Published on 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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33 reader comments

  1. TP says:

    Is this just another example of the ‘succulent lamb’ syndrome?

    A complacent press rolling over to get it’s tummy tickled and print lies at the behest of the powerful

    The sad truth is that exactly the same thing would happen if we had a disaster today

    1. iain says:

      Honestly! “Succulent Lamb syndrome”.

      Please give it a rest for one day!

  2. John Fraser says:

    Spot on analysis, we see it time and time again, interesting to see a number of commentators linking police behaviour at Hillsborough with their conduct at the Orgreave confrontation some years earlier.

  3. iain says:

    The closure of ranks after Ian Tomlinson was murdered shows nothing has changed

    1. Ultra_Fox says:

      ..or Jean-Charles de Menezes..

      ..or Mark Duggan..

      It’s not just “a few bad apples” but a blight which infests the whole orchard.

      Only with prosecutions and convictions of the major players in the Hillsborough cover-up will we truly ensure justice for the 96.

  4. megz says:

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with that. Everyone will be lied to by those in power and the media until it is too late to affect anyone’s career. No doubt in 20 years there will be a proper investigation into iraq/afghanistan/david kelly’s death ect

  5. GC says:

    It’s not a sickness it’s a deficiency.
    A deficiency of intelligence and emotional intelligence in particular.
    Britain is a fear based society with an adversarial culture in which people are quick to blame and condemn and we all live in fear of making a simple human error for we know there will be a torrent of abuse.
    In such a climate of tyranny who would have the courage or foolishness to maturely own up to an error of judgement? Not me, for one.

  6. Philip says:

    Er….the banking collapse in 2008?

  7. Andy Fitzpatrick says:

    What was it the judge said to the Birmingham six,,if the death penalty was an option I would have no hesitation in implementing it in this case,,,the rich and powerful run the country and give crumbs to there lackeys to keep it that way with an MBE etc,,the riots of recent times is just a wee reminder to them that if enough people come out on the streets,,,then it’s over for them,and there is not much the thin blue line could do about it,,that’s when they get the army to shoot people and then we become a failed state,,a Syria.

  8. John says:

    Birmingham Six, Bridgewater Four, Shirley McKie, & many many others. When South Yorkshire Police authorised all police officers on duty/involved in Hillsborough to write their statements on NON Criminal Justice Act statement forms, they were tacit consent for the altering of statements & evidence.

    Is presenting false evidence to the Coroner’s court not considered to be perjury?

    All who knew of altered statements & kept silent should hang their heads.

    In 1999, I attended a Police Match Commanders course (as Council employee!) & they were still anecdotally peddling the drunken Liverpool fans line.

  9. Stephen H says:

    To Orgreave you can add the Battle of the Beanfield (though not Yorkshire Police).

    The pattern of politicised policing (against football fans, miners, travellers), violence, cover up, false arrest, suppression of the media, and use of the tabloid press to smear witnesses was similar.

    At least the judge through out those charges though no police wee ever charged for their lies.

  10. Philip Edwards says:


    I emailed the Leveson inquiry while it was sitting.

    I suggested that since they were studying media behaviour they might care to investigate arguably the worst case of establishment/media corruption in British peace time history – the Hillsborough disaster. The pro forma reply said my mail would be passed on. I heard nothing more, and, of course, Leveson didn’t even make passing reference to Hillsborough. It seems they didn’t think concerted media lies about the loss of 96 innocent lies could compete in importance with tabloid gossip.

    Then along comes the Independent Review Panel helped into existence by inestimable Andy Burnham. They expose virtually everything. Leveson, with the thug Kelvin Mackenzie on oath in front of him, could have usefully supplemented the work of the Panel. Instead, he and his staff did nothing.

    And that, my friend, is it in a nutshell. All the establishment has to do is ignore The Truth in plain sight, then let it die or be gutted of impetus and justifiable outrage by the passing of years. At the end of which they can shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, it was a long time ago, anyway, and who wants to bring all that up again.”

    But in this case they more than met their match in the good people of Liverpool. Which also shames you people in mainstream media for not doing your job (I except rare honourable individuals such as yourself).

    One would hope crocodile tears might translate into solid, outraged moral actions. Trevor Hicks, who lost two daughters at Hillsborough said, “The truth is out today. Justice starts tomorrow.”

    It will be a long hard road to the truth. But apart from the citizens of Liverpool how many will be willing to travel it in the same way the wronged families and other citizens did? Who in the media? Who in the establishment? Who in the police?

  11. The Octagon says:

    A common aspect in all of these terrible cases is that it was impossible for one person alone to ‘cover-up’. It always needed the active co-operation of many individuals at various levels of authority and responsibility to be involved for the cover-up to be successful for at least some time. Often that time is until those in question are in frail health or dead so meaningful punishment doesn’t happen.

    My query then – is there a further link between many of these individuals ? Some aspect of their activities, loyalties or background which ties them together ?

  12. ed says:

    Good read. But is the “disease” really peculiar to UK?

