Friday, 28 September 2012

We know what you did 23 years ago

It seems quite extraordinary, but just a couple of weeks after the facts about the Hillsborough disaster were released, a new one has emerged.

There were not 96 victims, as previously believed, but 97.

That previously unrecognised victim was Kelvin MacKenzie.

Yes: that Kelvin MacKenzie.

The same person who, as editor of the Sun at the time, made the decision to plaster the headline ‘THE TRUTH’ over reporter Harry Arnold’s story about what he had been told had occurred.

Arnold says that the story did not assert that it was the unquestionable truth, and he queried the headline with MacKenzie, who just went ahead anyway.

However, the fault for this now appears to lie entirely with the South Yorkshire Police, who fed the claims about Liverpool fans at Hillsborough to a Sheffield news agency, supported by the claims of an MP who wasn’t there, but also now says that he totally believed what the police told him, and was subsequently knighted – presumably not for services to the truth.

It seems that, if the stories hadn’t come from police, MacKenzie would not have felt so sure of their absolute veracity that he would have written that headline.

Now, therefore, he wants an apology from the force in question, for all the years of vilification he has suffered.

Poor lamb.

This is the same MacKenzie who did once apologise – and then recanted. His latest apology therefore means little – and is being taken in precisely that manner.

This is also the same MacKenzie who will be perfectly well aware that the Taylor Report showed up the lies for what they were ages ago – yet he did nothing then.

The first rule of journalism is that you make some effort to check what you’re printing – not least if the stories are as extreme as those that the Sun published about Liverpool fans.

I’m not a Liverpool fan. I wasn’t at that match, but I was watching it on television that day, and I remember the horror as events began to unfold.

Back at work after the weekend, the first person I met was a fellow football supporter – Crystal Palace in her case. We hugged and exchanged the view that was widespread among fans then and remains so now: ‘there but for the grace of god go I’.

There were reasons that Hillsborough happened. There was hooliganism that had attached itself to the sport. But suggestions that the sport was saturated in violence of the threat of it, are nonsense.

However, it suited the political agenda of time – don’t forget that the government, desperate to assault civil liberties in general, wanted to use the reputation of football fans as an excuse to foist ID cards on them, as guinea pigs for the rest of the population.

The Sun, under Rupert Murdoch (who has been strangely silent on the subject of Hillsborough), had relished the opportunity to batter working people – not least those from rebellious Liverpool, where the government was talking of planning a ‘managed decline’ after its own policies had destroyed the city’s major industry.

The paper supported the police utterly – including that same South Yorkshire Police force, which had been allowed to act with impunity at Orgreave.

MacKenzie was entirely happy to be part of the process of the demonisation of working-class people who didn’t tug their forelocks dutifully as the government of the day laid waste to the country’s industrial base.

As an editor, he and he alone made the decision to write and publish the headline that has seen him ‘vilified’.

As a journalist, he had the responsibility to check sources – and to act in a responsible manner.

This is not to remotely excuse what some members of the South Yorkshire Police did, but MacKenzie cannot shed his own responsibility for his own professional decisions.

Whatever his reasoning or his motive at the time, he made a personal decision to all of these responsibilities.

And now, if he had a shred of human decency, MacKenzie would just crawl back under his stone and shut up.

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