‘Killing pens’ of Hillsborough recollected by University of Leicester lecturer
A University of Leicester sociologist and Liverpool fan, who was at Hillsborough on the fateful day when 96 people died in the football stadium tragedy, has described the unimaginable circumstances to which he was witness.
Senior Lecturer John Williams, of the Department of Sociology, has written for the Leicester Exchanges blog.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, he recounts: “It was a bleak terrain. On the Leppings Lane terraces, twisted metal barriers and human detritus – scarves, odd shoes, spectacles – spoke of what appalling terror had just taken place there. The police were already present with their accounts of how belligerent young Liverpool supporters had ‘forced’ their way into the stadium, leading to the fateful overcrowding. But Liverpool stragglers were also whispering to us, even then, that this was not how things had happened at all; that they had actually been freely admitted by the police in order to relive pressure outside.
“So now, 23 years later as a result of the work of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, you all know what we (Liverpool supporters) have known all along. I said as much in my recent book about the history of the club, Red Men. That is, it was the neglect and mismanagement practiced by the South Yorkshire Police which ultimately caused the deaths of 96 Liverpool supporters near the start of an FA Cup semi-final meeting with Nottingham Forest at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield and that the stadium itself was a potential death trap, uncertificated and not fit for purpose.
“Even as the Liverpool club and the city of Liverpool were thrown onto a deep vortex of mourning and the defending of its own victim supporters, the South Yorkshire Police cover up was already on full steam ahead.
“We now know some fans who died might have lived with a different emergency service response. The police then compounded these gross errors by their later disgusting treatment of bereaved families and their attempts to smear Liverpool supporters in that attempt at a cover up in national press stories.
“But also in Red Men I chart how English football clubs – including Liverpool FC – had long displayed too little care in its treatment of football fans.
“Finally, it was also difficult to avoid the conclusion that the deaths were also in some way connected to much deeper-seated problems in masculinities and English terrace cultures and to poor relations between some young male football fans and the police in the 1980s. After all, the Sheffield ground was argued to be one of England’s best appointed stadiums, but this seemed mainly because of the way it was designed to deal with potential hooliganism. The English game was plagued by problems of crowd misbehaviour and had gone down what proved to be a fatal route in terms of crowd management: it was routinely treating all of its travelling customers as potential threats.”
Dr. Simon Bennett, Director of the Civil Safety and Security Unit at the University of Leicester, adds: “What I find most striking is the scale of the cover-up by our usually venerated 'blue-light' services, especially the Police (South Yorkshire) and NHS Ambulance Service (Yorkshire).
“Britain claims to have a mature, stable democracy underpinned by both formal and informal checks and balances on those in positions of authority (checks and balances include laws, an independent judiciary, parliamentary scrutiny, boards of inquiry, professional associations, special interest groups, regional and local government, an independent university sector, a free press, etc.)
“Yet despite these instruments of scrutiny the Police and Ambulance Service had no qualms about constructing a distorted account of the Hillsborough disaster. Their hubris is quite staggering. They thought they could get away with it. And, until this week, they did.”
Dr Bennett added: “In recent times the British press has come in for a fair amount of criticism. -no doubt some of it is deserved. But remember this: A free press may be a public's best hope of holding those in authority to account
“Journalism can be absurd and grubby (witness the obsession with vacuous 'celebrities'). But it can also be revelational and remedial.”
For interviews contact
John Williams: firstname.lastname@example.org
Simon Bennett: email@example.com