    1. Kate says:

      ed, hope you’re not thinking a “no” response there in some way mitigates all that’s happened/happening in UK?

  13. J Benedict says:

    You need look no further, especially in the Police, to the corrosive effects of Freemasonry.

  14. jimmy mcgriff says:

    Excellent blogpost – there are scores of similar examples of these, including the spark for last year’s riots in England which involved police corruption.

    The British State is corrupt as there is no effective policing of the police – they are a law unto themselves. There has never been a single successful criminal prosecution for any death in police custody.

    Who has the courage to take on this injustice? As stated only the truly heroic victims’ relatives who as they so strongly stated yesterday had to raise their own funds against police who defend themselves using unlimited taxpayers money.

    More brave journalists such as Alex please.

  15. Rob says:

    Alex you’re just the investigative reporter to uncover the truth behind the numerous apparent “suicides” at Deepcut Barracks in which the MOD closed ranks and swept aside any allegations of wrong doing with the help of the British press.

  16. Auldheid says:

    Would the lies have gone unchallenged had there been the Internet in 89? Would they have lasted so long?

    The Net is a game and behaviour changer and although it causes some journos problems
    guys like yourself have to make sure the liars do not get control of it.

    The Internet is the antidote to the disease. Stay alert.

  17. K HUghes says:

    You missed out one very salient point Alex. That is that “Justice” never happens until those at the top of the original coruption, the ex- punblic school “old boys”, the chief constables, the senior civil servants, the judiciary or members of the armed forces, are either retired, dead.. Whether it’s the wrongfull imprisonment of the Birmingham Six/Guildford Four, the victims of Bloody Sunday, or Hillsborough. The state will continue to cling to it’s version of events & persist in demonisation of the victims, until those in command are safely beyond the risk of prosecution.

    Then begins the tired old narrative that “it was twenty years ago, it couldn’t happen today!” Over the last 30 years more than a thousand people have died during or immediately after contact with British police. From Blair Peach & Liddle Towers to Steven Waldorf, Harry Stanley, Ian Thomlinson & 5 year old John Shorthouse, British police have punched, kicked, battoned, shot, ran over, & jumped repeatedly on the chest of victims. To date NOT ONE serving police officer has EVER been convicted of a criminal offence. NOT ONE, NOT EVER. It can & does happen today. Too often!

  18. Aidan says:

    To the list could be added the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four. Who can forget Lord Denning in the appeal court saying that if what the lawyer for the Birmingham Six was true, that meant the police were lying, “such an appalling vista that every sensible person would say “This appeal cannot go any further…”

    He also said we would have been spared “all these appeals and campaigns” if the Birmingham Six had simply been hanged

    The Independent, in its obituary of him, called him the greatest judge of the 20th century.

  19. Joeninho says:

    I agree with a lot of what you say, but don’t think it’s purely a British problem. The political establishment in any of our democratic allies will keep the police “onside” to protect them from the electorate when required. I’d still rather deal with Strathclyde’s finest than some of the police in news films I’ve seen from the likes of France.

  20. Pigalle says:

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

    So horribly true, Alex.

    To think that half the folk could have survived Hillsborough but for a bunch of cops worried about their reputations and pensions. Sad beyond belief.

    I hope they jail those culprits but you know how it goes.

    Slap on the wrist.

    And afterwards they still live in the same big houses, drawing the same big wages.

    The UK is not sick but it’s institutions are.

  21. lawrence says:

    Not just a British disease,name one government or large organisation that behaves any differently.Church sex scandals,Chemical plant spillages.
    Sad to say this will continue as long as there is a complacent press and the rich and powerful can hide behind their well paid lawyers.

  22. Magnus says:

    “Please give it a rest for one day!”

    It is the “give it a rest” attitude which tends to deflect and deny justice surely.

  23. Kate says:

    Excellent summation, Alex!

    The pattern too is characterised by the passing of usually decades before an admission/a new enquiry reveals the cover up and those responsible no longer in office. It’s nigh on impossible to get “justice”.

    Recent exceptions have included the cases of Jean Charles de Menezes and Ian Tomlinson where relatively soon, the mishandling and subsequent cover up have come to light and still nothing has been done. No case to answer. Nothing has changed.

    So when Cameron,over 20 years later, launches into his heartfelt apology for Hilsborough, one has to wonder who will be doing the same for those recent cases, if ever.

    It would seem British justice is an oxymoron – no more than a few words of regret decades down the line. Shameful.

  24. gerard f reilly says:

    won,t say much as i,m not close enough to anyone affected by this injustice ! – but if i may comment i hope i do not upset any of the famillies concerned ? ; i cannot fathom how the cover-up has been hidden for so long , so is this country at he mercy of the tabloid press ? and we all think that conspiracy theories only happen in the movies etc !! let,s hope the scumbags who lied througout the sham investigation get sorted out big time , and made public by decent news agents !!

  25. Robert Taggart says:

    Blame the Monarchy !
    No, really… ‘succulent lambs’ indeed ! Until the ‘Little Britons’ have the courage to overturn the established order – the ‘established orders’ will always turn on them – when needs be.

