MP Steve Rotheram's Hillsborough debate speech: Read the full transcript
Published 20:43 17/10/11 By MirrorFootball
As the House of Commons debate the Hillsborough disaster and demands for previously secret papers to be released to the victims' families, MP Steve Rotheram has stunned Parliament with a powerful speech.
Rotheram, a former lord mayor of Liverpool, attacked "smears" and the "establishment cover-up" linked to the awful events that left 96 dead.
Here, thanks to our friends at the Liverpool Echo , is a full transcript of that speech...
Thank you Mr Speaker.
I rise to thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting tonight’s debate following the incredible response to the Government on-line petition which attracted 140,000 signatures in just a couple of weeks. It is because those people took the time to push the Government for the release of the Hillsborough documents - that today we are having the first ever Parliamentary debate resulting from an e-petition (although, after a fight for justice that has lasted 22 years - even this minor concession was called into question following last week’s shenanigans in this Chamber).
I would also like to thank colleagues for the fantastic response from nearly 100 MPs from 9 separate political parties who supported the application to the Backbench Business Committee.
This is a victory for democracy – a victory for people power, but it remains to be seen whether it will be a victory for the families. They have been let down so many times that they will not be surprised if there are those - that would prefer for this, to just simply go away.
For those that foolishly believe that this might be a potential outcome from tonight’s debate, let me make it absolutely clear from the start – this issue will never JUST ‘Go Away’ – NOT until there is Justice for the 96.
Mr Speaker - During this debate I will set out why I believe it is an important issue for this House to consider – (albeit, a bit late in the day) – and outline why it is essential to press the Government on its commitment to release ALL papers relating to the Hillsborough Disaster.
I believe that all sides of the House should agree to the terms of the motion – but if not – it is my intention to press the House to a vote. My hope is that common sense, and ultimately, justice, will prevail.
Mr Speaker, I want to begin by setting out the context to this disaster as there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what happened on 15th April 1989 – and in the dark days, weeks, years – and – ashamedly, decades that followed.
There have only been a few occasions in my life when I have been completely overwhelmed by the emotion of the event I was witnessing - the birth of my 3 wonderful children – the death of my beloved mum and loss of close friends and relatives.
However, there is one other event that will live with me for the rest of my life.
And that is the tragedy at Sheffield on that beautiful spring day 22 years, 6 months and 2 days ago.
Before 1989 Hillsborough was just the name of one of England's famous old football grounds. But for the last 2 decades the word "Hillsborough" has evoked memories of Britain's worst ever sporting disaster.
It was a day when I helplessly watched frantic scenes – as people that had travelled to see a football match, some, mere children, lay injured and dying as they were pulled from the terraces.
I was one of the lucky ones that day – and all of my close friends (and members of my family) returned home, although for one (our Lisa), it was touch and go whether she would survive. Thankfully she did.
This unfortunately was not the case for 96 men, women and children who were killed – and for hundreds of others injured and left permanently traumatised. The loss of 96 innocent lives was bad enough Mr Speaker, but the tragic nature of their deaths was exacerbated by what happened next. Instead of those at fault taking responsibility for their actions, a coordinated campaign began - to shift the blame – and look for scapegoats.
To this day – NOBODY has been held to account for Hillsborough.
Mr Speaker, a half day debate, though welcomed, is not long enough to go into all of the details of this gross 22 year injustice, so I will concentrate on the 3 main pillars of the accusations against Liverpool fans, namely that thousands;
• Turned up late and were ticketless
• Were drunk and aggressive
• And broke down a gate causing a catastrophic crush.
Is it any wonder that some people have doubtful and distorted views as to the exact cause of the Disaster, when misinformation began almost immediately after the players were led off the pitch at 3.06.
The BBC and ITV news that very afternoon misreported what had occurred – and it is important to understand the effect this had – as it formed the immediate public perception of Hillsborough.
To fully understand what I mean – people would need to suspend their predisposition to believe the Hillsborough myths – and to listen to tonight’s debate with an open mind – before jumping to conclusions.
But the faux pas committed in the immediate aftermath – when there was much uncertainty and a degree of confusion, pales into insignificance when you consider the malicious manner in the way some sections of the press reported things – and which still clouds thinking today.
At 3.15pm, Graham Kelly, the then Chief Executive of the Football Association, went to the police control box, where he was told by the (now) discredited Match Commander that Liverpool fans had rushed the gate into the ground, creating the fatal crush in the central pens. This was cowardice and deceit of the highest order as the fact was that no gate had been rushed – and Duckenfield (The Match Commander) himself had personally ordered the gate be opened. But this disgraceful lie set the tone for all that came later.
