The Immediate Aftermath
The Media Reaction
Media coverage of Hillsborough has had significant consequences on a number of levels. This section will argue how the media informed and potentially influenced the outcome of legal cases. It will also be argued that the consequences were far reaching by attacking, not only those involved in the Disaster but Liverpool in general, adding to the already negative reputation of its people.
The coverage of the Hillsborough Disaster brought a barrage of complaints to the door of the Press Council. However all this succeeded in doing was highlighting the inadequacy of the Press Council as a medium for dealing with complaints.
The Hillsborough Disaster occurred in an historical media framework that already labelled Liverpool as rebellious and anarchistic. The 1980's were the heady days of the Militant dominated council in the city. Not only the Thatcher government but also the Labour party under Neil Kinnock waged war on the leaders of the City Council (Derek Hatton and co). In reality they were waging war on the people of Liverpool - they became the real victims as they suffered the direct consequences of harsh measures imposed but also as they gained an undeserved negative reputation not only nationwide but internationally as well. It was this context which enabled the media to act so appallingly in relation to the Hillsborough Disaster.
The immediate reaction of the press following Hillsborough was to blame the fans. The proof is there for all to see and it extends way beyond the Sun's headlines. However as that headline is the most shocking even to this day it is only right that we remind people what they said:
The Truth; some fans picked pockets of victims; some fans urinated on the brave cops; some fans beat up PC giving kiss of life.
This was the front page of the Sun newspaper on the Wednesday following the Disaster. The question that has to be asked is where did the paper obtain its 'evidence' from - all routes lead back to South Yorkshire Police and the Lie Machine that was being put into operation.
The response to this headline on Merseyside was one of outrage - thousand of copies were stolen and burnt and there followed a successful boycott campaign of the paper.
To the present day that paper is still hated in the city of Liverpool and beyond and there are still shopkeepers that refuse to sell.
Responsibility for peddling lies goes beyond the Sun. By the time that article was published there had been four days of offence reporting, nearly all blaming the fans. As early as 3.40pm as the Disaster was unfolding, BBC radio Two reported:
Unconfirmed reports that a door was broken down at the end that was holding Liverpool supporters.
Graham Kelly, the Chief Executive of the Football Association, interviewed by Radio Two in answer to a question regarding the gates, inferred that the police had not ordered the gates to be opened. Later, the reporter stated that he had obtained information from Graham Mackrell, the secretary of Sheffield Wednesday FC who had spoken to "the police officer in charge" and the situation was:
...at ten to three there was a surge of fans at the Leppings lane end of the ground… the surge composed of about 500 Liverpool fans and the police say that a gate was forced and that led to a crush in the terracing area - well under capacity I'm told, there was still plenty of room inside that area… It is important to note " police say". Here you have a situation which has to be interpreted as the police deliberately lying as we know that the police ordered the gate to be opened.
By 6pm that evening Radio 4 stated: Many reports speak of people without tickets having pushed their way in. So the scene had been set and the conspiracy had begun - Liverpool fans, angry at having no tickets had forced their way into the ground with disastrous consequences:
It's clear that many hundreds of Liverpool fans travelled to Hillsborough even though they didn't have tickets for the game. Shortly before the match started it appears that these fans were able to get into the ground through a gate at the Leppings Lane end. One report says the gate was kicked down...
The main culprits in spreading these lies were David Duckenfield, Chief Superintendent in charge on the day (who later admitted that he lied), Graham Mackrell, Secretary Sheffield Wednesday and Graham Kelly of the F.A. By the evening of the Disaster, Peter Wright, Chief Constable of South Yorkshire, issued a statement which acknowledged that the gate had been opened on the instructions of the police. Little notice was taken of this however, and other comments by Wright stated that the crush had occurred outside the turnstiles: By the late arrival of large numbers of people. This showed that Wright was merely operating a more sophisticated and subtle method of blaming the fans.
