Life I wasn’t at Hillsborough. I was still something of a football fan so was watching on television. Even though I was in my early teens, my memory of the day is sketchy. I remember watching the disaster unfold in the famous footage which has reappeared on news reports in the intervening years including those related to today’s release of documents. I remember listening to the local radio stations which were the main source of news as the day went on, their schedules dumped in favour of poignant music and public service statements. I remember crying through the memorial service at the cathedral which was also broadcast live.
It wasn’t until I reached university that I realised the inaccurate perception of the disaster held amongst some people outside of Liverpool. It was in my first year, in halls, 1994. A group of us were in the room of a friend from the Birmingham area at around the time of that year’s fifth anniversary in April. I think I’d noticed that he’d bought The Sun and commented on Liverpool’s decade long boycott of the paper, how some newsagents refused to stock it or at least put it on display because of that notorious headline and the lies ironically hidden beneath. There were few chairs in the room, I remember. I was sitting on the floor, him on a computer chair.
“The Sun’s report was accurate,” he said to just the wrong person to say it to on just the wrong day. “I know it was because I know people who were there and they saw it happen.” I was too shocked to be angry, but a couple of decades later I can still remember the feeling of not knowing quite what to say. It’s worth noting this wasn’t some friendship breaking conversation. I knew he was an ignorant person from other things he’d said previously, things he’d done. But he was part of the group and so he was a friend. Sometimes “friend” can have many meanings. Nevertheless, I was surprised that he could be of this opinion.
Of course I tried to give the opposing argument, of course I did. Under questioning, I think it was the case the people he knew who were there turned out to be friends of friends of friends, not a direct conversation so indeed he had no proof in what he said. But he was vociferous in that way he could be, parroting out the allegations from The Sun’s original story to the point that it could only be that the source of his belief was the paper’s report passed along from ear to ear until it became “The Truth” in the minds of the people hearing and speaking about it. I understood then just how widely this version of “The Truth” was believed.
Watching the Prime Minister’s statement on the report and subsequent apology in parliament about an hour ago, I wondered if my friend was also watching. As David Cameron offered the shocking synopsis of the report’s findings and how little truth there was in The Sun’s story I wondered if my friend and all of the people like him would finally face up to the fact that everything they thought was wrong. I wondered if they understood the hurt those beliefs caused and that in perpetuating them, they increased the hurt of the families and the people of Liverpool. I’m also pleased that the actual truth can now be understood.