Hillsborough Report: Truth at last but now for the justice

Having waited 23 years and been denied the truth and the full story on so many occasions, I would suspect that many of the families of victims of the Hillsborough disaster and survivors would have walked into the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral on Wednesday morning with some degree of scepticism.

But no-one could have anticipated the strength of a nearly 400-page report based on the scrutiny of 450,000 documents which blew away the lies that for so long have permeated British society about what happened on 15 April 1989.

Truth at last.

I’ve been writing a lot about the report and its aftermath in recent days as part of my day job.

You can read the main findings of the report here, a round-up of the momentous day that was Wednesday, 12 September 2012 here, what Rafa Benitez – who I spoke to yesterday – thought of it all, and what a delusional Sir Norman Bettison continues to believe despite all that has happened.

I’ve even written something praising David Cameron for his powerful words in the House of Commons on Wednesday and the imperative of all politicians of all persuasions following up their words with actions.

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Hillsborough: Hoping that the truth will out and justice will prevail

Today, the Hillsborough Independent Panel will publish a report on the hundreds of thousands of documents related to the 1989 stadium disaster in Sheffield that it has spent the last two-and-a-half years scrutinising.

After 23 years, the survivors, the families of the victims and everyone affected by the events of 15 April 1989 will, hopefully, have a greater idea of not only what happened that day but what authorities did afterwards to cover for their dreadful inadequacies on that fateful day.

We will know, perhaps just what senior government figures really thought about what happened at Hillsborough and we will know just what could have been done to avert the awful death toll if the coroner did not impose the 3.15pm cut off point which has effectively meant that in one case the strong evidence assembled by Anne Williams about her son, Kevin, and his survival until nearly 4pm day that has never been officially recorded.

For anyone affected by the disaster it can only be hoped that today marks not the end but the beginning of the end and that the fight for justice will be greatly enhanced by the evidence that will be put before the world to see. At long last.

Whelan, Houghton, RTÉ, The Irish Sun and why it matters

Over the last few days I’ve been extensively covering the controversy surrounding what was the proposed appearance of former Liverpool stars Ronnie Whelan and Ray Houghton on an Irish TV programme sponsored by The Irish Sun.

The story is pretty well encapsulated here, and now appears to have reached its conclusion following the decision that neither of the two men will appear on ‘Premier Soccer Sunday Live’ on 1 May.

How it unfolded 

The issue of Houghton and Whelan’s appearance was raised by Irish Liverpool fans earlier this season when it was originally announced.

I’ve been told that there were a “small number” of complaints made to RTÉ about the issue and that these were “dealt with” but it became a very live issue in recent days as Liverpool fans brought it to the media’s attention.

The story was newsworthy on the basis that two former Irish internationals and Liverpool stars were seen to be associated with a boycotted newspaper, angering fans who had hoped that all connected to Liverpool FC would honour such a boycott as the club itself does in asking current players not to deal with the tabloid.

It also raised questions about the conduct of Ireland’s state broadcaster and as to whether or not they knew about the sensitive nature of the Liverpool/Sun relationship.

On Sunday, the Irish Sunday Independent newspaper ran the story on the front page of their sports section and both Houghton and Whelan indicated they were not aware of the sponsorship deal and said they would have to talk to RTÉ about it.

I attempted to contact both men on Sunday. I only spoke to Whelan who said he was wasn’t going to comment but I asked him did he know? Was he aware of the sponsorship deal? He responded: “not fully”. Make of that what you will.

By Monday, the story was in a number of newspapers and continued to be the subject of much debate among Liverpool fans and in a poll that TheJournal.ie ran.

The matter was actively under discussion between the relevant parties. I understand that Houghton had raised the issue when he made his regular appearance on ‘Premier Soccer Saturday’ over the weekend.

Then just before 7pm on Monday evening I received a statement from RTÉ which read:

RTÉ Sport can confirm, as of today, that the panel for the Premier Soccer Sunday live programme will consist of John Giles, Kenny Cunningham and one additional panellist (to be confirmed). Ronnie Whelan and Ray Houghton are no longer appearing on the panel on May 1st.

In my eagerness to break the story before anyone else I reported that Whelan and Houghton had withdrawn from the programme, when in fact the statement did not say that (The story was later amended).

I contacted both Whelan and Houghton just before 8pm for comment. Neither seemed pleased to hear from me.

Whelan was still not prepared to comment and said he would deal with it when he was back in Dublin (He had been away in Dubai).

With Houghton, the phone line was not great but he referred me to RTÉ: “It’s down to them I’m not going to say anymore,” he added.