At 4.15pm, Kelly was interviewed by the BBC, and he told them the police had implied to him that the gate had been broken down by the fans to gain access. Notwithstanding the fact that there was absolutely no basis to these lies, Kelly – allowed himself to be embroiled in this treachery, although he SIMPLY may have wished this version of events to be true – as, by then, he had probably realized that the dysfunctional organization that he headed-up would quite rightly be criticized for their part in the unfolding disaster. Why didn’t the FA listen? I suppose we will never know!
However, AND without any evidence to back it up, these lies were reported by some news organizations – and the story was flashed around the World as fact - repeating the line that drunken Liverpool fans had forced the gates open.
Just a few days later, before people had even had time to arrange funerals for their loved ones, - the Sun newspaper infamously printed the banner headline entitled "The Truth" - on the personal instruction of editor Kelvin McKenzie.
It claimed that drunken fans had forced the gates open because they did not have match-tickets; that they had stolen from the corpses lying around the pitch; assaulted police officers and the emergency services; robbed cameras and other equipment from press photographers; and - urinated on police officers helping the victims. This was one of the cruelest blows – and it beggers belief that certain sections of the media still give airtime to this most despicable man, to vent his bile and mendacity.
Given what he said about the Prime Minister the other day, there may even be some Tories that NOW agree that the man is a pariah (as we on Merseyside know him to be). This is a man who preaches about free speech, but who dehumanized the deaths of 96 people for a cheap headline. What an absolute hypocrite!
Months later, the rag he edited admitted that the allegations it had made were totally false, - but the damage had been done.
To this day, the people of Merseyside don’t buy that newspaper.
But it has taken the Hackgate allegations with Murdock’s News International for people to at long last sit up and take notice of the claims we made 22 years ago - that there may be some truth to our allegations of collusion between the press, certain politicians and the Police.
Mr Speaker, the actual loss of life from Hillsborough will never be fully known. Yes we know that 96 people died as a direct result of injuries that they sustained at the stadium, but many have subsequently died – some tragically by committing suicide – and others – who have simply died of a broken heart at the loss of their loved one.
However, I have been careful not to base my account of events on emotion. In fact I have ensured that I have clear and referenced evidence to support all of my contentions.
Mr Speaker - It is claimed that truth is the first casualty of War – but the same can be said for Hillsborough. Misdirection, obfuscation and damned lies were all used as smokescreens to deflect attention away from the guilty.
Institutional complacency and gross negligence, coupled with an establishment cover-up, have added to the sense that this was an orchestrated campaign to shift the blame from those really responsible onto the shoulders of Liverpool fans.
There are many myths that have been perpetrated about the events of the 15th April 1989 – and perhaps the only way these will be addressed is once the Hillsborough Independent Panel – set-up by My Rt Hon friend the Member for Leigh – concludes its deliberations and reports back next year. That is why it is so important to give them all of the pieces of the jigsaw, so that they can complete a full and accurate picture of events.
So what are the facts about the Hillsborough disaster? For those that believe it was simply caused by fans turning up late – you are wrong – YOU ARE WRONG - in spite of a misprint on tickets requesting fans to turn up at 2.45pm and despite the fact that Liverpool fans only had 23 dilapidated turnstiles to enter the ground – (whilst Forrest fans had access through 60), half of the 10,100 supporters were already in the ground before 2.30pm - but there was congestion outside and it was obvious that with 5,000 supporters still to enter the ground at 2.30pm, there needed to be a delay in kick-off.
Anyone who has ever been to a match knows that there is always a higher entry rate as kick-off time approaches, - AND two years previous there had been a delayed kick-off to allow fans to get into the ground. But not this time, instead the response to the build up and congestion outside was to open a gate and allow fans onto the concourse - with disastrous consequences as there were no stewards or police inside to direct supporters into the half empty pens and away from the packed central pens.
Signage was poor and the design of the Leppins Lane meant that around 2,000 of this group made their way into the ground and headed straight for a tunnel (marked ‘Standing’) leading directly to pens 3 and 4.
This influx caused severe crushing and some fans began climbing over the lateral fences into the half empty pens on either side to escape.
It was later estimated that more than 3,000 supporters were admitted to the central pens - almost double the "safe" capacity.
At five minutes past three a crush barrier in pen 3 gave way, causing people to fall on top of each other. Cries to the Police for help were audible, but went unheard.
