The Fields of Athenry

Justice and judgment are often worlds apart

Emeline Pankhurst 1

imageI always despise April because it resurrects the Hillsborough stadium disaster, which occurred over three decades ago on the 15th April 1989. It never fails to arouse a miasma of acrimony and blame, which constrains discernment, especially amidst the imposed internment of a coronavirus pandemic and………Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for those who think differently. 24

The only parole for the bereaved is death or dementia and many claim the tragic event often feels just like yesterday. The incalculable suffering was exacerbated by the recent acquittal of the match commander when the prosecution was unable to ascertain gross negligence manslaughter to the criminal standard of beyond reasonable doubt. During the trial the defence narrative remained unchallenged amidst an antediluvian system that privileged the interests of the powerful over the rights of the powerless. It sacrificed rather than satisfied integrity and many despairing dependents eventually discovered that the theatre of law has very little to do with the discovery of truth and realisation of justice. 510

Following the death of her young son at Hillsborough the late Anne Williams refused to accept defeat and maintained incredible patience with a dignified resistance. The prolonged and arduous struggle for justice via a further inquest was repeatedly denied by numerous authorities including the European Court of Human Rights. However, at the Royal Courts of Justice more than two decades later the controversial accidental death findings were subsequently annulled. In April 2013 the diminutive but intrepid mother eventually succumbed to cancer several years before a fresh coronial inquest returned an alternative finding of unlawful killing. The determined and noble plight was belatedly acknowledged via a posthumous tribute at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards in December 2013. 1119

Despite the prolonged coronial inquest under Sir John Goldring and its subsequent findings of unlawful killing to a criminal standard, the match commander was eventually acquitted of gross negligence manslaughter in November 2019. The behaviour of Liverpool supporters did not contribute towards the disaster and the irrational and unnecessary separation between public inquiries, coronial inquests and criminal prosecutions merely prolonged the lawyer’s picnic and the procrastination confirmed that justice delayed is justice denied. Under adversarial law each trial is considered independently and earlier evidence was summarily dismissed or disregarded by the appointed judge, Sir Peter Openshaw. The bereaved dependents and survivors were left gobsmacked at many of the expurgated versions of the truth, which were often incongruous with previous accounts, statements or testimonies. 2029

Nevertheless, the presumption of innocence is a fundamental tenet of the criminal justice framework and is notably described as the golden thread that permeates our common law system. It emerged via the Blackstone ratio, which is augmented by a superior standard of proof placed upon the prosecution in criminal trials to prove their case against the accused beyond reasonable doubt. However, in a climate of free market fundamentalism with the plutocratic merger of corporate and state interests, the burden of proof is often distorted by absolute power or immense wealth. Meanwhile, many of the socially autistic martinets….in their coats and their ties are free to drink Martinis and watch the sun rise. 3035

Despite a doctrine covering the separation of powers the standard inevitably becomes beyond any possible doubt, which renders successful convictions against corporate conglomerates almost impossible. It is further complicated by the legal concept of double jeopardy and in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights this prevents any retrial of accused persons on identical or similar charges following a valid acquittal or conviction. Moreover, the introduction of industrial manslaughter into criminal codes or occupational health and safety statutes becomes somewhat meaningless and the trojan horse merely protects the powerful over the powerless…Money doesn’t talk it swears. 3640

Much has been written about Hillsborough over the past three decades and Hillsborough – The Truth by Professor Phil Scraton provides a definitive and unique account of the disaster and its prolonged aftermath. It exposes the appalling treatment endured by the bereaved dependents and survivors, which included the callous and inhumane identification process within the stadium’s dank gymnasium that was used as a temporary mortuary following the disaster. It also reviews the abysmal emergency response protocols and primitive standards of medical and pastoral care. These were camouflaged by embellished police statements, which sacrificed truth and accountability to protect the reputations and careers of senior detectives within the South Yorkshire police force. Over several decades the bereaved dependents and survivors encountered relentless pressure via cynical and melodramatic media coverage, especially from the Newscorp owned tabloid press. The persistent propaganda distorted reality and established a predetermined trajectory for allegedly independent investigations, public inquiries and anachronistic coronial inquests. 4152

Following the execution of Ken Bigley in Iraq back in 2004, Boris Johnson published an inflammatory editorial in The Spectator magazine. It described Liverpool as a city confounded by a tribal sense of community with an excessive predilection for welfarism that engendered a profound and deeply flawed psychological disposition amongst its citizens. The sloppy journalism included many unsubstantiated allegations about Hillsborough, which merely exacerbated the horrendous plight of bereaving families and survivors. It was littered with several errors of grave judgment that eventually but somewhat begrudgingly elicited a superficial confession via a self-proclaimed and jocular apology entitled Operation Scouse Grovel. 5357

