Sunday, 16 September 2012

Was Hillsborough A One-Off?

David Cameron has taken much credit for the tone in which he delivered his apology in the House of Commons, to the families of those who died in the Hillsborough disaster of 1989. Commentators have said that not only was Cameron's tone "just right", but that the way in which it was received in the House did credit to the MPs, as they made known their outrage at the hypocrisy and mendacity of the South Yorkshire Police, who were in charge of crowd control at the time. The media in general has howled its outrage, while The Sun has been shown up as the rag it has always been. After 23 years, the families of the deceased have been vindicated, having fought a lonely battle throughout that period, in order to clear the names of not only their own lost relatives, but of Liverpool FC fans in general. Since the disaster, the families of the deceased have had to run the gauntlet of abuse normally reserved for those who are prepared to fight their corner and face up to the establishment. They have been accused of vindictiveness, of being bitter and twisted, only interested in compensation, as those with most to hide, used every avenue open to them to smear the reputations of those who had already lost those dearest to them, and who were already suffering a pain which no amount of compensation would assuage.

I have no intention of re-visiting the events of Hillsborough as they have been well aired since the publication of the report which damned those responsible. I am more concerned to comment on the culture in this country, which allowed it to happen, and to ask why it has taken 23 years to get to the truth. On the radio programme, "Call Kaye" on Wednesday morning, one guest on the programme was a serving policeman, who was at pains to counter the claim, made by another caller, that police cover-up is the norm in the UK. He expressed his own sense of shame that what had happened had been the consequence of police mendacity and was quite adamant that the guilty parties should now be prosecuted. He was equally adamant that what had happened was the exception rather than the rule. I would beg to differ.

The irony, which seems to have been overlooked by the bulk of the media, is that Cameron's audience in the first instance, the Honourable Members of the House of Commons, included some of the biggest hypocrites, chancers and liars in the country. How many of those who shouted their outrage the loudest, were guilty of fiddling their expences and flipping their houses the most often? How many of them like David Laws, lied about their expenses claims and made thousands of pounds from the taxpayer? Laws has just been brought back into government by David Cameron, as a Minister of State in the Department of Education, therefore despite being "gui;ty of at least six breaches of the rules over a considerable period of time", (theft in anybody else's language) according to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, he is still eligible to serve as a government minister. Alistair Darling "flipped" his house four times in four years in order to claim expenses on two houses at the same time, claiming, "it was all done according to House of Commons rules". Public contempt for their actions and for MPs as a class, has been increased by the fact that a handful of some of the least well known Members were successfully prosecuted, as a sop to public outrage, while the biggest offenders such as Darling, Laws or Jacqui Smith were never even charged.

There have been a large number of miscarriages of justice in the UK, over a long number of years, and many of them have involved police lying, not only in order to get the original conviction of those accused, but in order to cover up their mendacity. There can be very few who have not heard of the tragedy of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four, ten people whose lives were totally destroyed by the falsification of evidence to get convictions. The accused men in the Birmingham case in 1974, were subjected to regular beatings, both while in the custody of the police and while on remand. They were deprived of food and sleep and subjected to the kind of treatment normally associated with prisoners in the hands of the state police in totalitarian regimes, not a modern, democratic and civilised state like the UK. A total of fourteen prison officers were charged with assault but aquitted. In 1977, the Six brought civil claims against the West Midland Police Serious Crime Squad (later disbanded for regular falsification of evidence) but the case was struck out by Lord Denning. Police Superintendent George Reade and two officers where charged with perverting the course of justice but never prosecuted, therefore although the Six received compensation, no one ever paid any penalty for the injustice to which they were subjected and the sixteen years they spent behind bars.

The Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven are perhaps less well known cases but are almost mirror images of the Birmingham Six case. A total of eleven people, one a seventeen year old girl and another a fourteen year old boy, served up to fifteen years in prison, after having had confessions beaten out of them and police evidence, later shown to have been falsified, which should have been thrown out at trial. Despite a recognition that the police evidence was corrupt and despite a public acknowledgement of same by both Douglas Hurd and Tony Blair, together with a public apology from the latter, no public official was ever prosecuted. The case of Harry Stanley in 2005, shocked the country when it learned that Mr Stanley was shot in the head by officers from the Metropolitan Police who had been told that "a man carrying a shotgun in a blue plastic bag" had just left a public house. Eyewitness accounts said Stanley was not looking at the police when he was shot, although the police testified he was pointing the parcel at them as if it was a shotgun. The parcel contained a chair leg. In July of the same year, Metropolitan police also shot Jean Charles de Menezes, mistaking him for a terrrorist. Again, police statements differed radically from eye witness accounts of both the behaviour and demeanor of Menezes, who was shot in the head seven times, while being held face down and helpless. In both cases, juries were instructed at the following inquests that they could not bring in verdicts of "unlawful killing".

Scotland has had its own miscarriages, some better known and "celebrated" than others, with that of Oscar Slater being perhaps the most celebrated of all despite having taken place in 1909. From the outset, it was recognised that Slater's conviction for murder was unsafe and his initial death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, but even that did not end the disquiet and at a secret inquiry in 1914, detective John Trench revealed evidence that had previously been witheld. Trench was sacked, discredited and framed by his own force but he had taken documents from the original inquiry which his widow passed to Conan Doyle in 1919 after Trench's death. Slater was eventually released in 1927 with compensation of £6,000 but his name was never properly cleared. More recent cases are those of Paddy Meehan, who served seven years for a murder he did not commit, in 1969, before later being pardoned, and Shirley McKie, who was falsely accused of having a part in a murder in 1997, which was being investigated by the police force in which she served as a Detective Constable. Amid charges of police attempts to smear her, McKie was charged with perjury and acquitted in 1999 but then sued the Scottish Executive. On the morning the case was to be heard in 2003, she was offered and accepted damages of £750,000 and the case was dropped.