Amongst the most vicious of reports of the Disaster was the Sheffield Star and the Yorkshire Post. It should be noted that these would be the two most widely read papers in the Sheffield area and therefore it would be hard to select a jury for the inquests that had not been influenced in some way by their version of the 'facts'. The Sheffield Star reported:
Many supporters were still propping up the bars at 2.30pm. They raced to the stadium arriving at the Leppings Lane end at the height of the crush. Some of them were the worse for drink, others without tickets were hoping to sneak in. Hubble bubble toil and trouble.. drunkenness and ticketlessness were now added to the equation. The Yorkshire Post continued the attack: Thousands of fans began the fatal charge… thousands of latecomers tried to force their way into the ground...
The military language was a popular theme throughout the reporting of the Hillsborough Disaster. The Manchester Evening News was typical: The Anfield Army charged on to the terrace behind the goal - many without tickets.
Whilst the content and quality of so much of the reporting is appalling, the Evening Standard is deserving of particular consideration for it perfectly highlights the stereotyping not just of football fans but Liverpool people generally:
How long will it take for it publicly to be acknowledged that fans themselves share the blame?… The catastrophe was caused first and foremost by violent enthusiasm for soccer, in this case the tribal passions of Liverpool supporters. They literally killed themselves and others to be at the game.
This view was echoed at an international level in the comments of Jacques Georges, President of UEFA. His view of Liverpool fans was damning:
One had the impression that they were beasts waiting to charge into the arena.
Surprisingly one of the most offensive reports came from much closer to home, the Liverpool Daily Post. An article written by John Williams and entitled: "I blame the yobs" warrants extensive quoting:
So it was at Hillsborough that the yobs made enough nuisance of themselves to convince the police that so-called gates of Hell were opened… the gatecrashers wreaked their fatal havoc. At best it was unfettered zeal. At worst it was uncontrolled fanaticism and mass hysteria which literally squeezed the life out of men, women and children. This was yobbism at its most base. People without tickets who had no right to be there were crushing to death their fellow Scousers. When it comes to apportioning blame, the accusatory finger can also be pointed at Liverpool. Scouse killed Scouse for no better reason than 22 men were kicking a ball.
Given that this journalist was working locally you might think that he would be more likely to have his finger on the pulse. Apparently not.
Neither was this some bizarre response to a disaster, written in a state of shock. In spite of a barrage of complaints the author stood "by every word with no apology". In fact he went on to write a second article reaffirming the contents of the first and also referring to "those who so thoughtlessly took lives away". This article by Williams was in stark contrast to one written in the same paper by Brian Reade only a day earlier and poignantly entitled:"DEAD BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T COUNT". Reade correctly challenged the dangers of stereotyping fans as yobs stating:
...society had been happy to live with the myth that every football fan is a potential criminal. Well, nearly 100 people have just paid the price for this woeful misconception.
The media was drip fed sound bites by the police. The Daily Mail reported Paul Middup, spokesperson for the Police Federation, as saying:
I am sick of hearing how good the crowd were...They were arriving tanked up on drink and the situation faced by the officers trying to control them was quite simply terrifying.
The Sheffield Star was at the forefront of publishing serious allegations from the police:
FANS IN DRUNKEN ATTACKS ON POLICE: Ticketless thugs staged crush to gain entry… attacked an ambulanceman, threatened firemen and punched and urinated on policemen as they gave the kiss of life to stricken victims.
Television news also made great play of comments made by the Police Federation:
Sheffield police officers claimed tonight that drunkenness amongst Liverpool fans was at least partly responsible for the disaster at Hillsborough…According to the Police Federation a large number of Liverpool fans arrived at the ground late after drinking heavily and police couldn't control them.
It seemed as if all South Yorkshire Police officers were giving interviews left, right and centre - all leading to the same kind of headline. The Times reported: Drunkenness and hooliganism were a major factor in the Hillsborough Disaster, police said yesterday.