I asked him was he going to honour the boycott of The Sun as I am sure many Liverpool fans were keen to know. He responded that he was “not prepared to answer a question like that.”

And there the conversation ended.

The devil is in the detail. The RTÉ statement never said anything about the pair withdrawing, only that they would no longer appear on the programme.

If Houghton and Whelan wanted to go about rebuilding what is now a damaged relationship with many Liverpool fans, they could have said they were withdrawing upon being made aware of the sponsorship deal. But they didn’t.

Either they had no interest in speaking to me personally, not being affiliated to a major news organisation, or there is something else going on…

Questions

Questions remain as to whether or not Houghton and Whelan were in any way aware about the sponsorship deal, and also whether RTÉ notified them of the complaints, however small in number, that came in about the deal both earlier in the season and in recent days.

If RTÉ did not make the players aware, then why didn’t they? Surely the makers of ‘Premier Soccer Saturday’ knew of the sensitivity surrounding Liverpool and The Sun?

Why are Houghton and Whelan not willing to comment on whether or not they are as committed to the boycott as fans and even Liverpool FC are?

These are questions that linger and neither Houghton, Whelan, nor RTÉ seem prepared to comment any further on the matter now it has been dealt with.

That will not please Liverpool fans.

Why it matters

Many will ask why this even matters and what is to be got from boycotting The Sun and its Irish version, 22 years on from Hillsborough.

It matters to Liverpool fans and indeed the people of Merseyside because when four days after the disaster, The Sun – under a headline reading ‘The Truth’ – alleged that Liverpool fans had pickpocketed dead supporters, urinated on police, and beat up an officer who was trying to save a victim, it did untold damage to their reputation and their efforts to achieve justice.

No one has ever been prosecuted for what happened at Hillsborough and what happened was a systematic and disastrous failure of police management, in a dilapidated stadium, where preconceived notions among many police officers about how football supporters should be handled led to a catastrophe and the death of 96 men, women, and children.

The importance of Hillsborough and laying bare the full facts of what happened through the Hillsborough Independent Panel – set up in the aftermath of the 20th anniversary of the disaster – is of paramount importance to families of those who died and survivors.

It matters so much that a former government minister said only last week: “that no other single issue is more important to me.”

And that’s why Liverpool fans get angry when two of their own – who witnessed what happened that day – are seen to be in someway associated with a newspaper that proclaimed to tell the truth, yet told a dreadful and destructive tale of lies.

Remembering Hillsborough 22 years on

I doubt it gets any easier for people like Anne Williams.

She still fights for justice for her son Kevin and when you meet her, her face bares all the emotional scars of that fight. Her voice and the way she speaks to you gives you just a sense of the anger she still feels towards those who caused her son’s death.

Last year, after the memorial service for the 21st anniversary, I interviewed Anne and found out a little about her story as part of a package I put together for JMU Journalism. Here is the interview in full:

Two years ago, Hillsborough was national news, I remember it led all news bulletins and the barracking that the Anfield crowd gave Andy Burnham was memorable and powerful and prompted action.

Action came in the form of a panel, the one Williams mentions sceptically, to comb through the unreleased state documents pertaining to Hillsborough in the hope of finding answers as to why no one has ever been held to account for the death of 96 football supporters at a football ground.

Today, Hillsborough will hardly be mentioned but the pain for those who lost family and friends and those who survived will go on and the city of Liverpool will pause to remember the 96 who never came home from a football match.

Gary Curtis was one of those who did come home but who lives with the trauma of the day everyday. Last year, I interviewed him as part of my package for JMU Journalism.

His journey to Anfield was the first time he had been back in a football ground since 1989. Speaking to him beforehand, you could hear the fear in his voice but thankfully he made it through the service and hopefully that, in someway, has helped his suffering.

Here’s the interview in full (the other questions come from Andy Downton from Heart FM):

I have no link to Hillsborough but as a Liverpool fan for all my life and someone who has lived and fallen in love with the city over the past four years I do feel a certain attachment to the events of 15 April 1989.

My thoughts are better encapsulated in this blog I wrote two years ago on the eve of the anniversary and as I contemplated doing my dissertation on the subject. In the end I didn’t for other, unconnected reasons.

My package in full for JMU Journalism on the 21st anniversary service can be heard here:

All that’s left to add is Justice for the 96. Please visit this website, learn and pass it on. To educate one, is to educate a thousand.

News Picks: Egypt and America’s duplicity, Obama and Reagan, Torres

Just a quick one this weekend…

Egypt

America’s duplicity in Egyptian crisis – Events in Egypt are moving very fast indeed. Last week we were being told that what had happened in Tunisia was unlikely to unfold in a similar way in Egypt. Yet here we are with thousands taking to the streets in defiance of curfews and President Hosni Mubarak’s regime looking decidely shaky.

