Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Hillsborough disaster

I have been meaning to write about Hillsborough - the disaster, many years ago, when 96 football fans died and the police tried to lie and blame the catastrophe on the victims.

Unfortunately, it makes me so sad, so angry that I have been unable to do so.

This account, from a survivor of that day, says everything I could possibly say - and then some:

(from the Guardian, September 14th., 2012)

"First of all, apologies are due to Our Lady, for the language. When the Hillsborough Independent Panel filed in to the press conference in the chapel of Our Lady in Liverpool's majestic Anglican cathedral, just before midday on Wednesday, the mood was sombre. Within half an hour, the air was a shade of blue; 100 journalists gathered in the chapel swearing in disbelief at the revelations contained in this landmark report.

As a survivor of the disaster, I had a rare perspective among the media. I survived the crush in pen 3; many of the 96 died in front of me. Unable to move for over half an hour, I was condemned to watch them cry for help, throw up, plead for their lives and die. When the police finally opened the gate in the fence and the crush abated, around a dozen of them simply keeled over and hit the concrete. A heap of corpses piled up in front of me. One police officer said the scene "was like Belsen".

The noise will never leave me. Yesterday, there were periods of profound silence between the many questions directed first towards the panel and then the family groups. I almost broke that with my own tears when it was revealed that 41 of the dead might have been saved.

A shocking number – so large that, had those 41 been saved, Hillsborough would not stand today as the biggest disaster in British sport. That claim to notoriety would belong to the Ibrox disaster of 1971, which claimed 66 lives.

The fact that the outrageous lies of the South Yorkshire police, accepted by Kelvin MacKenzie, were chiselled away, slowly, carefully and forensically over 23 years, lent this process a weight in the public mind that a judicial review, convened perhaps over a few short months, could not have achieved.

This, however, should not be time for a celebration of the peculiarly evolutionary nature of British justice: this was driven by grief left to fester for 23 years. People can accept that terrible things happen if accountability and truth follow. "We will always be the losers in this," Margaret Aspinall said. But as one reporter replied: "Yes, but Margaret, this is the first time I think I've ever seen you smile."

Survivors and families have lived with very different nightmares since 1989: the bereaved suffered intense grief; survivors bore the trauma.

They are different conditions, and require different treatments. Justice and truth are perhaps the only remedy that can heal us both.

What did I realistically hope for this week? I hoped that the lies peddled by the police and the Sun would be exposed. They were detonated. I hoped that people would recognise the families as we know them, ordinary people who retained their dignity amid extraordinary grief. They were magnificent. I could not possibly have hoped that the panel would do such a fine job, and it must take enormous credit, propelled by the remarkable Phil Scraton. And while I expected some form of vindication, I did not expect to find myself at the heart of a historic event. When the Daily Mirror's Brian Reade asked if we had seen the biggest cover-up in British history, Michael Mansfield QC simply answered: "Yes."

I felt a sense for the first time that this tragedy was no longer mine, or other survivors', or the families' – it belongs now to the nation, both as a wake-up call, a warning of how systemically justice can be corrupted, and as a reminder that right can still triumph over might. Liverpool and Liverpool fans have done the nation a great service here. We never gave up: we had to take on not one police force but two (one curious omission for me was the role of the West Midlands police), the rightwing media, the legal system and successive governments. And we won.

There is no bitterness on my part that the public took 23 years to wake up to our nightmare. Their ignorance was their faith in the media and in the police. This has suffered a huge blow and the fact surely cannot go unnoticed by Lord Justice Leveson. I also hope, as a southerner, that the people of Liverpool will no longer be subjected to the lazy, callous stereotypes peddled off the back of the Sun's lies.

As the rain fell outside the chapel, the panel began proceedings with its distinctly 21st-century language (it would offer no "value judgments"). But last night, in the Ship and Mitre pub in Liverpool city centre, an 80s revival was in full swing. Fleet Street's finest sunk beers and sang songs with Labour MPs Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham, with the families, survivors and other campaigners. And through a night when the streets of Liverpool appeared to be paved with springs, there was still magnanimity: I heard not one note of scepticism about David Cameron's speech. He was universally applauded for setting the tone of a historic day with a compassionate and unequivocal response in the Commons. Credit where it's due. Now let's have justice where it's due."

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Laugh 0r Cry

Guy Taylor, now 45, enquired what data the police held on him, as he is entitled to under the data protection act.

He was (and is) a political activist and he discovered, probably to his delight, that the police had been seriously interested in the stall he helped to set up at the Glastonbury Festival in 2009 and that a police spy reported that this stall "was selling political publications and merchandise of an XLW (extremely left wing) anti-capitalist nature."

Good on them, say I. Anyone who hadn't turned anti-capitalist by 2009 can't have been reading the newspapers.

Mr. Taylor deserves the last word:

"I can't understand what use information about what I did at Glastonbury has for the Metropolitan police. If they need to know the plans and schemes of anti-capitalists, the worst place to look is Glastonbury as we were rarely in a fit state to plan the downfall of a parish council, let alone the world financial system as we know it."

Mr. Taylor has one conviction, for spray painting in 1991, when he must have been about 15 years old.

His attendance at political demonstrations and at Glastonbury has been monitored ever since.

(Guardian, 16 July 2012)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


The most obstreperous, bad-tempered and argumentative Prime Minister of recent times (Gordon  Brown) did not believe he could get away with telling the Murdoch Press to fuck right off even when the suggestion was that they should publish intimate and confidential information about the illness of his child. Which they did.