Mr Speaker, another falsehood was the claim that these were ticketless fans – but even officers at the turnstiles rejected this - and the HSE, who later analysed the evidence of all those that entered this end, concluded that the total numbers were between 9,373 and 10,124. The capacity was 10,100 and so the myth of ticketless fans can also be dispelled. AND just to confirm this - so as to leave no doubt - the report by Lord Justice Taylor stated there was no substance that ticketless fans caused the disaster.
Unfortunately this smear still impairs and prejudices the thinking of some who have heard the apocryphal tales of ticketless fans so many times – that they believe it to be true. Not only is it untrue, it’s total rubbish – the sort of nonsense bandied round by those desperate to protect their own skins.
And how about the outrageous claims by Bernard Ingham (who was Mrs Thatcher’s Press Secretary) - despite the fact that – at this stage - the death total was still rising – he stated the cause was drunken fans (or in his words), Hillsborough wouldn’t have happened; “if a mob, clearly tanked up, had not tried to force their way in”.
I know that there are people (maybe even some on the benches opposite) that actually believe this drivel, because they have been fed it for 2 decades, but I simply ask people to read the Taylor report.
ALCOHOL was absolutely rejected as the cause of the disaster. Once again it was a convenient excuse – an expedient opportunity to try to smear the fans and to abrogate responsibility.
Liverpool supporters were no better or worse than the fans of any other football club of the day - and I would say to fans of other teams, that they should be saying ‘There but for the grace of GOD go we’ because a similar tragedy could have befell anyone at that time (and it certainly could have happened to anyone at that particular stadium – which didn’t even have a valid safety certificate.)
The Taylor report concluded that “The great MAJORITY of fans were not drunk – OR EVEN the worst for drink”. However, Ingham’s view obviously influenced the Sheffield coroner who inexplicably took blood alcohol levels from every victim, which included Jon-Paul Gilhooley. Jon-Paul was 10 years of age. Just a child.
Drink wasn’t the cause, but was used to accuse and condemn – to impugn and reproach. It was a quite frankly – A CON.
The cause of the Hillsborough Disaster is there for all to see in the Taylor report, which concluded that the:
• police fundamentally lost control of the situation, and did not demonstrate the leadership expected of senior officers,
• that the failure to cut off access to pens 3 and 4 was a blunder of the first order
• that safety procedures were inadequate and the ground was badly maintained and dangerous,
• that fans were routinely treated with contempt by football,
• and that Liverpool fans had been the victims rather than the guilty party.
His reports, published in August 89 and January 90, dismissed the allegations against Liverpool supporters for the disaster.
Mr Speaker – 22 years on it is difficult to comprehend the enormity of the complete and utter breakdown of communication and inaction of those charged with our safety - and it’s impossible to understand at a human level why those within authority simply stood idly by whilst ordinary football fans (without any emergency – or medical training) organised themselves into stretcher bearing squads to ferry stricken fans on advertising hoardings ripped from around the pitch - and who tried to give CPR to the stricken. This wasn’t a war zone – no battle had been fought, but you wouldn’t have guessed it by the scenes on the pitch.
It was due to the Herculean efforts of ordinary fans (those same fans later besmirched by slanderous tabloid headlines) - that the death toll wasn’t even higher.
Mr Speaker on the 20th Anniversary of the disaster I put on record my thanks to the ordinary people of Sheffield that opened their doors (in the days before mobile phones) - to let fans call home to tell loved ones that they were safe - and tonight both the Leader and Chief Executive of Liverpool City Council send messages of support from the people of Liverpool to those in Sheffield that helped on that dreadful day.
I am proud to be a Liverpudlian Mr Speaker. In the 22 years that the families have fought their dignified campaign, I, and the rest of Britain have watched as my great city has come together.
Out of the darkness of the Hillsborough tragedy, an eternal flame of unity has emerged to mean that Liverpool is now synonymous with a unique kind of solidarity; whether red or blue, we are scousers all.
BUT - Mr Speaker, to those that attempt to perpetrate the myth that it was the fault of the fans, I will never tire of reminding them that it was the ordinary fans that were the real heroe’s on the day, not the villains. They reacted, whilst those in authority froze.
Mr Speaker, my granddad used to regal me with vivid accounts of the 2 World Wars he had fought in – and whilst he never glorified in war itself, he would explain to us his sense of loss for fallen comrades NEARLY half a century later. I didn’t really understand that when I was growing up – but I do now. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, we will NEVER stop fighting for justice for the 96.
A botched inquest, a flawed Enquiry, a farcical review of evidence and a system that worked against, instead of for, the families has left a bitter taste.
