Vindicated or Vindictive?

September 14, 2012

I don’t know how other people see me, but I like to think that I’m a reasonably laid-back sort of person; slow to anger, quick to forgive … that sort of thing.

3 years and 100 or so days ago, I wrote this piece about my experiences at Hillsborough on 15th April 1989.

2 days ago the Hillsborough Independent Panel published their report. They stressed that it wasn’t an inquiry – they hadn’t had witnesses or any powers – they had just been given access to ALL the evidence relating to the events of that day.

I was at a meeting in the morning, an important meeting about how the United Reformed Church (my employer) might most effectively meet the training needs of Ministers and lay people, but I couldn’t really concentrate. I was refreshing my twitter feed every few moments as new facts dribbled out as the panel, quite rightly, first reported to the families of those who had lost loved ones.

  • 164 Police statements had been altered to ensure that South Yorkshire Police Service wasn’t shown in a bad light and that officers were put under immense pressure to amend their statements. If they wouldn’t, it was done for them.
  • The ambulance service had changed statements, too.
  • Every victim (even a 10 year old) had their blood alcohol level checked and, for some, then had their names checked against the Police National Computer to see if there was a criminal record which could be used to ‘offset’ their innocence.
  • Potentially, 41 lives could have been saved if medical attention had been forthcoming on the pitch.

The facts kept coming and coming. I wasn’t sure how I was feeling – I had to pull over and stop the car to listen to the Prime Minister give his response. He sounded, on the radio, as shocked and genuinely appalled as anyone else.

My blood was beginning to boil … but I didn’t know what I wanted to happen next. Having been blamed for the events 23 years ago I, my fellow fans, my football club and my city had been completely exonerated. It was a weight off my shoulders… but, as my original post had said “where there’s blame, there’s a claim”… the blame for the disastrous events had been laid firmly at the door of the FA, Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and South Yorkshire Police. What did I want to happen? I couldn’t really think about that… I was happy, delirious in fact, that at last, 23 years on, the truth had finally seen the light of day.

Apology after apology started rolling in, starting with David Cameron and Ed Milliband. Quickly followed by SWFC, South Yorkshire Police, it took the FA a further 24 hours to apologise but even they made it eventually. The S*n and Kelvin MacKenzie apologised, too, but theirs was worthless and self-serving and, consequently, ignored by just about everybody.

David Duckenfield, the police officer supposedly in charge that day, had been allowed to retire on a full pension at the age of 46 as a result of ‘Ill health’. Ill health is better than dying, eh, Duckenfield?

Then Kenny Dalglish who did so much for the families, club and city in the immediate aftermath of the disaster tweeted: “Very positive outcome. 23 years waiting for the truth. Next step justice”. And I thought, “yeah; justice!”

And then I started wondering what Justice might actually mean in this context, what shape, form or action it might take. And I realised that I didn’t know. I certainly wouldn’t presume to speak for those who have lost in a far more tangible way than I, I can only speak for myself. What do *I* want?

Well, I would like to know that those who were responsible for all that happened that day, who caused the problem and then failed to react effectively to the problem they had caused had been censured. I would like to know that some particular individuals (David Duckenfield) had paid a practical price – although I’ve no idea whether he even feels in any way culpable for what he caused.

I would like to know that those who took deliberate actions to place the blame, knowing that the information they were giving out was completely incorrect, on the shoulders of Liverpool fans, both fully understand and accept their guilt and, I would hope are prosecuted to the fullest extent the law allows.

I would like to know that those in the ‘establishment’ who caused this whole thing to be unresolved for 23 long years understand the immense pain and hurt they caused to so many people, not just the bereaved although, God knows, their pain has been more than most.

Most importantly, I want the original verdicts of ‘accidental death’ to be overturned and new inquests held so that people like Anne Williams can get the answers she needs.

Having not been able to define what I mean ‘justice’ to be in this context, I am quite clear what it isn’t: it isn’t vindictive retribution. So long as people feel genuine remorse and are sincere in their apologies (although, as stated, those who broke the law should be prosecuted irrespective of how sincerely they regret their actions).

Except, maybe to Kelvin MacKenzie, the editor of The S*n at the time, who I hope burns in hell for eternity for what he knowingly did to besmirch the characters of the dead, of my fellow fans, of the football club, of the city, and of me.

My elder brother, an Evertonian, sent me a text on the evening the panel’s report was published saying that he hoped I felt vindicated. At the time I replied saying that I didn’t, but I did feel less guilty for having survived and being made to feel that I was, in some way responsible.

