May 05 2016

HILLSBOROUGH – THE CROWN IN THE DOCK

The inquest into the Hillsborough Disaster finally made its ruling on 26th April. It took 27 years, following a prolonged establishment and police cover up, to finally get the verdict that 96 Liverpool supporters were “unlawfully killed”.  We are posting the article below by Steve Freeman and Phil Vellender of the RSA. It was first published in  Chartist, before the inquest reported, and highlights some of the deeper issues raised. 

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HILLSBOROUGH – THE CROWN IN THE DOCK

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On the 15 April 1989 ninety six men, women and children died at the FA Cup Semi-final at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield. The truth about this tragedy was concealed by the Crown for twenty three years. Yet at the same time we have to pay tribute to the tenacious struggle of ordinary people campaigning against such a shocking injustice.

The twenty three year long struggle of the Hillsborough families and supporters tells us much about life in a class divided nation. On one side was the working class represented by the Liverpool football fans whose City never forgot the disaster. “Justice for the 96” chants have continued to ring out from the Liverpool Kop not least on each anniversary of the tragic events. Against them were ranged the powerful forces of the Crown supported by the Murdoch press.

Hillsborough was a disaster waiting to happen. In those days working class fans were made to stand on terracing divided into “pens”. At Hillsborough they were ringed with blue-painted steel fences. Fans had to enter these through a small number of decrepit turnstiles. The capacity was officially 2,200; however it should have been 1,600. In addition the barriers did not meet the required official safety standards. On the fatal day Hillsborough did not even have a valid safety certificate. Over 3,000 supporters were let in.

Simply blaming it all on the police does not get to the heart of the matter, but on the day it was they who were responsible for herding fans into a very dangerous place. At 2.50 pm the pens were already full before the police ordered the exit gate to be opened and around 2000 more fans were directed into the central areas behind the goal. The powerful and uncontrollable force of the crowd began crushing, injuring and then killing adults and children. Five minutes after kick off a crash barrier in pen three gave way, causing people to fall on top of each other.

Worse was to follow: the emergency medical services were kept outside the ground with the exception of one ambulance driven on the pitch. Of the 96 people who died, only 14 were ever admitted to hospital. Forty one people were still alive at 3.15pm who could have been saved – they were left to die with little or no medical help. Over 700 were injured and thousands were damaged emotionally by what happened to them or those around them.

Immediately the police and the Murdoch press pinned the blame on the Liverpool fans. Parents arriving to identify their children’s bodies were questioned as if they were criminals. The police tested the blood alcohol of people laid out dead. Checks were then run on them through the Police National Computer. Soon after stories began to circulate about the ‘animalistic’ behaviour of the fans.

Four days after the disaster, the Sun newspaper published a story headlined “The Truth” alleging that fans had picked the pockets of victims, attacked and urinated on police and rescue workers. In 2004, Boris Johnson, the Tory’s favourite buffoon, continued the same line in the Spectator accusing Liverpool of wallowing in victim status and failing to acknowledge that drunken fans were partly responsible for the tragedy.

Corporate Manslaughter

 In law a Corporate body is responsible for actions of its servants or employees. Individuals still have their responsibilities for actions or inactions but a corporate body cannot hide behind an individual and use them as scapegoat for collective responsibility. If you are bullied or endangered byan individual manager at work, it is the employer who is responsible even if the Chief Executive did not and cannot know every incident. Ignorance may mitigate but it is no defence.

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 (CMCHA) states that an organisation is guilty of an offence if the way its activities are managed or organised brings a person’s death; and amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased. In 1989 Crown immunity was a long established legal doctrine that meant that Crown bodies (such as Government departments) could not be prosecuted. The 2007 Act Section 11(1) now allows prosecutions. Whilst we should have no illusions in this law, it directs us straight to the top.

The Crown

 The Crown is a corporate body, the most powerful multinational corporation in the country, but it is hardly mentioned in this terrible disaster. Nevertheless it is there lurking in the shadows directing operations throughout. It appears in various guises, that of the police, local authorities, civil servants, judges and ministers. Those in charge – the ‘controlling mind’ – are its ‘Board of Directors’ included the Chief Executive Officer, Margaret Thatcher and non-executive chair, Elizabeth Windsor. Although it appears in legal argument, in popular language it is referred to as the ‘Authorities’ or the ‘Establishment’.