All of the above - by no means a complete list - involved cases where police were either shown to have lied or were accused of lying but the police are only one part of the establishment which have been responsible for miscarriages of justice or false accusations. In the area of child protection, the UK is second only to the USA, in the number of false accusations and miscarriages of justice, where the medical profession and social work departments have been prepared to lie, not simply to cover their own negligence or stupidity but to gain convictions of completely innocent parties. The cases of Angela Canning, Sally Clark and Trupti Patel are well known for the mistakes of the "experts" Southall and Meadows, and then the attempted cover-up of those mistakes by the authorities. Cleveland and Nottingham are places which became notorious for the hysteria created by "experts" who saw sexual and child abuse in every home and school in the two counties. By far the worst case, however, of official hysteria and mendacity took place at Shieldfield in Newcastle in 1994. Two nursery nurses, Dawn Reid and Christopher Lillie were cleared by a court of child sexual abuse, the judge throwing out the case on the morning of the first day of the trial, stating that the case should never have been brought to court. That did not satisfy the nurses employers, Newcastle Council, which set up its own inquiry and a report was issued in 1998, which condemned the two young nurses as child abusers of the worst kind.

Both were forced to leave Newcastle, quite literally in fear of their lives, such was the hysteria created by the report, backed by such luminaries as Esther Rantzen and Bea Campbell, who claimed over 350 children had been subjected to the most horrific abuse and sold to a paedophile ring. Ever ready with a headline, The Sun, under the banner, "Help Us Find Those Fiends" offered a cash reward to anyone who could tell them where the nurses were located. Reid and Lillie successfully sued Newcastle County and were awarded the maximum £200,000 each, despite the efforts of the social workers and the psychologist who compiled the report, to manipulate the words of children, some as young as three years of age. The presiding judge was so concerned about the conduct of one "expert witness" Dr San Lazaro, that he reported her to the GMC with a recommendation that they examine her fitness to practice. She was admonished, despite the admission by the GMC that they had sufficient evidence to charge her with professional misconduct, on account of her pleading "overwork". The children received "counselling" for abuse that never took place and their parents were given compensation to console them for having to deal with the non-existent abuse. The total cost to Newcastle Council was an estimated £4 million. Scotland's equivalent were Orkney, Western Isles and Ayrshire (twice). Over 2,500 families have contacted the British False Memory Society as a consequence of having been falsely accused of child sexual abuse but that is only a fraction of those who have been affected.

Having been through that particular nightmare myself, I can vouch for the fact that in all of the cases with which I am familiar, the mendacity of the authorities in question were a major factor. In my case, the only public body which acted with any degree of professionalism was the police, while every other individual involved, from doctors, psychiatrists, nurses, social workers, their supervisors, their employers, expert witnesses and a Scottish Government Cabinet Minister, lied and continued to lie over a period of fourteen years. People have asked why it took so long for the truth of Hillsborough to come out. That is easy to answer. Public bodies have a bottomless pit of public money which they are willing to spend either in order to keep the "problem" out of court, which they successfully managed to do in my case for almost eleven years or, to hire their "expert witnesses" who can always be relied on to tell whatever story, or take whatever line, is required of them. In my book "Unbreakable Bonds" I not only give a detailed account of the lies that were told, I name each and every individual who told them.

Those of us on the independence side of the referendum debate, have always hoped that an independent Scotland would offer us the opportunity to build a Scotland free of the corruptions associated with the establishment of the UK. Nothing I have seen of the behaviour of the SNP in government and the other main parties in opposition, gives me any great hope that those expectations and aspirations will be satisfied. I have already given an account of my attempts to have the SNP Government change the law on third party duty of care, which gives a general immunity to public authorities and those employed by them, thereby denying any redress to certain categories of victims of negligence, mendacity or wilful wrongdoing on the part of public bodies and their employees. The Labour, Tory and Lib/Dems were totally disinterested and did not even reply to correspondence. The intention of the SNP Government to introduce legislation, which will abolish the need for corroboration in Scottish criminal cases and allow an accused's previous convictions to be known to a jury, whether or not they have any relevance to the case being tried, will further reduce protections in Scots law and make miscarriages of justice more rather than less likely. No one should be surprised if the authorities - in whatever guise - take advantage of the changes when they are introduced. Colin Boyd, as Scotland's Lord Advocate at the time of the McKie case is on record as stating that "expert witnesses should always be immune from prosecution - even if they give false evidence".

The public outrage at the report on the Hillsborough disaster rings rather hollow after 23 years. The examples given here are only a small selection of the many miscarriages of justice that have taken place in the UK over the years. We live in a state where the establishment acts with an arrogance which can only be explained because they know they have defence mechanisms, paid by the public purse which makes them almost untouchable. Very few individuals can afford to take on public bodies in the courts because the expence is horrendous and they can spend any amount of public money defending the indefensible. Even if that obstacle can be surmounted, the difficulty of getting information can be just as insurmountable, as their lawyers find every opportunity to delay, obfuscate and even obliterate important information. In my case, the social work department destroyed every single original note, claiming it was "standard practise". Unfortunately the public are rarely interested in miscarriages unless they directly effect them and even more unfortunately, as the families of the Hillsborough victims have found to their cost, they are very quick to accept the official line - whatever it is and however unbelievable it appears at first sight. The media plays its part as there are always useful idiots to do the establishment's bidding and push the official line, whatever it is. Investigative journalists - real investagative journalists - are hard to find.

Was Hillsborough a one-off? Not by a long way.

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