In reading the evidence relating to the failures of the South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service at Hillsborough I tried to recall how ambulances operated in 1989; were they crewed by paramedics, as now, skilled in resuscitation and re-starting stopped hearts? Did they rig intravenous drips, administer opiates? Were they equipped with oxygen and skilled in tracheal intubation? I can't recall, but I suspect the reality lies somewhere between 1973 and the highly skilled and well equipped response of today. That some of the 41 who may have lived were actually killed by being positioned on their backs, allowing them to choke, is shocking enough. That ambulance service bosses distorted, omitted, misrepresented and suppressed compelling evidence against the service by their own staff is damning. The Coroner's foolish finding also protected the service. And if the evidence against the ambulance service reveals the stench of an unprecedented official whitewash, that against the police is greater by a force of magnitude.
I don't need the help of a TV series to remember the condition of South Yorkshire Police in 1989. I'd been working close to Doncaster during the miners' strike, and know well the bitter and lasting fissures in trust and attitude that were the legacy of that time. In 1989 the wounds were still raw. The police were still in thug-mode, regarding crowds as things to be bludgeoned and clubbed into obedience, defenders of Thatcher's revolution. The Poll Tax riots were just on the horizon. The State was under threat. That the most senior local police officers lied, lied and lied again to cover up their failings is hardly astonishing, and neither is the extent to which the establishment and the State connived in the whitewash;
- Local Tory MP Irvine Patrick, who spread poisonous lies
- Thatcher, who played down the Taylor Report
- Blair, who blocked a new investigation in 1997
- Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, who ruled that there were no grounds for a new inquest
And this, I think, is why saccharine Dave at his most Blairite, a man most remote from the families of the victims, was picked to pour his oil on the findings, rather than the locally trusted and respected Bishop of Liverpool, who headed the enquiry. The establishment will now control the fallout, and a few retired Yorkshire coppers will go to jail. Job done.
NB For a challengingly different perspective, I recommend Anna Raccoon's piece on this - it's truly excellent