Any major crisis or disaster is a danger for the Crown. The Chief Executive or the Chair of the Board usually turn up in person to show who is in charge. Thatcher and Home Secretary Douglas Hurd arrived in Sheffield next day. The Queen may adopt a lower profile in such bad news stories. In 1966 she was criticised for not visiting the Aberfan disaster for eight days. Prince Charles and Diana Spencer were sent up to Hillsborough on the fourth day.

Lord Justice Taylor was appointed immediately by the Home Secretary to conduct a judicial inquiry, the normal means by which the Crown protects itself. Thatcher was already pushing the Football Spectators’ Bill through Parliament in which membership cards would be brought in to control football fans. If Taylor proposed such cards then it would bolster the Crown’s own legislation and help the strategy to blame the fans not the police. Behind the scenes Taylor was pressed by the Home Secretary to fall into line on cards. Thatcher’s principal private secretary told her: “Lord Justice Taylor was distinctly unhelpful”.

The Hillsborough disaster was not an isolated incident. In 1985 the Bradford City stadium fire killed fifty six. In 1987 the ferry, Herald of Free Enterprise capsized with one hundred and ninety three passengers and crew killed. The Kings Cross fire killed thirty one in 1987 and in 1989 the pleasure boat Marchioness sank in the Thames killing fifty one passengers. It was a time when the Crown embraced neo-liberal deregulation, slack regulation and no regulation at all. It was a public safety nightmare.

Cover up

 The Crown at all levels was fully engaged in damage limitation. “Two judge led inquiries, an inquest, police investigations, and a private prosecution were carried out, but the families’ story was largely dismissed by the establishment.” (Independent on Sunday, Merrick and Brady, 16 September 2012). More than 160 police statements were changed. One hundred and sixteen of them were altered to remove “unfavourable” comments about policing. Norman Bettison played a vital role in the South Yorkshire Police unit covering their tracks. He was later promoted to Chief Constable and given a knighthood for his services to the Crown.

South Yorkshire Police chiefs considered charging Lord Justice Taylor with perverting the course of justice. Taylor’s police driver claimed he heard the judge say the police would have to take the blame. Taylor’s job was to protect the Crown and if that meant sacrificing South Yorkshire police so be it. Otherwise responsibility would head up the food chain so enveloping the government.

The police held discussions about possible charges with the Director of Public Prosecutions. Discrediting Taylor came to nothing. A bust up between parts of the Crown would be very dangerous. The file on this incident was considered highly sensitive and kept secret for years with a note warning that a leak “could prove highly embarrassing for all parties” not least the Crown itself. (Independent on Sunday 16 September 2012)

 Crown responsibility

In 1996 the Labour Party in opposition promised the families a new inquiry. In office Home Secretary Jack Straw assured families of his support and asked Lord Justice Stuart-Smith for a “scrutiny of evidence”. The Judge concluded that fresh evidence did not add anything significant. Statements should not have been edited, he decided, but this was simply an “error of judgement”. Jack Straw accepted the findings and ruled out a new inquiry. Job done!

Over ten years later the Crown opened some 450,000 documents for examination. Liverpool MP Andy Burnham, closely and personally involved in the campaign for justice, credits this decision to Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Did Brown discuss this with the Queen in their weekly meetings and did she give the green light? If this was possible in 2009, why not in 1989?

On 12 September 2012, Cameron apologised to the families for a “double injustice”. This represented official recognition on behalf of the Crown and the Queen as head of state. If the scandal continues to deepen, the buck will go beyond Downing Street and arrive at the gates of the Palace. What does the head of state do when such corruption occurs on her watch?

What did the Queen know and when did she know it? What did her various Prime Ministers and Home Secretaries, like Howard and Straw, and senior civil servants know? Were they all part of this criminal conspiracy or simply ignorant and negligent? Were they, like so many sleeping beauties, fast asleep for twenty three years? Did she know or inquire or do anything? Don’t we, her subjects, have right to know?

