I find it hard to know what to say about Hillsborough and the revelations in yesterday’s report. That the main storyline is not a great surprise to many on Merseyside speaks volumes. Yes, the scale was bigger and the detail of the report is impressive. But the truth (the real truth, not that peddled by The Sun) was widely accepted. The evident shock in ‘the establishment’ is something that I am more surprised by.
But the message today seems to be that it couldn’t happen again. There was something particular about South Yorkshire police. The 1980s was a different time… Have they so easily forgotten phone hacking and other on-going investigations? Do we really think the police give a complete, unedited and honest account in connection with deaths in custody etc? Or did they look after their own in connection with, for example, Ian Tomlinson’s death?
In addition to respect for the persistence of the families and others, hats off also to the independent panel. As well as experts in law, policing and medical science, there were archivists skilled in searching for and ordering information amongst other things. As with the Kenyan case against the British Government, it is always amazing to me the extent of official records that are kept despite the clear desire to hide the truth. Bureaucratic tendencies to retain information have, again, contributed to some progress towards justice. Efforts to cut bureaucratic ‘waste and inefficiency’ forget the real value in careful record keeping. Freeing the police from the need to keep detailed records or allowing them to cut corners (‘innovate’ in contemporary terms?) may mean that their natural tendency to protect their own will leave less of a paper trail in future. And efforts to undermine the Freedom of Information Act, limited as it is, should also be a cause for concern. Secrecy is also part of the problem. Hillsborough is an extreme example, but all the elements are familiar and ever present.