Amidst it all America is playing a fine line between encouraging reform but not explicitly calling for the overthrowing of Mubarak. This is demonstrated beautifully by two stories that have come out this weekend.

One is about tear gas canisters, bearing the label “Made in U.S.A” being fired at protestors in Cairo whilst on the other hand the Daily Telegraph reports that the American government has secretly backed leading figures in the current uprising.

They speak for themselves.

US Politics

What Obama can learn from Reagan – President Barack Obama is learning a lot from an unlikely source, former two-term President Ronald Reagan. He took a biography of Reagan on holiday over Christmas and in trying to set the tone for the second half of his term in office, Obama sees “the Gipper” as a “point of reference.”

Torres

Sale won’t be popular but could be best for Liverpool – Liverpool fans are generally quite angry at the news of Fernando Torres handing in a transfer request following Chelsea’s rather cheeky bid for him last week. Liverpool rejected the bid and rejected the transfer request, being perfectly within their rights to do so.

However Sam Wallace in The Independent argues that the sale of the Spaniard may be in the best interests of the club as well as the player. He argues the tipping point has been reached in much the same way it had been with Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United and Thierry Henry at Arsenal.

Arguably, Torres can justify the decision. He has won nothing since moving to Anfield three years ago having left his hometown club to do exactly that. But the timing is awful and Chelsea, perhaps still laden with money, are an ageing team in need of a big restructuring whereas Liverpool’s has already begun with the impending arrival of Luis Suarez.

One thing is for certain is that Torres will probably get his way either by Monday or in the summer. Having being adored by all Liverpool fans since his arrival he has chosen a rather undignified way to end it all.

New Year, fresh blog and good intentions

Like many of us, I hold good intentions for the year ahead.

One of these is to blog more which is why starting today/tonight and happening (hopefully) regularly I intend to bring you the best of the web or at least what I consider to be the best from the web.

Those who follow me on Twitter will know that I post a lot of links to various articles that I have read online. They range from quirky stories from Ireland to sometimes obscure political matters in the US, with a bit of UK, world and Liverpool FC related news in between.

The intention of the ‘News Picks’, as I have decided to call them, will be to bring all these links together under one blogging roof. It will consist of stories you may have missed or that you may not have heard about. It may be an alternative view on a story you’re familiar with or it may be totally useless.

In any case I hope it is a fun, quick read that enlightens your day.

Anything is news at this time of year

In the ‘industry’ as journalists and those of us aspiring to be journalists the summer months and particularly August are generally considered a rotten time when it comes to news stories.

Parliament is in recess, everyone’s on their holidays and very little new is happening. So news organisations generally tend to fill newspapers, radio programmes, TV news bulletins and websites with just about anything they can eek out and dress up as ‘news’ when they’re running a few columns or a few minutes short.

In some cases they’ll send their presenter on a pointless exercise in a Spitfire. In others they’ll report the most trivial things as breaking news. Look, for example, at Sky News’ ever bright yellow ticking breaking news bar which yesterday reported: “AP news agency: The US recall of eggs amid a massive salmonella outbreak is expanded to half a billion eggs”.

Obviously, a salmonella outbreak isn’t good times, but egg-scuse me if I’m not really too bothered about how many eggs have been recalled, I certainly don’t need it interrupting my news bulletin.

And yet in their thirst for constant breaking news left, right and centre, Sky News know no boundaries when it comes to defining what exactly breaking news is. It used to be major events like 9/11 or the invasion of Iraq now it can be the England football squad getting on a bus. But that is for another blog…

In some cases, news outlets will just rehash old news like the proposed demolition of Ringo Starr’s old house on Madryn Street, Liverpool. This has been due for demolition for years now under the controversial Pathfinder initiative. But no harm in reminding us and finding someone whose outraged about it to fill some space.

I also find the coverage of the dreadful floods in Pakistan interesting. For example (and only because this is the news bulletin I catch most evenings) Channel 4 news have been reporting on an almost nightly basis on what’s been happening in the region and fair play to them for doing so. No doubt it is helping the appeal for aid, but the cynic in me wonders if we’d be hearing as much from the region were it another time of the year. We all forgot about Haiti pretty quickly didn’t we?

Of course this could all just be the major cynic in me but I have been part of putting together a programme at the BBC this week and that has been a struggle given the dearth of news and the dearth of people around to talk about any stories that are happening.

Unlike those who wish this relatively warm, if not sunny, weather would remain, journalists are wishing time away so as that parliament can return, politicians can say and do stupid things and elsewhere there’s news aplenty.

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