13 Sep 2012

A British disease?

What is it with Britain? Because whatever else went wrong at the Leppings Lane tunnel, it points yet again to a dispiriting and deeply corrosive British disease.


I don’t see many today even trying to diagnose it – let alone grope towards a cure. Yet,¬† the pathology is clear for all to see. The symptoms occur over and over again whenever there is a major incident in the UK involving the safety of individuals.

First, the disaster or incident: The Marchioness, Jean-Charles de Menezes, Ian Tomlinson, the Mull of Kintyre, Bloody Sunday…

Depressingly reader, you will be able to add your own to this list. Now consider the pathology and symptoms which will occur in Britain again and again and again.

In some cases we have seen the police or military cover up, bury the truth, blame the victims who unable to answer because they are dead: Bloody Sunday, Mull of Kintyre and now Hillsborough.

Then they will co-opt sympathetic media – tabloid newspapers in particular, to put out the lie. Are you listening Lord Leveson?

So the lie becomes the story “the truth” as Kelvin Mackenzie insisted. The scene is set. The public have the message and critically so do the politicians – note Jack Straw’s apology today.

The next symptom Рpublic and politicians now prepared Рwill be for a limited and flawed judicial inquiry, inquest, investigation  which one way or another will deliver the verdict, the least damaging to those with powerful careers at stake.

Thus Lord Widgery’s inquiry (which Ted Heath publicly stated should be “limited”) whitewashed Bloody Sunday. The RAF Board of Inquiry into the Mull crash was simply over-ruled by two Air Chief Marshalls who blamed the victims – the dead pilots, incapable of defending themselves.

Move on and we have the Hillsborough coroner deciding nobody after 3.15 could be alive.

Victims, ordinary people, blamed by police, judiciary and senior military – agencies designed to protect the powerless from injustice – not to inflict further pain and injury upon their names and their relatives.

To the next symptom. Unfortunately for the state, however apparently¬† powerless, the victims’ families won’t lie down and they begin the long, long years in the wilderness, demanding justice.

Eventually sympathetic MPs and media (not media with close ties to the police we note) take up the cause and the search for truth.

To the next stage of the British disease: there will finally be a real investigation at enormous public expense which will likely get at the truth of what happened.

Final stage and symptom: apology.

True – in some disputed tragedies it does not always happen quite like this – but there is a real pattern here nonetheless which should make us look well beyond Hillsborough.

Why do key institutions of state – police, military and legal – so often cover-up the truth and blame the victims?

The simple answer appears to be to protect the careers and livelihoods of those running those institutions.

A generation on when the truth is finally delivered, it is probably too late for justice – they have got away with it.

In short, when the heat’s on, the disaster’s recent, the record shows that the British state cannot be relied upon to do its job – protect and provide justice for the victims and their families.

There is indeed a sickness. To cure it we as a nation have to raise our gaze beyond the Bogside, Leppings Lane tunnel and the Mull of Kintyre lighthouse.

There’s something a lot bigger that is wrong. When a state turns to protect those in power instead of the powerless in their time of greatest need, we are truly sick.

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