An unsympathetic Government, an unsatisfactory judicial process and an unforgiving press has led observers to believe that an organized conspiracy was acting against the best interests of natural justice. We need the Government to act - and we need this House to support the motion to ENSURE that there is no further backsliding on this issue.
Mr Speaker, - The Prime Minister quite rightly apologised for a previous Government’s mishandling of events when he responded to the findings of the SavilIe Report. Today I call on the Prime Minister to make a statement in this House and to APLOLOGISE for the mistakes that were made and the mishandling of this whole tragedy on behalf of previous Governments.
I would also ask him to join me in pushing for the disclosure of the Senior Police office and the Conservative MP who allegedly leaked the story to the press – and to press for a front page banner headline in the Sun newspaper admitting they lied in April 1989, just as Kenny Dalglish demanded 2 decades ago.
We in Liverpool refer collectively to those ‘lost’ at Hillsborough simply as the 96 – but each of the 96 was an individual, a father/sister/brother/daughter/son – an irreplaceable person loved by others and with their own unique life story.
‘The 96’ trips off the tongue far too easily. It is not until you read out each individual name on the Hillsborough memorial at Anfield that you realise just how long the list is.
Parliament has never even recorded their names in Hansard for posterity. Well tonight I can, at least, put one wrong right.
John Alfred Anderson (62)
Colin Mark Ashcroft (19)
James Gary Aspinall (18)
Kester Roger Marcus Ball (16)
Gerard Bernard Patrick Baron (67)
Simon Bell (17)
Barry Sidney Bennett (26)
David John Benson (22)
David William Birtle (22)
Tony Bland (22)
Paul David Brady (21)
Andrew Mark Brookes (26)
Carl Brown (18)
David Steven Brown (25)
Henry Thomas Burke (47)
Peter Andrew Burkett (24)
Paul William Carlile (19)
Raymond Thomas Chapman (50)
Gary Christopher Church (19)
Joseph Clark (29)
Paul Clark (18)
Gary Collins (22)
Stephen Paul Copoc (20)
Tracey Elizabeth Cox (23)
James Philip Delaney (19)
Christopher Barry Devonside (18)
Christopher Edwards (29)
Vincent Michael Fitzsimmons (34)
Thomas Steven Fox (21)
Jon-Paul Gilhooley (10)
Barry Glover (27)
Ian Thomas Glover (20)
Derrick George Godwin (24)
Roy Harry Hamilton (34)
Philip Hammond (14)
Eric Hankin (33)
Gary Harrison (27)
Stephen Francis Harrison (31)
Peter Andrew Harrison (15)
David Hawley (39)
James Robert Hennessy (29)
Paul Anthony Hewitson (26)
Carl Darren Hewitt (17)
Nicholas Michael Hewitt (16)
Sarah Louise Hicks (19)
Victoria Jane Hicks (15)
Gordon Rodney Horn (20)
Arthur Horrocks (41)
Thomas Howard (39)
Thomas Anthony Howard (14)
Eric George Hughes (42)
Alan Johnston (29)
Christine Anne Jones (27)
Gary Philip Jones (18)
Richard Jones (25)
Nicholas Peter Joynes (27)
Anthony Peter Kelly (29)
Michael David Kelly (38)
Carl David Lewis (18)
David William Mather (19)
Brian Christopher Mathews (38)
Francis Joseph McAllister (27)
John McBrien (18)
Marion Hazel McCabe (21)
Joseph Daniel McCarthy (21)
Peter McDonnell (21)
Alan McGlone (28)
Keith McGrath (17)
Paul Brian Murray (14)
Lee Nicol (14)
Stephen Francis O'Neill (17)
Jonathon Owens (18)
William Roy Pemberton (23)
Carl William Rimmer (21)
David George Rimmer (38)
Graham John Roberts (24)
Steven Joseph Robinson (17)
Henry Charles Rogers (17)
Colin Andrew Hugh William Sefton (23)
+Inger Shah (38)
Paula Ann Smith (26)
Adam Edward Spearritt (14)
Philip John Steele (15)
David Leonard Thomas (23)
Patrik John Thompson (35)
Peter Reuben Thompson (30)
Stuart Paul William Thompson (17)
Peter Francis Tootle (21)
Christopher James Traynor (26)
Martin Kevin Traynor (16)
Kevin Tyrrell (15)
Colin Wafer (19)
Ian David Whelan (19)
Martin Kenneth Wild (29)
Kevin Daniel Williams (15)
Graham John Wright (17)
Rest in Peace. Justice for the 96.