Thursday, 13 September 2012

Make Mine a Jameson's - Revisited

News of the death of former Daily Star and Daily Express editor Derek Jameson occurred on the same day that the findings of the independent inquiry into Hillsborough were made public.

As I watched the news reports of the latter unfold the scale of the cover-up connived at by South Yorkshire police, I recalled a television interview I saw years ago featuring Derek Jameson and the late Ronald Gregory, at the time of the interview Chief Constable of West Yorkshire.

It followed the capture - by default - of Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, by South Yorkshire Police in 1981. Mr Gregory, treated respectfully by interviewers, was torn to pieces by Derek Jameson, who refused to let him waffle about his force's repeated failure to nail Sutcliffe - a man they had interviewed nine times mostly for minor offences or to clear from their inquiries. These days we are used to seeing politicians ritually Paxmaned on television. Back then it was rare that to see a very senior civil servant such as a chief constable held to account so publicly.

The current Chief Constable of South Yorkshire, David Crompton, made the expected apology for Hillsborough on behalf of the force which, he said, had made "grave errors". Given that up to 41 of the 96 Liverpool fans who perished on that afternoon in April, 1989, could have been saved had police and ambulance communications been adequate, Mr Crompton's metaphor was ill-judged, though only old pedants like me are likely to feel that way about the word "grave" in the context in which he used it.

This morning I heard part of a radio programme, complete with sobbing and piano music (always a give-away), in which the presenter asked whether, after 23 years, the pursuit of those responsible for the cover-up, the doctoring of evidence and years of deliberate obfuscation, would achieve anything. Oh well, I thought, airbrush the Nuremburg War Crimes trials from history, forget Simon Wiesenthal and the pursuit of those who perpetrated the Holocaust. The presenter was doubtless playing Devil's Advocate. Nevertheless, I thought he struck the wrong note.

But then the whole ghastly Hillsborough story is being tipped another way in light of what the inquiry revealed. From being for blamed for the horror, Liverpool fans are now being sanctified into victimhood. But at the time - four years after provoked Liverpool fans had gone after Juventus fans in the Heysel Stadium, and a wall collapsed killing39 Italians - there was a feeling that unruly behaviour outside the Hillsborough stadium may have contributed to the problem that South Yorkshire coppers could not handle. The late Brian Clough, manager of Nottingham Forest, Liverpool's opponents in that FA Cup semi-final, said as much at the time, I believe. 

Looking at the TV pictures from that afternoon, I have to wonder at the determined rush into the Leppings Lane end, where Liverpool fans were gathered, after police had foolishly opened the gate late on. I say this as one who has been known to get off trains in face of commuters pushing and shoving their way on. Why would anyone, even with a ticket, want to join a crush of people when others were clearly trying to extricate themselves by climbing into a nearby grandstand? I would have turned and fled. People in the mass are unreliable. A crowd massing in an ever-diminishing space is to be avoided at all costs - good rarely comes of it.

But now, after the latest damning report, I daresay all this will appear in bad taste.  That's usually the way of things when one very serious wrong has been partly righted. As to why justice takes so long, ask the families of those killed in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday and Omagh in 1995; ask those framed by the police who were jailed for acts of violence they did not commit. The fact that the Crown Prosecution Service exists is down to the proven unreliability of police evidence against the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six. 

We act surprised when public figures are found out to have been economical with the truth. And yet a plausible falsehood started the invasion of Iraq in 2003, killing untold thousands of Iraqis and more than 200 British soldiers; a blatant lie sent Britain fumbling into the Common Market in 1973. Between lies and damned statistics truth is daily crucified.   

PS: The following week the two WPCs were killed in Manchester after responding to a bogus burglary call out. Once again there was emoting on a huge scale, only this time in favour of the police. Locally, the case of Sharon Beshinivsky was resurrected, the rookie copper shot dead in Bradford seven years ago after responding to an armed robbery call out. Then, no one in the media asked why she and her partner were allowed to respond. They were unarmed and relatively inexperienced. The Manchester killings quickly wiped the Hillsborough Inquiry off the front pages and with it the acrimonious spotlight on the behaviour of South Yorkshire Police. Sanctimony ruled. So much so that when Tory Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell got arsey with a couple of coppers in Downing Street he was roundly condemned. Everyone uncritically fell into line, declaring what a wonderful job the police do - the thin blue line. The murder of those two unfortunate young women turned out to be a PR godsend; but it would never do to say so.