Hillsborough Families:Patronised to death by the disdain of the powerful

hillsborough.pic credit ITV

A Liverpool football shirt commemorating Hillsboough. pic Credit: itv.com

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While Westminster was yesterday swirling with tales of sexual harassment by powerful ministers and MPs and the arrogance of a government that won’t tell us what will be the real effects of Brexit, a calm but hard hitting report was published on what had happened since the revelations of the Hillsborough disaster.

The scandal of the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans who went to watch a football match 27 years ago is well known and now well documented following the Hillsborough Independent Panel which  exhaustively looked at what happened.

Since there are now criminal proceedings against people following the disaster I am not going to rerun  who was to blame for these needless deaths but concentrate on what yesterday’s report was about – what should be done.

There are many reports exposing what goes wrong. There are fewer reports proposing how to remedy serious shortcomings. There are even fewer that  demand a cultural change in British society.

This is one of them. The gruesome testimony in this report of the families who lost loved ones well before their time demands nothing less than a radical change in the way the ruling elite view ordinary people.

People caught up in a tragedy are confused, distraught. angry and suffer lifelong angst   and the last thing they want are people in power who frustrate, ignore, belittle or patronise them for wanting to know what happened to their loved ones. The Hillsborough families also had to put up with  very public denigrating coverage from the Sun  which has never been forgiven in Liverpool.

This report shows a way  change can come and outlines the legislation needed to get it done. The recommendations – if implemented in the right spirit – would make a radical change in the way society coped with  the aftermath of disasters – whether it is Hillsborough or the Grenfell tower fire tragedy.

The proposals go from introducing a ” duty of candour” for police officers to tell the truth, providing proper legal aid for ordinary people attending inquests so they can really participate in the proceedings and a special charter for families who suffer bereavement in a major tragedy like Hillsborough.

It also wants to make sure authorities don’t destroy vital documents to avoid public scrutiny, better training and evaluation for coroners, a review of the  effectiveness of  the pathology services and the way death certificates are issued. Nor should public bodies use public money to their advantage to outspend ordinary people trying to get to the truth.

Two other things should be said. Theresa May, whom I may  disagree politically, should be commended for commissioning this. She could easily have walked away once the Hillsborough Panel had done its work. Liverpool football fans are not her natural constituency. She will be even more commended if she decides to implement its findings.

There is also an remarkable passage in the introduction from the  report’s author, the Right Reverend James Jones, the former bishop of Liverpool and chair of the Hillsborough Inquiry which sums up the spirit of the report and what the families have suffered. It is worth quoting in full :

“I also wanted to set on record a recurrent theme that has been present, either implicitly or explicitly, in many personal conversations that I have had with families and survivors over the past 20 years.

“It is one that they have often been reluctant to raise not least because of public and political indifference to the subject and perhaps out of fear that it would add
to the lack of empathy that they experienced. The disaster, the aftermath, and the struggle to be heard for over quarter of a century have had an adverse effect on the mental and physical well being of both families and survivors.

“Depression, marital breakdown, family division, mental illness, unemployment, premature death and even suicide have featured in the Hillsborough narrative. Hopefully society’s increasing awareness of the issues of mental health will lead to a more sympathetic understanding of what they have endured.

“People talk too loosely about closure. They fail to realise that there can be no closure to love, nor should there be for someone you have loved and lost. Furthermore, grief is a journey without a destination. The bereaved travel through a landscape of memories and thoughts of what might have been. It is a journey marked by milestones, some you seek, some you stumble on. For the families and survivors of Hillsborough these milestones have included the search for truth, accountability and justice. But even these are not the end of the road.They are still travelling. And this report is another step along the way.”

You can read the report for yourselves here .

 

 

 

 

 

Footballer Justin Fashanu and the Westminster “back to basics” sex scandals

forbidden games

Forbidden Games; New film on Justin Fashanu available on demand from iTunes,, Google Play and Amazon

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While mainstream media concentrated on the furore and fall out over the police investigation into  Sir Edward Heath, a new film revealing the troubled life of Britain’s first millionaire black footballer  with links to Westminster was released on Friday.

Forbidden Games charts the rivalry between the two footballing brothers Justin and John, Justin’s meteoric career, his fall from grace, his penchant for the high life and his coming out as gay.

It  reveals his links to the seedier side of Westminster, the exposure of his gay relationship with a Tory MP who lived a double life in Westminster hiding his gay sexuality from his wife and family until he was exposed but not named in The Sun.

Justin  Fashanu also had a penchant for under age boys ( much younger than 17) and tragically killed himself at the age of 37 when he was about to be prosecuted in the States for molesting a minor aged 17.

For today’s much more tolerant society people would not understand that in the 1980s and 1990s exposure in the tabloid press or on TV  for being gay was often the kiss of death to a political career. For a footballer to come out in a Sun exclusive –  and that is  true even today – was either extraordinarily brave or foolhardy.

Forbidden Games includes a cameo commentary from me on the context of Fashanu’s connections to Westminster where celebrities would party with MPs and which is in danger of being airbrushed in the current climate.

It coincided with former PM Sir John Major’s infamous ” back to basics” speech to the 1993 Tory conference which was then used by the media to expose a string of sexual scandals from minister Tim Yeo fathering a child out of wedlock , David Mellor’s  extra marital romp allegedly in a Chelsea football  stripe to the tragic  auto erotic death of Stephen Milligan ,  Tory MP for Eastleigh.

Justin Fashanu became involved in Westminster on two levels. His relationship with the Tory MP for Bournemouth east was revealed when the Sun exposed Justin’s connection to a ” South coast” Mp. His wife and children immediately realised that it was David Atkinson, as Justin had stayed regularly at their home. He was confronted by her and he admitted he was gay and had been for years.. He stood down in 2005 and died in 2012.

An article by Robert Mendick in the Daily Telegraph based on an interview with  his son Anthony  who describes him as “predatory” with many young lovers, and reveals much of the background from his own researches on his father.

From examination of the story myself,  there is evidence that Atkinson was being blackmailed by a member of the Commons catering staff, had relationships with young Parliamentary researchers ( one of whom he had a nude photo) and had an erotic photo sheet  of another person he was closely connected.

There was also as yet unverified allegations of a much wider hidden gay scene at Westminster involving other closeted MPs  which Justin at one stage – following the death of Stephen Milligan – threatened to expose for a large sum of money to the tabloids,.

He backed off when the police visited his home in Edinburgh and wanted to interview him about it.

What this sad story  does  is to contradict the trend, following the collapse of Scotland Yard’s  Operation Midland into the allegations brought by ” Nick”,  of a Westminster paedophile ring, to try and forget this piece of Westminster’s sordid history as though it never happened.

While there is no conclusive evidence that David Atkinson was himself a paedophile ( in the modern sense of boys under the age of 16) it seems certain that some of the people he knew were.

This moving film about the troubled life of Justin is well worth watching even if it does make uncomfortable viewing at times.

See a trailer and interview with one of the directors, Jon Carey – the other is Adam Darke  – here on Sky Sports.