car can be personally offended by bloody Sunday.

  • Old Mortality

    ‘The other parallel between the 2 events is the reaction of people in both cities with no direct connection to the events on the day.’

    Not to mention their vile, whining accents.

  • Thank you, Mr Walker (actually, Brian Walker has worn so many hats, it’s difficult to award him a single honorific). As always, he is incisive. As with:

    My essential point is that the police weren’t then and still aren’t accountable in the right way.

    Which would take us to this dam’ silly business of “Police and Crime Commissioners” — were it not blatantly obvious that no officialdom should ever, ever commission “crime”. As “Sir” Michael White and the Guardian pertinently reminded us, similar ill-favoured and less-than-popular mayoral elections have given the Great English Public a weirdo in Doncaster and H’Angus the Monkey in Hartlepool (who is, by all accounts, doing a decent job).

    Self-evidently, I’m no fan of the PCC elections (except insofar as it’ll give Tories more bloody noses than a decent Rugby League punch-up). What links Hillsborough and these PCC elections, in my mind, is the issue of political control. As a matter of course, there could and should be as wide a separation of political and policing powers as possible. There wasn’t with the South Yorkshire Police, and there won’t be with PCCs. We had a small example of the same thing with that little spat between Mayor Johnson and the Home Secretary over Ian Blair’s forced resignation. Expect more of the same.

    I recognise my small-c conservatism shows here. The appointed police committees, on the whole — particularly so now police authorities cover wide and separate areas — worked fairly well. They have been a tripartite operation: the Home Office (who, after all are the main funders), the magistracy, and the local authorities (who are also precepted). The Chief Constable (indeed all the constabulary) are sworn-constables of the (nebulous) Crown.

    One last thought — and Robert Chessyre was saying it better for the Independent — the police repression that went with Thatcherism was maintaintained by an unholy alliance of”
    ¶ an over-powerful Prime Minister,
    ¶ a compliant police force bribed with overtime and licensed to boot
    ¶ a fawning Tory press (especially Murdoch, who had good reasons for gratitude).
    That draws a direct line from Wapping, via a whole series of “fit-ups”, via Orgreave and Leppings Lane, all the way to Leveson.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Not sure I follow the light treading point.

    The horrific nature of the events that passed some 23 years ago are well understood by all, myself included. Pointing to the hypocritical comments of a political figure is par for the course here- indeed, those engaged in a faux outrage outburst on the other thread have been the first to point to comments of republican leaders in the past for similar purposes.

    Not quite certain the Bloody Sunday analogy follows either. That was a violent act undertaken by soldiers under the supervision and direction of greater authorities and the ‘cover-up’ continued through the inquiry process and thereafter for another generation.

    The dreadful events at Hillsborough were a coincidence of tragedy and incompetence in the first instance, but what followed was a case of institutions seeking to protect themselves.

    Perhaps both involved a reliance on stereotype and a residual sense of deference to certain authorities to attempt to pass off the blame to those who suffered the most on that day.

    In that sense, taken alongside the shameful conduct of Church authorities in relation to child abuse throughout the generations, a pattern of authorities striving to use their power and influence to protect their status and conceal wrongdoing emerges.

    Unfortunately, twas ever thus.

  • HeinzGuderian

    (not to mention the shots fired first,at the Paras,on ‘That Sunday’)

  • If HeinzGuderian @ 10:58 pm doesn’t qualify for the 2012 “whataboutery” finals, what does?

    And if that is acceptable, so is this:

    Lord Saville concludes that the soldiers of Support Company who went into the Bogside

    “did so as a result of an order… which should have not been given”

    by their commander. He finds that

    “on balance the first shot in the vicinity of the march was fired by the British Army”

    and that

    “none of the casualties shot by soldiers of Support Company was armed with a firearm”.

    He also finds that

    “there was some firing by republican paramilitaries… but… none of this firing provided any justification for the shooting of civilian casualties”,

    and that

    “in no case was any warning given before soldiers opened fire”.

    Lord Saville also finds that Support Company

    “reacted by losing their self-control… forgetting or ignoring their instructions and training”

    and acted with

    “a serious and widespread loss of fire discipline”.

    He finds that

    despite the contrary evidence given by the soldiers… none of them fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers”

    and that many of the soldiers

    knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing”.

    David Cameron’s statement, 15 June 2010. [My emphases]

    Indeed: sounds akin to this thread.

  • galloglaigh

    If you look at it another way, perhaps the families of those killed by the Para’s will see them in court. As for the Sheffield Police???

    On a side note, and slightly off topic, Peter Robinson has asked the Irish Government to apologise for arming the IRA. Is Robinson willing to apologise for arming the UVF and UDA?

  • PaddyReilly


    I think in sport, as in armies, there are the Infantry divisions and the Cavalry.

    This makes you the match-going equivalent of a centaur, or ‘Slattery’s Mounted Foot.’

  • Paddy, you should get together with Heinz, both of you having given gratuitous insults to Turgon.

  • wee buns

    The cops were badly trained but more importantly they were working within a culture of impunity.
    When Thatcher dies I shall join Elvis Costello doing a merry jig upon her grave.

    During her time she did wage the most vicious class warfare while paying lip service to the opposite.
    She was complicit to the hilt in the withdrawal of human sympathy – which rendered Liverpudlians and Derry people as sub human/dispensable lives. Along with the Murdoch press who insulte the people of Liverpool as a bunch of scroungers.

    The massive cover up that followed only lends to strengthen the parallel between Derry and Liverpool.
    Fair play to the families for persueing justice – but somehow I feel that the English families have a slightly better chance of achieving convictions than do the Derry families.

  • Reader

    PaddyReilly: This makes you the match-going equivalent of a centaur, or ‘Slattery’s Mounted Foot.’
    Were they Dragoons or Hobilars?

  • PaddyReilly

    both of you having given gratuitous insults to Turgon.

    This is not an insult. It is merely a witticism suggesting that an interest in football and equestrian pursuits are rarely found in the same person.

  • Pete Rock


    After the infamous Chelsea Headhunters rioted during an FA cup match against Luton FC in 1985 , The Tory Govt decided enough was enough and set up an anti hooligan unit to infiltrate the Headhunters specifically targeting the ” generals ” . Young undercover officers spent a couple of yrs accumulating ” evidence ” and soon enough the usual dawn raids followed and 5 of the top Headhunters were arrested , convicted and sent away for a long time ( or so the police thought ) .

    The FA Cup match in 1985 was Luton vs Millwall, not Chelsea.

  • HeinzGuderian

    malcom…….and the DFM was knitting with his mammy that day n all 😉

  • I’m away from it all now although we have had a couple of sports related riots in the past few years. Has football hooliganism been generally wiped out?