A major story in the run-up to the Stoke by-election has been UKIP leader and committed fantasist Paul Nuttall pretending to have lost a friend at the 1989 Hillsborough disaster. Major donor Arron Banks seems to have decided that this hole wasn’t deep enough so dug deeper by attacking victims. He’s argued that the preventable disaster and cover-up of police failures which took 27 years to overturn have been treated as “some sort of cultural happening“.
He acknowledged that the alleged South Yorkshire police cover up that followed, as it sought to avoid responsibility for police failures and instead project blame onto the victims themselves, was “wrong”. But then Banks agreed that “obviously” there had been “pushing & shoving thuggery” at Hillsborough in common with Heysel, the 1985 disaster in Belgium at which 39 supporters of Juventus died, where hooliganism by a minority of Liverpool supporters was a contributing cause.
This equation with Heysel has been one of the easiest and most pernicious smears, enabling the original police lies of “thuggery” to take hold and cause the bereaved Hillsborough families to endure a traumatic, exhausting 27-year campaign for the truth to be established. Finally last April, after two years of evidence, the longest case heard in British legal history, at which police witnesses and lawyers attacked supporters again and sought to make a link with Heysel, the inquest jury determined there was no behaviour on the part of Liverpool supporters that contributed to the dangerous situation at Hillsborough.
A brief recap for those unfamiliar with the details. 96 people were killed at a major football match, partially caused by the inadequacy of stadiums of the era, worsened by the errors of police. David Duckenfield, then the South Yorkshire police chief superintendent, personally commanded the matchday operation. When the situation began to get out of control inside an outdated stadium, Duckenfield ordered the opening of an exterior gate, which led to crowds pouring into an even tighter space, and intensified the chaos leading to more deaths than poor stadium design alone would have resulted in.
Rather than admit to their mistakes, Duckenfield and South Yorkshire Police persistently put the blame onto the Liverpool supporters, including the dead. 116 separate police officers’ reports were altered to shift the blame. South Yorkshire Police have been described by officers who served at the time as “regimented” like a military unit, ruled with an “iron fist”.
If the disaster has remained in the public eye too long for Banks’ liking, it’s only because of the size of the challenge Liverpool supporters faced in seeking justice. Despite Banks’ claim, there has never been any reliable evidence of the Liverpool supporters contributing to the deaths. It was only in April 2016 that this was officially acknowledged.
Perhaps it isn’t surprising that Arron Banks has so little interest in facts. He put Brexit’s success and Trump’s rise down to the idea that “facts don’t work.” He often makes a fool of himself on Twitter. He felt that the fall of Rome was caused by immigration, so he was unwilling to consider that either he has remembered his childhood education wrongly, or scholarship has led to deeper understanding in the thirty years since he was at school. He felt that Muslims are not allowed to migrate to Japan, so he wouldn’t allow the presence of mosques to persuade him otherwise.
The type of right-wing counterfactual politics which Nuttall, Banks, Farage and Trump represent relies on encouraging people to instantly embrace what they feel to be true, rather than pausing to find out if there is any evidence to support the feeling.