Institutional corruption (Hillsborough)

Hillsborough (1989) was not unique. The scandals connected with that tragedy that have been revealed over the past few days, especially with regards to policing and the press, were in fact pretty typical of the later 1970s and 1980s. The 1984 Miners’ strike was the occasion for a number of them: state conspiracies, excessive police brutality, cover-ups, and false police statements leading to the imprisonment of innocent miners, especially in connection with the ‘Battle of Orgreave’ (coking plant), which later cost the South Yorkshire Police £425,000 in out-of-court settlements. Before that there were the false convictions of the so-called Birmingham Six, Guildford Four and Maguire Seven – all supposedly IRA terrorists – in 1974-6. These convictions too were later overturned, usually after 20+ years, with the victims this time paid millions in compensation. Those were some of the main political ones. There were also dozens of ordinary civilian miscarriages:  murderers and others convicted on fabricated evidence. (See Thank God the death penalty was not still in force.

In addition to this, the Conservative Party and the security services are positively known to have resorted to ‘dirty tricks’ at this time in order to undermine radical movements (like Trade Unions and CND) and the Labour Party. (How successful these were is a matter of doubt. They certainly plotted to remove Harold Wilson, but it doesn’t follow that Wilson’s eventual removal was due to them.) They were encouraged in this by the more politically corrupt sections of the press, especially the Daily Mail, and the newspapers that Rupert Murdoch took over in the early 1970s. The Sun, of course, is one of the main villains of the Hillsborough piece.

At the time, accusations of police and state malpractice were usually dismissed by these papers, and by governments, as the ravings of loony ‘conspiracy theorists’. This created an atmosphere of disbelief, and undoubtedly acted as a deterrent to proper investigation of many of these charges. It is against this background that the heroic efforts of the Hillsborough campaigners have to be measured and appreciated. It took them 27 years. What other ‘conspiracies’ from that time still remain to be uncovered?

This period – circa 1975-90 – may well be looked back on by future historians as one of the most institutionally corrupt in British history since the early nineteenth century. (For that, see my Plots and Paranoia, ch. 2.) I’m not sure – it needs to be compared with other eras; and I wouldn’t be surprised if it carried on beyond that. Nor am I sure of the reasons. Irish terrorism was an obvious justification. But right-wing fear of even moderate socialism is likely to be another. Real-life communist plots may have played a part. As well as these factors, Conservatives, especially under Thatcher, have never been fully committed to ‘democracy’, except as ‘show’, and insofar as it can be manipulated. (Look at them now.) That would help explain it.


PS. (next day.)  And I forgot – how could I have done? – the paedophilia: involving establishment figures, police and cover-ups, again. Lift up a corner of the carpet covering the Thatcher era, and what do we find crawling out…

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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