2 days later, having thought about little else, I realise that he was right – I do feel vindicated. My blog of 3 years ago was wrong – Liverpool fans were in NO WAY to blame, late arriving or not. The actions of so many brave, respectful people, from those who lost loved ones in the disaster, from people like Andy Burnham MP, Steve Rotherham MP and Maria Eagle MP who wouldn’t let the House of Commons have a moment’s peace until something was done and the actions and voices of people, many many thousands of people just like me in refusing to accept that what happened that day was an ‘accident’ and have fought for 23 years to get someone to listen and investigate has been vindicated.

People say that the most shocking revelation of the panel is that 41 of those who died could have been saved.

I would remind you that, if people had done their jobs properly in the first place, in selecting a ground which had a valid safety certificate, in allocating tickets sensibly, in stewarding the ground effectively, in postponing kick off to allow those who had been delayed by traffic to access the ground … if these people had done their jobs properly then 96 people would not have died in the first place.

Justice for the 96 … and for all those still affected by the events in Sheffield on the 15th April 1989.

Hillsborough Family Support Group

Hillsborough Justice Campaign

Hope For Hillsborough

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Holy Land 2012 – Day 12

September 3, 2012

Heading to the airport today, but not before taking in 2 more important religious sites in Jerusalem. Having put our bags on the bus, we walked down to the Damascus Gate before walking through the old city to Haram esh-Sharif, better known to us as the Temple Mount. Security was tight but we eventually made it through and climbed up the wooden walkway overlooking the Western Wall. Reaching the top, Brian gave a brief explanation of the Dome of the Rock, the Al Aqsa mosque and the (sadly covered) Dome of Chains before we took the exit at the Eastern corner and headed down to the Church of St Anne (Crusader church built around 1140 on the site of a chapel built by the Byzantine Empress, Queen Eudoxia in AD438, allegedly over part of the home of Mary’s parents: Anne and Joachim). The site also contains the archeological remains of the Pools of Bethesda at which Jesus performed a healing miracle.

Leaving the old city by the Zion Gate for the last time we picked up our coach and headed to Abu Ghosh and the church of St Mary of the Resurrection. A resting place both of the ark of the Covenant and the crusader army before taking Jerusalem the site has a marvellous crusader church with an intriguing crypt built over a fresh water spring.

Our final visit before the airport was to Sataff. It was a poignant end to our pilgrimage journey as the group walked through the Israeli National Park to the ruined village of Sataff – one of a number of Arab villages cleared and destroyed in the 1948 ‘land grab’ campaign of Israeli terrorists. Lunch was shared in the cafe overlooking the village remains …

And so to the airport. A brief scare when security took issue with a photo being taken by a member of the group (no names; but her initials are Helen Chappell… Oops!). After deleting the photo we made our way to the terminal ready for our flight.

Thanks are due to all who made our visit memorable and to the many friends we met along the way.

I hope the group enjoyed the, at times arduous, experience – thanks to all of them for not complaining too much!

Major thanks are due to our friends in the Holy Land: Jack and Tamara Giacaman and, of course, Khalil and Eliane Abdinnour who made so many of the arrangements.

And a final ‘thank you’ to Brian who worked tirelessly to ensure the smooth running of the trip both before and during… What a ‘jolly’ good guide 🙂

That’s all, Folks!!!!

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Holy Land 2012 – Day 11

September 2, 2012

A short walk this morning to bring us to St George’s Anglican Cathedral where Brian was invited to recite the Collect for the day and also the Gospel reading. He concelebrated (yes, I know that’s not a URC word!) with Hassem, the Dean of the cathedral along with his old friend Suheil Dawani, the Bishop of Jerusalem who met with us after the service to offer insight into the way Christians are often seen as the ‘voice of moderation’ in the region.

Luay picked us up in the bus and tool us to Ramallah where we picked up Dr Abdellatif Mohammed, the Deputy General Director of the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees – a URC Commitment For Life partner who was to be our guide for the afternoon.

Passing Beirzit university on the way Abdellatif took us to 2 projects – a land reclamation project in a village called Kufl Hares where nearly 3.5 hectares of land has been made arable primarily through the use of stone walls to increase soil humidity and reduce erosion and, later, to Almdwar where PARC has helped a farmers’ cooperative to provide water for their field 24 hours a day – whilst also reducing the amount of water used, thus saving money.

The cooperative provided us with a magnificent lunch of local food before the coach brought us back, via the Kalandia checkpoint (at which 2 security officers with sub-machine guns boarded the bus to check our passports)

Palestinians certainly like their speed bumps. I reckon we went over about 150 on the way back – some at speed – so with a headache and an impacted spine I was glad to get back to our hotel in Jerusalem!