What we do know now is that the “Police, ambulance services, football authorities, stadium owners, local authorities, two judges and politicians all failed and failed again… Some in authority were not just defective but deliberately obstructive” (Independent on Sunday 16 September 2012). We can agree with Professor Ashton about context – a Thatcher government which hated the working class and despised Liverpool which had a militant tradition and opposed her policies. The South Yorkshire police played a major role in defeating the miners, so they were already her favourite police.

Yet the South Yorkshire police, now caught red-handed in the commission of their crimes, are really a distraction and handy scapegoat. On 11th October 2012, the Crown Prosecution Service announced possible criminal charges. Their investigation will focus on Sheffield not Whitehall, Downing Street or Buckingham Palace. Don’t expect the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute the Crown for corporate manslaughter or conspiracy to cover up this crime.

Let Professor Ashton have the last word. “What happened at Hillsborough is a symptom of the corruption in public life that is endemic now. At stake is the vitality of our democracy”. That is a good place to unmask the Crown and change the secretive and unaccountable system of government.

 

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For another article about state cover-ups see:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/03/31/why-no-pitchford-enquiry-in-scotland/

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May 05 2016

WHAT’S BEHIND THE RIGHT’S ACCUSATIONS OF ‘ANTI-SEMITISM’

 

The British ruling class has been upset by a number of events beyond its control. The huge surge in those demanding Scottish independence and those who voted for Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party have opened up politics beyond of the safe Conservative/Lib-Dem/New Labour pro-imperial, pro-Israel and pro-neoliberal consensus. This is the context in which  the ‘antisemitism’ smears directed against a number of people either on the Left or from a Muslim background are being pushed by the Conservatives, Labour Right and various Zionist organisations. These are being used in an attempt to close down political opposition to austerity, privatisation, war in the Middle East and the continued repression of Palestinians. This is an issue of much wider concern than Labour Party members. We are posting three articles, one a letter to The National, written by Sarah Glynn of RISE, and two from Tony Greenstein, socialist, anti-Zionist and antiracist, who has a longstanding blog dedicated to these ideas (http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk) (also see http://freespeechonisrael.org.uk/).

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1. A LETTER FROM SARAH GLYNN TO THE NATIONAL

CONTRARY to the impression given in much of the media, many British Jews are extremely concerned at the on-going political manipulation of charges of anti-Semitism. This is a blatant and cynical attempt to tarnish Jeremy Corbyn and bring Labour back into the neo-liberal fold, and is part of an alarming growth in political exploitation of the “race card” more generally.
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May 02 2016

SUPPORT THE JUNIOR DOCTORS

 SUPPORT THE JUNIOR DOCTORS

NO COMPROMISES, NO BACKDOOR DEALS

DEFEND THE NHS

 

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For months, the junior doctors of the National Health Service have stood firm in the face of an onslaught from the Conservative government in Westminster. Socialized medicine works and, indeed, it is extremely popular. With a national health service, access to medical care is free and available to all. Everyone has the right to see a doctor when sick and for periodic preventative check-ups. Yet years of underfunding have taken their toll. Doctors are overworked and stressed out. It can take several months to get an appointment to see a consultant. There are also too few nurses and support staff, so those providing care are harried and unable to give the careful attention patients need.
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May 02 2016

SOCIALIST DEMOCRACY (IRELAND) STATEMENT ON THE EU REFERENDUM

As part of the debate our online debate on  the EU referendum we are posting this following statement from Socialist Democracy (Ireland).

SOCIALIST DEMOCRACY (IRELAND) STATEMENT ON EUROPE

No to the Racism!

No to imperialist Europe!

Yes to Britain remaining in Europe!

Yes to a United Socialist States of Europe!

DUP, TUV, Loyalists, UKIP and Tory Right want to being back border posts

DUP, TUV, Loyalists, UKIP and Tory Right want to being back border posts

 

Within moments of the launch of the European referendum in Britain all the guff about terms and conditions disappeared like snow off a ditch.
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Apr 20 2016

FIRST HAND REPORT OF THE 1916 DUBLIN RISING

The first reports sympathetic to the 1916 Rising appeared in the Women’s Dreadnought on Saturday 13 May 1916. Thoughts on Easter Week was written by the editor, Sylvia Pankhurst. This was followed by Scenes from the Rebellion by Patricia Lynch sent to Dublin to report on the Easter Rising. Patricia Lynch (1898 – 1972) was an Irish author of children’s literature and a journalist .

