I posted a while ago about the Hillsborough Report, in which a panel set up by Liverpudlian Government Minister Andy Burnham and chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool, exonerated some Liverpool football fans. These were the fans who in 1989 crushed to death 96 other Liverpool fans while trying to get into a football ground in Yorkshire to watch a football match that was just starting. The finding was that the fans who did the crushing were not at all responsible for those deaths. It was all the fault of the police and other authorities.
Now, in case you, dear reader, are American or otherwise a bit vague about English geography, I should explain that the north of England is divided by the Pennines, a range of hills which runs North-South. The Pennines are too hilly for anything much apart from a National Park. On the West is Lancashire: the two big cities are Liverpool and Manchester. And on the East is Yorkshire, including York and Sheffield. There has been a bit of rivalry between them. In 1455, for example, they went to war, and stayed at war for 30 years. Exact figures are hard to come by, but perhaps about 50,000 people were killed in that conflict; it was ended, ironically, by a Welshman, Henry Tudor, at the Battle of Bosworth, who promptly got himself crowned up as Henry VII.
So, just to be clear: Liverpool is one side of the Pennines. Hillsborough, a suburb of Sheffield, is the other. Different tribes.
Liverpool is a handsome city with a tribal sense of community. A combination of economic misfortune — its docks were, fundamentally, on the wrong side of England when Britain entered what is now the European Union — and an excessive predilection for welfarism have created a peculiar, and deeply unattractive, psyche among many Liverpudlians. They see themselves whenever possible as victims, and resent their victim status; yet at the same time they wallow in it. Part of this flawed psychological state is that they cannot accept that they might have made any contribution to their misfortunes, but seek rather to blame someone else for it, thereby deepening their sense of shared tribal grievance against the rest of society.
Others take the position that being rude about Liverpudlians is tantamount to racism.
Anyway, following the Report, there was another inquest. Where to hold the hearings? Most of the victims’ families wanted London as the venue, presumably following advice that an inquest held in Liverpool would be perceived as biased in favour of the Liverpool fans who did the pushing, and against the Yorkshire Police who were supposed to be doing the crowd control.
The relevant ruling was made by the Coroner, Lord Justice Goldring, on 2 May 2013. Here are some extracts from that ruling:
- Mr. Mansfield QC, who represents 71 of the families of those who died at Hillsborough, submitted at the first preliminary hearing on 25 April 2013 that the main inquest hearings should be held in London. Mr. Weatherby QC, supported by Mr. Foley and Ms Gallagher, representing between them 23 families, submitted that they should take place at a location in the North West, although not Liverpool or Manchester. That is the issue I have to decide. In making my decision, I have taken into account the oral and written submissions of all interested persons who have expressed a view on the subject.
- Mr. Mansfield explained that from the beginning his clients have expressed a preference for London. They did so at a large meeting in December 2012 when over 100 different family members were present. That was before the Divisional Court had ruled on the section 13 application under the Coroners Act 1988 and quashed the verdicts of the previous inquests. The discussion then was between Liverpool and London. There was a wish to avoid any place which might have the taint of partiality to it. London was the overwhelming choice…
- 1 am conscious that Mr. Mansfield represents a majority of the bereaved families. However, as he accepted, the fact he does so does not mean that I should automatically accede to his submissions. It seems to me I must stand back and dispassionately assess the different arguments put forward.
- The inquests will, on any view of scope, have to deal with many topics. That will take some time. The hearing is bound, it seems to me, to take several months. If it is held in London, those who wish to follow it in person will be away from home and living in hotels for a long time. It is plainly not a practicable solution for someone to commute from Liverpool or the North West on a daily basis…
- In short, I have concluded that it would be right for the inquests to be held in the North West. It would not be helpful further to identify a location at this stage. I should observe, although this is very much a provisional view, that it does presently seem to me that Chester may be a little too close to Liverpool. However, the search will immediately begin to locate suitable premises in the North West.
The location that was chosen following this was Warrington, which, whilst not exactly a suburb of Liverpool, is pretty close to it. It is a 37 minutes drive from the city centre, i.e. a bit more accessible than Chester, which is the other side of the Mersey and a 41 minutes drive. Certainly, Warrington is much closer than Chester to the main Liverpool conurbation, which stretches from the city centre (on the East side of the city) to the doorstep of Warrington, physically as well as culturally. So if Chester was “a little too close to Liverpool” why was Warrington OK? Hmm.
There was a jury of 10, which reduced to 9 following a medical issue. We do not know their individual identities (quite right, of course) but it is a racing a certainty that they were locals i.e. more or less Liverpudlians. The inquest took, not just “several months” as predicted by Lord Justice Goldring, but 3 years. There were several questions, including this:
Question six “Are you satisfied, so that you are sure, that those who died in the disaster were unlawfully killed?”
Now, what do we think the answer to this is going to be? Obviously, a Liverpool jury is going to say “yes”. And it did (the only surprise being that is was a majority verdict – 7 to 2).
But more remarkable is the answer to the next question:
Question seven “Was there any behaviour on the part of the football supporters which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles?”
Now, think about this for a moment. Let us accept that the Yorkshire Police did a really poor job of crowd control on that day. And that they subsequently lied in a botched attempt to cover up their mistakes. And that whilst the fans who did the pushing had been drinking, that they were not all roaring drunk. And that the turnstiles were inadequate and badly managed by the stadium management. All that. There can be no doubt about this: that the 96 Liverpool fans at the front of the crowd died because the many more Liverpool fans at the back of the crowd pushed so hard as to the crush the life out of 96 of the people in front of them. How on earth can it be said that fans who did the pushing did not even contribute to the deaths?
The jury said “no”. Not any. Not even a little bit.
It is barking mad.
And now the victims are elevated to sainthood, and Yorkshire Police are now pantomime baddies. Even the Prime Minister is cheering the verdict!
The reality is that before and during the event, the police were incompetent but not malevolent. They behaved badly after the event, but that subsequent bad behaviour did not kill anyone.
Reports suggest that the cost of all these inquests and enquiries is running at more than £116 million and rising. That is £1.2 million per victim: money that has not saved a single life. There is a view that that this is money that would have been better spent in the NHS, treating the seriously ill. There might be families which are feeling a bit better this week, as a result of the verdict. But has it really been worth £116 million? To get to a verdict that is, at least in part, so obviously mistaken?
 Now, of course, in opposition.
 Now known as the Wars of the Roses.
 More or less. It is 18.5 miles from the centre of Liverpool, but the Google Earth map show a more or less continuous conurbation.
 Emphasis added.