The evening was spent catching up with some of my young friends with whom I have worked for the last 7 years as part of the Kids4Hope and, latterly, Youth4Hope programmes. They have such honesty and openness – it has been an honour for me to be a small part of their lives.

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Holy Land 2012 – Day 10

September 1, 2012

Almost a leisurely breakfast this morning as we were meeting Angela Godfrey-Goldstein at our hotel at 9am. Angela has set up an organisation (www.jahalin.org) which is working with Bedouin villages for education rights, amongst other things. On the way to the Jahalin village Angela gave us a more thorough tour of Ma’ale Adummim – the 3rd largest settlement in the ‘Greater Jerusalem’ area. Angela explained the process of ‘Judaising’ the West Bank and East Jerusalem. She gave us fact after fact – far too many to remember but one that stuck in my mind is that there are 36 municipal swimming pools in Jerusalem – in either West Jerusalem or East Jerusalem settlements. There are NO municipal swimming pools open to Palestinian people living in Jerusalem.

6 x the amount of water is made available to settlements compared to local Palestinian villages.

Ma’ale Adummim itself is built on 86% privately owned Palestinian land which has been confiscated, stolen or ‘bought’ using forged documents.

We headed towards Jericho for a few miles until we came to the Jahalin village. There we were welcomed by Eid, the spokesperson, advocate and village Elder. He told us of his life and struggle, translated for us by Angela and, in particular, the struggle to provide education for the local Bedouin.

The nearest school for the village children (5 – 12 years old) was in Jericho, 22km away. Over the years, on the way to or from school, 5 children had been killed on the road, 6 severely injured and many more traumatised by seeing the accidents happen and their friends killed or injured – clearly they no longer wanted to go so far to a school which involved such a dangerous journey.

So, in 2009, with help from organisations such as ‘Rabbis for Human Rights’ along with European and Muslim volunteers Eid helped the village build a school out of discarded tyres and other refuse. Last year there were 85 kids in the school (up to 12 years) with 102 due to enrol when the school year starts tomorrow. However, the local illegal Israeli settlement has complained that the school is ‘a threat’ and a demolition order has been placed on it which means that IDF soldiers will come in the morning and prevent pupils and teachers accessing the school.

The area across the road, on which the Jahalin traditionally grazed their flock has been designated a military area by the Israelis. However, there are no soldiers patrolling the area, instead there are booby traps placed which mutilate rather than kill. A pen, a pair of spectacles, some sweets … Treasure to a child – but potentially fatal if disturbed due to the hidden explosives.

Bedouin lived on the produce of their livestock The village used to have 1600 sheep and goats, and 25 camels. But the market at which they could sell their produce has been closed down. Now there are just 140 animals, no camels – it is just not viable. If it were not for the basic supplies provided by the World Food Programme the village could not exist and the Israelis would have achieved their aim of moving the Bedouin away from their traditional lands leaving the area free for the expansion of the illegal settlements. Angela, as near to an avenging angel as I have met, will be at the village tomorrow morning to help confront the soldiers in their attempt to close the school. We wish her well and offer her our prayers. Because the school is not just a school – it is also used as a medical clinic and to provide literacy classes for adults.

Leaving the Jahalin camp we returned to Jerusalem and made a short stop at the Sunbuna store; a cooperative for Palestinian craft which, due to travel restrictions, the women who make them cannot sell in Jerusalem.

Just before lunch, we stopped briefly at the Chapel of the Flagellation (another Barluzzi design – this one from 1929) and the Chapel of the Condemnation – with its altar Bas Relief of Jesus being led away from the fortress of Antonia, and including some ‘gaming stones’ – game boards carved into the stones of the pavement (lithostratus).

We had lunch at the Austrian Hospice – I can’t deny that they do a pretty good cheese and ham toastie – before climbing to the roof to look out over Jerusalem.

Continuing along the Via Dolorosa, we stopped off at the Armenian pottery shop run by the Karakashian brothers – money was spent 🙂

On to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – this time coming down from the roof via the Ethiopian monastery.

We continued to St James’ Armenian cathedral. Although we knew it would be closed, we hoped we could sneak in – we couldn’t, although the custodian did let us into the courtyard.

We had left Dormition Abbey off the agenda yesterday so decided to visit today. Built in 1911 at the place of the tomb of Mary (if you’re a Latin Catholic that is – we visited the Orthodox site yesterday and neither take much account of Ephesus!). The church was very busy – with lots of people scribbling furiously in notepads. We have no idea why.

Walking back to our hotel via the bullet holed Zion gate and through Jaffa gate we felt that we had done as much as could be expected. There had been so much to take in and we needed time to assimilate facts and rationalise our responses.

Tomorrow could be more of the same …. We’ll see!

Hotel

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