On 28 June 2017, a mere 28 years after 96 men, women and children lost their lives while attending a football match because police kept shoving them into an overcrowded pen, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced in a public statement that it is finally bringing charges against six individuals.
The term ‘too little too late’ jumps screaming into our minds as we look at the simple facts above, but it must be remembered that the British state for a couple of decades had refused to accept that a crime occurred at all. This is in spite of the fact that in 1999 a private prosecution was brought against David Duckenfield, the police officer in charge on the day, who was prosecuted for two counts of manslaughter by gross negligence but escaped liability because the jury failed to agree on a verdict.
It still took many more years not only for it to be admitted by the state that a crime had been committed but also that a cover-up of that crime was carried out on the instructions of senior South Yorkshire police officers.
The individuals to be prosecuted are:
• Former chief superintendent David Duckenfield, who was the designated ‘match commander’ on behalf of South Yorkshire police on the day of the disaster, and who will be charged with the manslaughter by gross negligence of 95 men, women and children. (He cannot be charged with the manslaughter of Anthony Bland, the 96th casualty, as he died almost four years later and the law as it applied then stated that no person could be guilty of homicide where the death occurred more than a year and a day later than the date when the injuries were caused.)
• Graham Henry Mackrell, Sheffield Wednesday Football Club’s company secretary and safety officer at the time of the disaster in 1989, who is to be charged with two offences of “contravening a term of condition of a safety certificate contrary to the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 and one offence of failing to take reasonable care for the health and safety of other persons who may have been affected by his acts or omissions at work under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974”.
• Peter Metcalf, the solicitor acting for the South Yorkshire police during the Taylor Inquiry and the first inquests, who is being charged with committing acts with intent to pervert the course of public justice relating to material changes made to witness statements.
• Former chief superintendent Donald Denton of South Yorkshire police, who is also facing charges relating to committing acts with intent to pervert the course of public justice relating to material changes made to witness statements. It is, according to the official statement issued by Sue Hemming, the CPS head of special crime and counter-terrorism division, also alleged “that Donald Denton oversaw the process of amending the statements and in doing so, he did acts that had a tendency to pervert the course of public justice”.
• Former detective chief inspector Alan Foster of South Yorkshire police, who, like Donald Denton and Peter Metcalfe, is charged with committing acts with intent to pervert the course of public justice relating to material changes made to witness statements.
• Norman Bettison, a former officer with South Yorkshire police and subsequently chief constable of Merseyside and West Yorkshire police, who is charged with “four offences of misconduct in public office relating to telling alleged lies about his involvement in the aftermath of Hillsborough and the culpability of fans”.
Given the seniority of the police officers involved and the fact that their careers continued to soar after this disaster, along with the fact that some were also involved in other cases where police misconduct and lies have been alleged to have occurred on a grand scale, is it not obvious that the South Yorkshire police force (SYPF) as an organisation should be facing charges?
This is clearly not simply a case of the ‘a few bad apples’, but rather one of institutionalised criminality throughout that force from top to bottom. This is the true situation in South Yorkshire, but the following cryptic paragraph in the CPS statement indicates that such goings-on are not confined to South Yorkshire:
“There is a further IPCC [Independent Police Complaints Commission] file into the conduct of the West Midlands police but additional investigative work was required in respect of this. Additionally, just this week, the IPCC has referred two further suspects, which [sic] are unconnected to the matters sent to us in January. These files are subject to ongoing consideration by the CPS and we will announce our decisions in due course.”
It is also obvious that these prevailing ideas and methods in British police forces are not accidental. The bourgeois state exists to protect the ruling capitalist class and to keep the rest of us in our place (that is, serving the interests of our class enemy at the expense of our own).
The police, armed forces, judiciary, mass media and pulpit are all levers of control in the bourgeois state machine. Whilst it is welcome to see them finally face a measure of justice, the six charged, and any small number of others who may be added in the coming weeks or months, are at the end of the day but sacrificial offerings intended to pacify the justified rage of the working class and the oppressed, in the hope of hiding the fact that we, the many, are controlled by the few through their ‘lawless’ minions in every aspect of our lives under capitalism.
The fact that there is now the prospect of any measure of justice at all in this case is not due to any sudden change of heart or onrush of benevolence on the part of any section of the state or ruling class, but solely to nearly three decades of tenacious campaigning by the working-class communities of Liverpool in the face of the fury and contempt of the class enemy – whether in the form of police lies or press slanders.
As the terrible mass murder at Grenfell so graphically shows, the capitalist leopard has not changed its spots. We hope that the people affected by the Grenfell disaster will not have to wait three decades before they start to see justice.
But the two most important lessons that workers can learn from Hillsborough are never to give up, and never again to fall for the lie that the bourgeois state machine is an impartial body able to represent the interests of all.