Liverpool supporters don’t buy The Sun and haven’t done so for 22 years. The decision in 1989 by the then-editor of the ‘paper’, Kelvin MacKenzie, to publish a catalogue of complete lies under a massive headline proclaiming it as “The Truth” saw a boycott begin that still holds strong to this day.
As MacKenzie knew, it wasn’t the truth, it wasn’t even close, it was page after page of lies that were the product of clearly sick minds.
Liverpool supporters had gone to watch a game of football. Ninety-six would never go home; many more would be injured. Survivors still struggle to deal with the sights they saw and the sounds they heard as they narrowly escaped death themselves. They were powerless as people, their own people, their own family or friends, died around them.
The stories the survivors tell are chilling, harrowing to listen to; look them in the eyes and you almost feel that you are there with them, going through that hell. Except you aren’t; you couldn’t ever imagine that kind of hell unless you’d lived through it. Nobody would wish that kind of experience on you. No half-decent human being would play down what you’d gone through.
And that’s where The Sun comes in.
“The Truth”, had they made any kind of effort to find it, could have exposed not only the incompetence that allowed ninety-six innocent people to die but also the horrific experiences that this incompetence had put the survivors through. The Sun had no interest in “The Truth”. The Sun acted like it wanted to help a cover-up take effect.
Looking for the truth might have exposed the evidence that suggested 15-year-old Kevin Williams was still alive almost an hour after the 3.15pm cut-off time that the coroner ruled all victims had died by. This cut-off time meant anything that happened after 3.15pm to prevent or delay medical help from reaching the ground was ignored, considered irrelevant, when in fact it could well have been the difference between at least one victim living or dying.
Instead of getting quotes from sources looking to protect their own hides they could have got quotes from those who saw “The Truth” with their own eyes, heard “The Truth” with their own ears and felt “The Truth” under their own feet.
Quotes like “Have you ever felt someone’s ribs breaking under your feet?” would have told “The Truth” about that day, instead The Sun went with inventions like this: “In one shameful episode, a gang of Liverpool fans noticed the blouse of a girl trampled to death in the crush had risen above her breasts. As a policeman struggled in vain to revive her, they jeered: ‘Throw her up here and we will **** her.’“
Recollections of what really happened, The Truth, sound like this: “Within feet of me people were standing dead, bolt upright. Three men had long stopped breathing and were now staring, with a fixed, almost disinterested expression, into the distance. Their faces were bleached white, but turning blue, their lips a cold violet.” Instead The Sun went to Sheffield MP Irvine Patnick and quoted him on what he claimed police officers had said to him: “They told me they were hampered, harassed, punched, kicked and urinated on by Liverpool fans.”
Clearly the quotes from Patnick didn’t set the scene enough for this twisted imaginary version of events, so they quoted policemen and even “high-ranking” officers, none of which they would name. “As one young officer gave the kiss of life and heart massage he was given a savage kick by a lout,” was one quote, whilst another said Liverpool fans “were just acting like animals. My men faced a double hell – the disaster and the fury of the fans who attacked us.”
CCTV tapes would go missing or be wiped, but what remained of the footage of the day made it clear that this version of events had never come close to happening, including another quote from another unnamed policeman: “Fans standing further up the terrace were openly urinating on us and the bodies of the dead.”
How that differs from the account of another survivor: “We were compacted like sardines, so squashed that the glass popped out of my watch. Dead bodies popped up like corks from a bottle each time the crowd surged forward trying to get off the terrace and on to the pitch.”
Not every survivor is able to tell their story. In the case of Andrew Devine it’s his parents who have to tell his story.
The Sun’s lies hit hard. People who had tried in vain to save lives or were coming to terms with losing loved ones, victims of a disaster that would eventually be blamed on overcrowding – the main reason for which was “a failure of police control” – were of course angry.
And so the boycott began.
Maybe The Sun, and Kelvin MacKenzie its editor, thought it would be short-lived. The following day they made things worse by repeating the lies: “Many of those who stormed into the ground had been drinking. Some urinated on rescue workers trying to save dying youngsters. Others looted the pockets of the injured. We did not invent that horrific report. The facts came from the police, an MP, local publicans and taxi drivers.”
The Sun went with “facts” from members of the police force that would later be blamed for the deaths even though “most police officers refused to be named because of the impending full scale inquiry.” The MP had got his “facts” from the same force. To this day it’s unclear if any of those “local publicans and taxi drivers” ever existed or if their claims were made up by the same group of people beginning the cover-up.
Anyone in Liverpool in any doubt about the need to boycott The Sun would soon be persuaded by the arrogance the paper was now showing. It ran an editorial the day after its lies: “The people of Liverpool are angry that The Sun published the truth. Misguided local radio DJs urge listeners not to buy the paper. Will that bring back the dead?
“Of course not. But hopefully telling the world exactly what went on at Hillsborough will mean that something is done to prevent such a disaster happening again. If the price to be paid is that some of you stop buying The Sun, then so be it.
“You have a choice. The 95 who died at Hillsborough had no such choice.”
The choice they made was to believe the people, their own people, who had come back home and told as much of the horrific truth as they possibly could. And that truth put the blame at the feet of those trying to hide from it. The people The Sun was protecting.
For one family there was another choice to make. The death toll of 95 would rise to 96 when Tony Bland’s parents won a legal fight four years later to allow their son’s doctors to withdraw life-prolonging treatment. Tony had gone to the match a happy 18-year-old and although he survived he did so with terrible injuries, including severe brain damage, and would die four years later aged 22 having never regained consciousness.
The Sun still hadn’t apologised by the time Tony died. In fact it would be another 11 years before they did, 15 years after the disaster, and that apology was far from sincere. It was also an apology that most refused to accept.
Kelvin MacKenzie would be employed on and off by The Sun after he’d ended his time as editor, blocking any argument that the attitude of 1989 was one from the past by a different type of paper. MacKenzie is about to start work for the Daily Mail, another paper now best avoided.
The editor of The Sun by the time that apology was printed was Rebekah Wade, now Rebekah Brooks, making her own headlines in the phone-hacking story that saw the News of the World closed down. The closure of that paper was, according to some, on the cards anyway with a cost-cutting plan to replace it with a Sunday edition of The Sun.
To those who have been outraged for the last week or two about the revelations relating to the News of the World and The Sun, imagine being as outraged as that – worse – for 22 years.
It isn’t just Liverpool fans who boycott The Sun. The lies about Hillsborough aren’t the only reason so many people boycott it. But those reasons alone should be enough, no matter how enjoyable the crossword or bingo in it might be. It’s a small sacrifice to make.
Boycott The Sun. Every day of the week.