  26. Rolfe says:

    The broadcast Channel 4 item on this subject included a small segment asking if the Lockerbie disaster is another example which has yet to come out. In my opinion it is. There is clear evidence there that the police deliberately buried virtually incontrovertible evidence of the Lockerbie bomb being introduced into the baggage container at Heathrow airport. Looking anywhere but where the crime really happened, the eventually fixated on the island of Malta, and in due course found someone in the right place at the right time to be fitted up.

    All that happened absolutely concurrently with Hillsborough. The Lockerbie disaster itself happened only 16 weeks before Hillsborough. We’re constantly told that it’s not acceptable to question the behaviour of the police, or the behaviour of the Crown prosecution (who colluded in concealing the Heathrow evidence from the Court), or the judges who seem to have been pre-programmed to believe whatever mince the police and the prosecution served up to them. However, these are exactly the people who need to be brought to account.

  27. PaulW says:

    You’ve missed out the terminal stage, when the victims get embraced by the Establishment, and placed on a pedestal and it becomes hard to challenge their views. At the same time our less reputable politicians try to latch on to them The classic example of this is the Stephen Lawrence murder where the failure to gain convictions was due to inefficiency at worse and there was absolutely no good evidence of racism or corruption.

    Hillsborough is going the same way. We’ve basically known the truth ever since the Taylor Report in 1990 and it is disingenuous to claim that the victims have suffered 23 years of calumny.

    Taylor noted (para 277) “There were many young Constables who as witnesses were alert, intelligent and open. On the day, they and many others strove heroically in ghastly
    circumstances aggravated by hostility to rescue and succour victims. They inspired confidence and hope.” The truly despicable Keith Vaz is now trying to start a vendetta against any of these who may still be serving officers.

    I thought Trevor Hicks of the Families Campaign came across poorly on Newsnight on Wednesday. He said he didn’t want scapegoats and immediately contradicted himself with his comments on Norman Bettison. The awful Kirsty Wark didn’t challenge him on this.

  28. philip says:

    The problem starts with a massive lack of accountability. We don’t have institutions which can hold those with power to account. Parliament can’t because it’s essentially a mechanism about the organisation of power not about democratic accountability. The one reform of the House of Lords whcih could make sense would be to model it on the element of the US Senate, the powerful investigative committees that hold the Government to account. And we could encourage – by law if necessary – people other than career politicians to stand for election. Without such legitimatised accountability, we are left with the media and the Internet. We know how corrupt and lazy much of the media can be (& too much in cahoots with the politicians, police & the rich & powerful). The Internet can be a force for good, but it could just as easily be manipulated….& it won’t be long before the rich & powerful graps this & act accordingly. There is also about much of us a laziness & preference to believe what seems plausible, especially if it chimes with our own prejudices, rather than challenge.
    But it’s too comforting just to parade our righteous indignation. What are we actually going to DO to make the changes we want happen?

  29. philip says:

    Moulding our perceptions is one of the cleverest tools in the army of the powerful. That’s why there’s such a symbiotic relationship between politicians & the media. Our views on what we expect (e.g. drunken football fans) have been carefully manipulated. In the same way, riots – especially when short-lived but quite violent – are helpful to those in power as they provide vivid images which can be used to manipulate our perceptions & opinions for years afterwards. Constant media protrayal of the relatively small number of people who claim benefit (including disability benefits) falsely gives the impression that people on benefit are either fraudsters or idlers – see the latest Brisih Opinion Survey. Ditto immigrants. Every section of the media depends on someone powerful (even the BBC has to kowtow to the Government to ensure it maintains its licence income). The British disease (& its certainly not confined to the UK) is that the powerful seek to maintain their power and wealth through direct and much subtler indirect means – the creation of sterotypes and manipulation of opinion through the media – so that millions of people actually vote against their own best interests – supporting a troop of political parties whose agenda is esentially the same – maintain the power and wealth of those who currently have it. That why cuts – imposed by any of the present political parties – would fsall more heavily on the poorer & weaker members of society, because they are the least likely to have the means to fight back – and the highest proportion of people who don’t vote.

  30. keddaw says:

    This is a feature not a bug.

    We have had a servile attitude in this country for too long. We accept what we are told – unless you are personally affected – or you are some kind of conspiracy nut. Our free press is nothing of the sort, our politicians and police are scratching each other’s backs while the security services run amok, seemingly without oversight, and the politicians fall in lock step with deranged American foreign policy even without popular public support.

    Serious change needs to happen and a written Constitution limiting the powers of government would be a start, a complete separation of powers between the judiciary and Parliament would also help, and some effective oversight of the executive powers of the government of the day is also required, frankly Her Maj and the Lords just ain’t up to the task. A task force to remove all laws impinging on the Constitutional rights of citizens, or breaching the Constitutional limits of government, should be a priority. As should the creation of an independent judicial panel to oversee any and all government attempts to hide behind ‘national security’ when they spend public money and do things in our name, ostensibly for our benefit, but won’t tell us what.

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