The truth about Hillsborough should lead to justice

David Cameron made an excellent speech today in the House of Commons on the Hillsborough report:

The evidence in today’s report includes briefings to the media and attempts by the police to change the record of events. On the media: several newspapers reported false allegations that fans were drunk and violent and stole from the dead. The Sun’s report sensationalised these allegations under a banner headline, “The Truth”. This was clearly wrong and caused huge offence, distress and hurt.

News International has co-operated with the panel and, for the first time, today’s report reveals that the source for these despicable untruths was a Sheffield news agency reporting conversations with South Yorkshire police and Irvine Patnick, the then MP for Sheffield Hallam.

The Conservative MP Irvine Patnick reportedly told these stories to Margaret Thatcher when he was walking her round the Hillsborough football grounds. Kelvin MacKenzine says they came from Patnick and an “unnamed police source”. Irvine Patnick was knighted in July 1994.

John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw since 2001, has written to David Cameron calling for the removal of Sir Irvine Patnick’s knighthood, referencing:

“the shameful and disgusting behaviour of Sir Irvine Patnick is a significant feature in the Hillsborough independent Panel Report and his Knighthood should be removed immediately. David Cameron should now do the right thing and take the necessary steps to do this”.

Fred Goodwin was stripped of his Knighthood by the Queen on the advice of the Forfeiture Committee in January 2012. Mann commented “Fred Goodwin brought the honours system in to disrepute and we now Know that Sir Irvine Patnick has done the same and appropriate action should be taken”.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said in response:

“The Prime Minister’s focus today has been on the distress suffered by the families.”

But Sir Irvine Patnick, OBE, now 82

refused to speak to reporters as he left his home in the south-west of Sheffield this afternoon.

(Doubtless he has reflected since he made those comments how awkward it is that a gentleman can’t speak his mind about a lot of drunken yahoos any more.)

John Mann has done good work, but stripping Irvine Patnick of his knighthood is about the silliest demand that could be made.

David Cameron could do it. Indeed, I imagine he would be delighted to get off that cheaply. (Granted, the Tory Old School will loathe him for it, but they do anyway.)

James Lawton asks for even less: he says that there should be an official apology:

A report that includes evidence of the doctoring of witness statements cannot bring back a single life of those lost so carelessly but it can make those relatives who have carried their hurt for so long feel that the fate of their loved ones has, finally, been recognised for what it was – not some unstoppable chain of misadventure, but a gross failure by those entrusted with the safety of the people.

You do not need to have lost a relative to feel this so intensely. It was sufficient to walk out on that field – as I did on that terrible afternoon – when there was no sight of an ambulances but just desperate pockets of fans fighting to save so many lives which were ebbing away before their eyes.

They were, presumably, these fans improvising stretchers out of advertising hoardings, the same ones who were accused of urinating on ambulance men and robbing the dead. Of all the lies and evasions of responsibility that day these were the most outrageous, and have inevitably lingered most poisonously, but the big and central one was that most blame could be attached to hooligan behaviour.

Steve Rotherham, MP for Liverpool Walton, says it plain and simple:

Now that the truth has been ascertained, it is time for justice to be delivered.

Norman Bettison received the Queen’s Police Medal in the Birthday Honours 2000: he was knighted in 2006. He was appointed Assistant Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police in 1993, he became Chief Constable of Merseyside Police in 1998 (relatives of the 96 handed in a petition signed by 15,000 people calling for his removal the day he took up the post – Jack Straw said Bettison had his “full confidence”), he retired from the police in January 2005 to become the CEO of Centrex, which was

“responsible for overseeing the design and delivery of probationer training, investigators training and other key areas. Centrex was also responsible for evaluating police training to see if it actually works. Centrex also set the national police promotion exams, probationer development tests and advised on the assessment of recruits.” (Wikipedia)

And he moved on from Centrex (two months before it was abolished) in January 2007 to become what he is today: Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police.

But in 1989, Bettison was a South Yorkshire chief inspector, part of the internal review team. The Hillsborough Independent Panel Report

highlights Bettison’s role in the internal review in presenting an edited video of the disaster to the police federation and later to MPs. The video – 29 minutes of footage compiled by Bettison from 65 hours of film – included a commentary by him. The report states: “The minutes of the meeting record what presumably was CI Bettison’s commentary: ‘Perimeter fences were the result of hooliganism – walls demolished, missile attacks on police officers, supporters climbing perimeter fences, pitch invasion’. The last was ‘thought to be the case at Hillsborough’.”

Put bluntly, Norman Bettison, career police officer, very successful, medalled and knighted, given responsibility for training other police officers, was in 1989 engaged in a conscious attempt by the South Yorkshire Police to deceive the public about their responsibility for the Hillsborough Disaster and throw the blame onto the fans.

And in response to this, John Mann wants to strip a knighthood from that nasty old gossip Irvine Patnick?

Steve Rotherham again:

The Hillsborough families cannot accept the Coroner’s verdict of “accidental death” and some have never even picked up the death certificates for their loved ones. It has been proved that some victims were alive well past the 3.15pm cut off and that if the authorities had acted quicker, more people would have survived. After today’s publication, the families will be appealing for the Attorney General to make an application to the High Court for the inquests to be reopened and a new cause of death to be determined.

I am not calling for Norman Bettison to be stripped of his knighthood or his medal or any other gesture. I want him subject to a criminal investigation, and if possible, charged and prosecuted. This is not a meaningless gesture. We have seen over many years that the police often act as if they believe they are entitled to conceal criminal acts by police officers against members of the public. The rot must stop. Let it begin here.


Filed under Justice

3 responses to “The truth about Hillsborough should lead to justice

  1. Hugh McKinney

    This is a very well put together blog and summary of the real culprits. I cannot believe that an MP (Irvine Patnick) is being accused of being the chief culprit for doing his job – he merely passed on comments made to him without embelishment or interpretation. That the Sun used these comments (and comments from the police) unquestioningly beggars belief from a national newspaper that has a track record of destroying political careers.

    The real problem was not what Irvine Patnick passed on, the real issue is the falsifying of police reports and the cover up perpetrated by the police.

    • Agree that Irvine Patnick shouldn’t be pinpointed as the chief culprit.

      Disagree that it was in any way his “job” to pass on ugly, unverified gossip about the victims of a disaster in his constituency. Patnick behaved disgustingly and I’m happy to see him named and shamed for an evil gossip.

      But the real problem – the one that should have our focus and our will – is, as you say, the falsification of police reports. It’s been strongly suggested that Margaret Thatcher’s first response to this in a Cabinet meeting was anger that the police were being blamed. The scale of the doctoring of police reports, the confidence on the part of culprits like Norman Bettison that they were doing the right thing – and his subsequent successful career – suggests that instructions to do this were coming from high up. We need a thorough investigation.

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