THOUGHTS ON EASTER WEEK

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Sylvia Pankhurst addressing an outdoor meeting

Justice can make but one reply to the Irish rebellion, and that is to demand that Ireland shall be allowed to, govern herself.
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Apr 18 2016

EU AND ‘INTERNATIONALISM FROM BELOW’ – SCOTLAND REMAINS, ENGLAND ABSTAINS

The RCN, like most of the rest of the Left, is having a debate on the EU referendum. This is the second contribution by Steve Freeman of the Republican Socialist Alliance. It has been posted on the RSA blog (http://www.republicansocialists.org.uk). A modified version has also been posted on the bella caledonia blog (http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2016/04/13/scotland-remains-and-england-abstains/)

 

EU AND ‘INTERNATIONALISM FROM BELOW – SCOTLAND REMAINS AND ENGLAND ABSTAINS

 

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Introduction

The 12 March RSA meeting unanimously adopted the following:
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Apr 18 2016

ORANGE SKIRMISH HIGHLIGHTS THE ONGOING SECTARIAN FRACTURES IN THE NORTH OF IRELAND

We are posting this recent article from Socialist Democracy (Ireland) about the  current situation in Northern Ireland. This is a another contribution to the series of articles we have posted about the domination of reactionary unionism in Northern Ireland, and its possible knock-on effects in the rest of the UK.

 

ORANGE SKIRMISH HIGHLIGHTS THE ONGOING SECTARIAN FRACTURES IN THE NORTH OF IRELAND

PSNI oversee Orange Order march on Ormeau Road

PSNI oversee Orange Order march on Ormeau Road

The skirmish on Belfast’s Ormeau Road between the police and Orange marchers seems inexplicable to those outside the sectarian society.
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Apr 12 2016

A POLITICAL COMPARISON BETWEEN THE 2012-14 SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE AND THE 2016 EU REFERENDA CAMPAIGNS

 

Allan Armstrong (RCN) has written a second piece on the forthcoming EU referendum. This is a contribution to the debate in the RCN and the wider Left. Allan has spoken on this issue at the RIC national conference (Feb. 20th), SSP National Council (28th Feb) and the Glasgow Assembly for Democracy (2nd April).

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A POLITICAL COMPARISON BETWEEN THE 2012-14 SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE  AND THE 2016 EU REFERENDA CAMPAIGNS

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a) The politics of TINA – There is no alternative

A common accusation made by ‘No’ advocates during the Scottish Independence referendum was that support for Scottish independence or the SNP, and for withdrawal from the EU or UKIP, are but mirror images of each other. They have argued that both are based on atavistic nationalism.
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Apr 09 2016

TOWARD A SECULAR SOCIETY

Eric Chester (RCN) takes David Cameron to task over his promotion of a Christian UK.

Forgive us our debts and hallowed be thy tax havens

Forgive us our debts and hallowed be thy tax havens

During his recent Easter weekend address, Prime Minister David Cameron made a point of declaring that the United Kingdom was a “Christian country.” This is not the first time Cameron has used religion to advance his conservative agenda. In his speech, he argued that Christians had certain values, including compassion, that were those held by the UK as a whole. This is ironic coming from the proponent of the bedroom tax and a budget that cuts funds for the disabled, but hypocrisy has always been a trademark of mainstream politicians.
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Apr 07 2016

THE CENTENARY OF THE IRISH REBELLION OF 1916

As part of our  celebration the 1916 Easter Rising, we are posting two new articles.  The first is by Allan Armstrong (RCN), and addresses Lenin’s response to in his Irish Rebellion of 1916 (which is also posted). The second comes from the latest issue of Socialist Democracy (Ireland) and looks at the situation in Ireland today, 100 years after the Rising.

 

1. LENIN AND THE IRISH REBELLION OF 1916

                          The Dublin GPO during the 1916 Rising, painted by Robert Ballagh

 

In the midst of the First World War, following the Dublin 1916 Easter Rising, Lenin returned to the issue of national self-determination. He had already addressed this at the beginning of the year in The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination. Immediately before the Rising, he had also gone on to write The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up.
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