Controlling the Aftermath of Hillsborough
2. Social Services
In the aftermath of the Disaster, Liverpool Social Services set up a 'Hillsborough Team' of social workers who were located in what became known as the Hillsborough Centre - a building on the edge of Stanley Park, Anfield.
The social workers were assigned to specific bereaved families and also to survivors. They were a link between the families and many of the agencies involved in the aftermath. So, for example, they would liase between their clients and the investigating officers in respect of court hearings etc. in reality they had most involvement in the time leading up to the inquests.
In theory the role of the social workers should have been crucial to those most affected by the disaster as they were in an impartial body who could alleviate the tensions and sufferings of many by accessing information more easily. In practice the Hillsborough Centre and the Hillsborough Social workers became yet a further agency of control over the victims of the disaster. This is not to say that there were not good social workers who genuinely had cared for the bereaved and survivors. However, there was a clearly a directive from Liverpool Social Services to the management team to co -operate with the investigating bodies even if it was to the detriment of the client group. There are numerous examples of information being with-held from those who should have been receiving it.
All indications were that Hillsborough social workers had a good working relationship with the West Midlands Police - the investigating force. On one level this is understandable. The police passed on details of dates and times when families needed to be in court for example, and social workers, at the mini - inquest stage would accompany families to the Sheffield Coroner's Court. Most people would agree that this is a positive role for a social worker to play. However, where criticism can be levelled is the degree to which social services took their lead from the police, taking their word as definitive. In fairness some social workers did recognise the value of others with more inquest knowledge and experience and sought their advice. However, when the West Midlands police refused to attend a meeting if such people were involved, social services acquiesced to the wishes of the police.
Survivors who regularly attended the Hillsborough Centre became increasingly frustrated at the lack of information they would receive and had to rely on outside interested bodies for information regarding court procedures in which they were to be involved. When the inquests were resumed for the final stage, a list was published of those who would be called to give evidence. Although the Hillsborough Centre was provided with such a list, social workers nevertheless, refused to tell survivors whether or not their names were on it.
At a management level there was very definitely a directive to steer the bereaved and survivors away from any groups or individuals who were challenging the emerging official version of events. Such people were deemed 'political' and therefore dangerous. The question is though, dangerous to whom? Even survivors who were more assertive and challenging were labelled and marginalised. One group of survivors who stated that they wished their group to meet without social workers being present were defined as awkward and troublesome with their meeting room being described as the 'lions' den'.