09/23/2012

Liverpool-Manchester: United in tragedy

Liverpool FC play Man U : their first home game after the official report of the real truth behind the Hillsborough tragedy.


Last Thursday, 20 September, in the first round of the Europa League, Liverpool FC played Young Boys in Berne, winning a high-scoring game 5-3. The return match will be in Liverpool on Thursday 22 November. Any YB fans thinking of going there from Geneva that day and returning the next day may already have noticed the demand: easyJet will be charging nearly 600 CHF for the round trip (as against the normal charges of less than 100 CHF!).

This Sunday, 23 September, is the first match that Liverpool will play since the long-delayed, and damning, report on the Hillsborough tragedy of 23 years ago. On that day, April 15, 1989, during the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, 96 football fans were killed in an awful crush. In addition, the match is against their bitter Merseyside rivals, Manchester United, who had their own tragedy in the Munich air disaster of 6 February 1958. On that day an aircraft bringing the team back from Munich crashed when taking off, decimating a team which many thought could dominate European football for years.

In both of these tragedies, and in others both large and small, there tend to be instant commentaries blaming someone. We should always beware of such judgements because, although they might be what we would like to think, subsequent facts often cast a different light on what actually happened. For the Munich crash, as with that of the mid-air crash in Uberlingen on July 1, 2002, the initial reaction was to blame the pilot (at Uberlingen the pilot of the Russian plane, said to speak poor English). However, in each case, a proper inquiry soon indicated that the blame lay elsewhere.

In the case of the Hillsborough disaster, the instant news given out by the police, and even an MP, accused the Liverpool fans of being drunk and behaving in a disgraceful manner (I leave out the details, as being too disgusting to relate), and these accusations were printed as facts by one particular mass circulation newspaper. The relatives of the dead have never believed this whitewash: Anne Williams has campaigned tirelessly ever since then, being convinced that her son Kevin should not have died that day. What she said, which is both heart-breaking and encouraging, is as follows :-

Kevin didn't even die from what they said. I've had numerous forensic reports from the top guy. I tracked down everyone that touched Kevin that day. These people were never ever called to Kevin's inquest. They've painted a different picture, and I found out exactly what happened to Kevin. Kevin didn't die from traumatic asphyxiation; he wasn't dead by 3.15. There must have been others that were saveable, like Kevin. The cause of death was one thing I wanted to put right on the death certificate. If he'd got oxygen that day, he'd be alive.

I was advised to wait until the Independent Panel deliver their report before submitting my memorial for a new inquest to the Attorney General, who has said he will look at it.

The evidence is there and it's always been there. We'll never forget Hillsborough, but getting the truth acknowledged will make a difference to the lives of the bereaved and the survivors.

The thought of being able to wake up one morning and not be thinking straight away about files and documents is a welcome one. I can't wait until I can know my little boy is at peace, with a correct death certificate, because I want a life.

Finally, after so many years, the result of a proper inquiry into what actually happened was published. This result was a report that criticised both the South Yorkshire Police and the Ambulance service, accusing them of failing to react properly. Much worse was that the police then connived to alter written reports, in particular removing parts critical of their actions. It is possible that some of them might now be prosecuted.

Regrettably, this is almost an automatic reaction by officialdom when something "unfortunate" happens. We often get an instant report from someone who has a vested interested in what people will think. We have just had another example, with the shooting of a man who, after being chased for a speeding offence in a very high-powered sports car, was finally stopped in Montreux and shot when he got out of his car, with the explanation from the police that he had pointed a shotgun at them. In today's Le Matin Dimanche, Peter Rothenbühler, whilst in no way denying that the police should be permitted to fire upon someone who they believe may threaten to kill them, is rather surprised that the chief of police, Jacques Antenen, should have been so quick to say that the driver had been shot because he pointed a gun at the police officers.

When I was young, police officers were reputedly completely honest. My first request for a passport had to be countersigned by a reputable person: a notary public, doctor or police officer were suggested as such persons. Since then we have learned that honesty, even in professions where it is particularly needed, sometimes goes by the board when there is the possibility of blame being apportioned. Instead, we have the CYA (cover your a...) reaction, sometimes even in honourable professions whose members should know better. Of course, we can ask ourselves how we would react if, by stating the truth, we put our own job in jeopardy!

How would you react?

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