Murdoch and his operations have disgusted and repulsed me ever since he first graced these shores. But this is the ultimate measure of his corrupting influence on British life and British politics.

Do everything you can to take Murdoch down. Don't buy his newspapers and books, don't go to his movies, vote and agitate against him and his cohorts whenever you can.

(Oh, and do anything you can to get rid of Jeremy Hunt, the 'Minister for Murdoch' as well. It is time he went too.)

Friday, April 27, 2012

It gets worse - broadcasting

Polly Toynbee in the Guardian 26th. April:

"... here's a reminder of what Hunt was about to unleash on the country, with Cameron and George Osborne's approval. If Murdoch were allowed to own all BSkyB, within a year or two he would package all his newspapers on subscription or online together with his movie and sports channels in offers consumers could hardly refuse, at loss-leading prices. Other news providers, including this one, would be driven out, or reduced to a husk. His would be the commanding news voice. Except for the BBC – which his media have attacked relentlessly for years.
Sky's dominance over the BBC is already looming: now past its investment phase, Sky's income is multiplying fast at £5.5bn a year, against the BBC's static £3.5bn. Sky's growing billions can buy everything, not only sports and movies, but every best series: the BBC trains and develops talent, predatory Sky will snatch it. Nor is Sky that good for the Treasury: for every £1 in Sky subscriptions, 90p flees the country, straight to News Corp and Hollywood in the US.
The BBC is remarkable value for money: Sky subscribers can pay £500 a year, the licence fee is £145 for masses more content. Sky is parasitic, as its own subscribers watch many more hours of BBC than Sky, so Sky would collapse if the BBC denied it its channels. Yet the BBC still pays £5m a year for appearing on its platform, a deal struck by Thatcher to help Murdoch.
The sum was cut, but in all other countries commercial broadcasters pay national broadcasters for the right to use their content – not the other way round. The BBC should be paid a hefty fee from BSkyB to compensate for the 16% cut it suffered, partly as a result of Murdoch lobbying. The cut was pure spite, since the licence fee has no connection with Treasury deficits. Pressure persists to deprive viewers of listed national events saved to watch free on BBC: Wimbledon and the rest would go the way of Premier League football ...."

Uncle Rupert

Rupert Murdoch, under interrogation at the Leveson enquiry, revealed 67 meetings with the last five Prime Ministers over the last thirty or forty years.. 
This man, let us remember, is not even a British citizen. 
(I wonder if he pays any British taxes?)
I wrote immediately to the Guardian.
Dear Sir,
A private dinner with Mrs. Thatcher just before she allowed him to
acquire the Times and Sunday Times? A whole afternoon telling Tony Blair what to think about the EU? A quiet breakfast with David Cameron a few days before the Sun switched sides to support the Tories?
Could someone let us know how many similarly convivial and mutually convenient sessions the Editor of the Guardian and the BBC's Director General have enjoyed with the last four or five Prime Ministers?
Yours etc.,
My letter was not published. I got no answer ....

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Understatement - the British virtue

A British citizen with a black skin, aged 28, stops to give information to the police in London.

He is driving a smart car, dressed in a pin-stripe suit. Admittedly it is 3.30 in the morning and the police have been under attack from people with the same skin colour.

But that is what he wants to tell them, that he has seen, that he can identify, one of the black boys throwing things at them.

His name is Edric Kennedy-Macfoy.

About a year and a half later, the matter has finally been resolved and has been referred to the IPCC at last.

"Kennedy-Macfoy's solicitor, Shamik Dutta, of Bhatt Murphy solicitors, voiced concerns at his client's allegations, saying: "The question many people are bound to ask is why an off-duty firefighter, wearing a pinstriped suit and offering assistance to the police, should have been dragged from his car, shot with a Taser, locked up for many hours and then prosecuted for an offence he did not commit by the very officers he was trying to help."

Good question?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

State Executions

I am always depressed, and overwhelmed at Christmas. It is a sad time of the year. This year I can't walk properly, which does not make things any better.

However, I must post a link and comment on an outstanding article in the Guardian today. It is written by Mehdi Hasan, described as a Senior Editor on the New Statesman.

It is timely because the British government has just lost the case for deporting Abu Qatada, a fundamentalist Muslim whom the government would dearly like to get rid of.

He cannot be deported but it would be OK for us to assassinate him? Does that make sense?

See Hasan's striking article in full at:

And think about these issues in the light of the very recent assassination of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, the deputy head of Iran's uranium enrichment programme.

".... western liberals who fall over one another to condemn the death penalty for murderers – who have, incidentally, had the benefit of lawyers, trials and appeals .... fall quiet as their states kill, with impunity, nuclear scientists, terror suspects and alleged militants in faraway lands. Yet a "targeted killing", human-rights lawyer and anti-drone activist Clive Stafford Smith tells me, "is just the death penalty without due process".

Cognitive dissonance abounds. To torture a terror suspect, for example, is always morally wrong; to kill him, video game style, with a missile fired from a remote-controlled drone, is morally justified. Crippled by fear and insecurity, we have sleepwalked into a situation where governments have arrogated to themselves the right to murder their enemies abroad.

Nor are we only talking about foreigners here. Take Anwar al-Awlaki, an Islamist preacher, al-Qaida supporter – and US citizen. On 30 September 2011, a CIA drone killed Awlaki and another US citizen, Samir Khan. Two weeks later, another CIA-led drone attack killed Awlaki's 21-year-old son, Abdul-Rahman. Neither father nor son were ever indicted, let alone tried or convicted, for committing a crime. Both US citizens were assassinated by the US government in violation of the Fifth Amendment ("No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law")."