Retired judge tells Hillsborough familes to "move on"

Hillsborough Retired judge Sir Oliver Popplewell, in a letter to the Times criticised the behaviour of the families of those involved in the Hilllsborough disaster, and called upon them to follow the example of the families of those who died in the fire at Bradford City’s Valley Parade ground in 1985.

Popplewell chaired the official enquiry into the Valley Parade disaster, where 56 people died when a cigarette or match was dropped by a spectator, igniting a huge pile of rubbish that had accumulated under the dilapidated wooden stand that had stood the early 1900’s, and the resulting fire burned the stand down in less than 5 minutes. Thankfully, that stand didn’t have a fence preventing fans from getting onto the pitch, which could potentially have put the death toll in the thousands.

In his letter Popplewell said: “The citizens of Bradford behaved with quiet dignity and great courage. They did not harbour conspiracy theories. They did not seek endless further inquiries.

“They buried their dead, comforted the bereaved and succoured the injured. They organised a sensible compensation scheme and moved on.

“Is there, perhaps, a lesson there for the Hillsborough campaigners?”

Steve Rotherham, the MP for Liverpool Walton, replied by saying “It is unbelievable. To mention other tragedies simply because they are football-related, as if there is some common denominator because they happened in football stadiums, beggars belief.

"It shows how people right at the top of the Establishment still harbour prejudice and ignorance.”

Unfortunately, despite the progress that has been made recently in the campaign for the truth to come out about what happened that day; Hillsborough was debated in Parliament on Monday, and Home Secretary Theresa May has promised to disclose all possible documents relating to the aftermath of Hillsborough, Popplewell’s comments still show that there are some people who just want Hillsborough swept under the carpet.

To suggest that there is actually a correlation between a fire that was accidently started and a crush caused by incompetent policing just because both happened at football grounds is a moronic argument to say the least.

The victims of the Valley Parade fire were not subjected to a cover-up involving the Government and the Police. The victims of Hillsborough were. The victims of the Valley Parade were treated as victims of a terrible accident. The victims of Hillsborough were treated as though they had almost got what they deserved, as the Liverpool fans in attendance that day were portrayed as the scum of the earth, an out of control mob. The families of those that died at the Valley Parade know what happened, the truth came out, they were able to get some closure and start the healing process. The families of those that died at Hillsborough have not got that.

There are still many valid questions that have to be answered about what happened on that day, before the families and friends of those who lost someone at Hillsborough can feel as though they finally have a clear picture of what happened that day and who, if anyone, was responsible.

For starters, the coroner, Stefan Popper, ruled that by 3:15pm all of the victims in the Leppings Lane end had received injuries that had caused irreversible brain damage, despite evidence that some of the victims died much later than then. There is even evidence that some victims were still talking two hours later than 3:15pm.

That ruling meant that the inquests that followed were limited to events up to 3:15pm, meaning that crucial questions were never asked nor answered. The emergency response was never discussed. Of the 42 ambulances that were called to Hillsborough, only 3 made it onto the pitch. There were many witnesses who were never called to give evidence, including some of the responding paramedics, who were critical of the way the emergency response was coordinated, with one describing it as ‘chaotic’.

Many fans were laid on their backs, rather than in the recovery position, some were lain with their faces covered, despite the fact that no qualified person had declared them dead. Only 14 of those who died ever went to a hospital, the rest were laid in piles around the Leppings Lane end or left on the pitch.

The 3:15 cut-off has also meant that the individual circumstances of every death were never investigated, which means that the families and friends of those that died still don’t know exactly what the cause of death was. Traumatic Asphyxia was given as the official cause of death for everyone, but there are families who were able to their relative’s body examined by independent pathologists, who found a different cause of death. So the question remains, how did they actually die, and could they have been saved had the emergency response been managed better?

There are also questions to be answered about the evidence provided to the inquests. Two vital police CCTV tapes mysteriously went missing from the locked control room at Hillsborough and there has never been a satisfactory answer given to the question, what happened to them and was their disappearance ever investigated?

The testimonies given by those police officers in attendance was heavily vetted and in some circumstances completely changed to fit the assertions by South Yorkshire Police that late and drunk fans were to blame, despite the Taylor report concluding that the fault lay with the decision taken by Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield to open an exit gate without ensuring that the gates to the already full central pens in the Leppings Lane were closed, which would have prevented the crush.

There are also questions about the role of Detective Superintendent Stanley Beechey, of the West Midlands police force, who was responsible for interviewing Duckenfield, his deputy Bernard Murray and the other senior police officers present at Hillsborough, and presenting the tapes of those interviews to the inquest.

Beechey had been recently removed from his position as the head the West Midland Police’s serious crime squad, as there had been a string of cases collapsing amid allegations of police misconduct about his squad. The West Midlands Chief Constable (the head of the police force), Geoffrey Dear, moved Beechey and other members of his squad to ‘non-operational duties’, while they were awaiting investigation by the Police Complaints Authority. Beechey was transferred to ‘studying technical aspects of Hillsborough’. Dear believed that Beechey would be working on enhancing the quality of CCTV images, and when told of his involvement at a senior level in the investigation said, "It definitely was not what I had in mind when I transferred him. If I had been told, I would have taken him off the investigation. I wouldn't have had Beechey working on that or any other inquiry. Not because he might necessarily be doing anything wrong, but because it was not appropriate."

So, at the same time Beechey had been present at the interviews of senior officers responsible at Hillsborough, he was himself under formal investigation (he was later cleared of any wrong doing). There is no evidence of Beechey doing anything improper in the Hillsborough investigation, but Margaret Aspinall of the Hillborough Family Support Group feels Beechey's involvement is another area of unease. "We want it cleared up ...What was this police officer doing on the Hillsborough investigation, what position did he occupy, and why, if he was on 'non-operational duties?'"

Oliver Popplewell called for the families of the victims of Hillsborough to behave with ‘a quiet dignity’. They have been behaving like that for the past 22 years. What he really means is that they should shut up and accept the version of events the powers that be want them to accept. That they should stop searching for the truth and accept the lies and half-truths told about their loved-ones and people just like them. Well, Sir Oliver, they won’t.

And nor should they.