The splenetic diatribe did insignificant damage to a Machiavellian political career and in 2008 the fecund buffoon was elected as mayor of London and eventually replaced Theresa May as the country’s prime minister. During the recent coronavirus pandemic the tussle-haired troubadour implored UK citizens to remain at home, which would protect the country’s National Health Service. The directive was rather paradoxical, especially considering the many sustained attempts from the Tory party over the past five decades to destroy a social structure and institution that was established by Aneurin Bevan under the labour party back in 1948. It was expedited by creative destruction from the German Luftwaffe which promptly achieved what had previously bamboozled and defeated numerous British politicians and public serpents over many decades. 5864

The UK prime minister was recently diagnosed with coronavirus and after a brief period of self-isolation was admitted to the intensive care unit at St Thomas’ Hospital in central London. It would not require too much effort to count the number of panegyric get well soon messages received from a Merseyside postcode, especially considering the labour party retained all its seats in the region at the recent general election and bucked the national trend. 6567

The sloppy journalism with its relentless melodramatic muck raking deprived the bereaved families a crucial ability to mourn and usurped their personal grief. Back in November 2002 an Australian edition of FHM, a British male lifestyle magazine published by the Bauer Media Group included an article entitled World of Disasters. It featured six photographs from the Hillsborough disaster supported by distasteful and rather repulsive captions in a grubby attempt to boost its periodical sales and promote annual subscriptions. Following numerous complaints, the organisation attempted to remedy its crass performance via a donation to the Hillsborough Family Support Group, which merely compounded the persistent torment of injustice and aroused a festering concoction of anger and despair. Most of the bereaved believe that closure is merely a chimera and have no wish for revenge or retribution. Nonetheless, there is no reason whatsoever to forgive many of the vituperative police commanders and venal public officials who collectively conspired to sacrifice the truth and conceal accountability in order to protect reputations and professional careers at the expense of public interest. 6876

Even before completion of the funeral arrangements a mercenary English Football Association placed enormous pressure on both clubs to have the abandoned fixture replayed, which occurred at Old Trafford in Manchester several weeks after the disaster. The subsequent FA cup final against city rivals Everton was played at Wembley stadium before a near capacity crowd of almost 83000 people just five weeks later. Additional pressure was also applied from English Football League administrators as the season climaxed. Liverpool were beaten in a rescheduled fixture against Arsenal at Anfield in the final game of the season just one week after the FA cup final victory against Everton. The championship trophy was presented to Arsenal amidst rapturous scenes from a throng of visiting supporters and an infamous but often misquoted maxim from the former Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly resonates. Indeed, George Orwell once proclaimed that…………Professional sport is war without the bullets. 7786

In the immediate aftermath of Hillsborough a Liverpool FC director was more preoccupied with the disaster’s impact on the club’s impending re-entry into European competition following a six-year expulsion after the Heysel stadium tragedy. Meanwhile, throughout the prolonged campaign for justice family support groups received invoices from Liverpool Football Club PLC for the hiring of conference rooms at its spectacular Anfield Road stadium. 8791

During the coronial inquest under Sir John Goldring, the match commander admitted to the jury he was not the man for the job and was somewhat overwhelmed by the enormity of the event. Following a pre-match briefing in the morning before the scheduled afternoon kick-off, David Duckenfield was unable to account for his movements or actions until his arrival at the police control box overlooking the terraces some four hours later. Moreover a controversial decision by the original coroner to conduct blood alcohol tests on each victim and publish the test results was never extended to any members of the South Yorkshire police force. 9295

Following the coronial inquests in April 2016, the Right Reverend James Jones KBE was commissioned by the incumbent prime minister, Theresa May to provide an understanding of the disaster from the perspective of bereaved families and many of the tormented survivors. The bishop of Liverpool walked countless miles in their shoes and absorbed many harrowing tales of sorrow and despair. The theologian’s discerning report recounts the deep pain, incalculable grief and inconsolable suffering throughout several decades of burning injustice, which was persistently aggravated by a patronising disposition of unaccountable power. 9698

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The subsequent acquittal of the Hillsborough match commander has created an enigmatic contradiction that raises serious concerns about the paucity of law and its bewildering range of judicial discretion. It undermines the principles of natural justice and separation of powers that is evident throughout several other contemporary high profile cases, which include Thalidomide (1960s), Bloody Sunday (1972), Birmingham pub bombings (1974) and Dreamworld (2016). Moreover, this deep burning injustice awaits many of the bereaving families and survivors following the Grenfell Tower inquiry and it was recently reiterated via the acquittal of Cardinal George Pell on child sex abuse charges by the High Court of Australia. It appears little has changed since the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act (1802), the Peterloo massacre (1819) and repeal of the Corn Laws (1846)…..The strong do what they like and the weak suffer what they must and lyrics from the Fields of Athenry resonate: 99110

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