British Police Forces Sued for "Abuse on an Industrial Scale" Over 96 Soccer Fans' Deaths

Two days ago, a jury ruled that police were responsible for the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy.


Justice for the 96
Wikipedia Commons

It's been just over 27 years since 96 people died in a massive stampede at a soccer match in Hillsborough, England, and the victims families are finally getting some acknowledgement of the systemic incompetence and subsequent cover-up committed by the two police agencies responsible for the safety of the match's spectators. 

Almost immediately after the April 15, 1989 tragedy at which more than 700 were also injured, police had tried to put the blame on drunken, violent, and trespassing Liverpool fans.

But in fact, a since-scuttled tradition of keeping hundreds of fans with standing-room-only tickets in a fenced-in pen behind the goals, combined with the police's fateful decision to let hundreds more fans stream through the stadium's gates rather than go through turnstiles individually, led to a frenzied crush of people and unspeakable carnage

This past Tuesday, a jury ruled that the fans were not to blame, that the 96 dead were "unlawfully killed," and that the chief officer in charge was had been "in breach of duty."

The BBC reports that the law firm representing the families released a statement announcing its lawsuit against the South Yorkshire and West Midlands police forces for "abuse on an industrial scale," and accused the police of spending a fortune in taxpayer-financed efforts of "defending the indefensible."

The statement also read in part:

The systematic cover-up intended to transfer the blame for what happened from South Yorkshire Police to the innocent, by spreading lies, doctoring evidence, pressuring witnesses and suppressing the truth.

In addition to the lawsuit, The West Midlands police force faces legal action "over claims it altered statements taken from football fans" at the match, according to The Guardian.

The former editor of the tabloid The Sun, Kelvin MacKenzie, apologized for his role in perpetuating the police's version of events, having run a cover story titled "The Truth" that placed the blame for the tragedy on the fans. As reported by The Independent, Mackenzie said:

The headline I published was wrong and I am profoundly sorry for the hurt caused. Clearly, I was wrong to take the police's version of events at face value and it is a mistake I deeply regret.

The branch secretary for the South Yorkshire police's retired officers association published a letter on the association's website telling the officers that despite the verdict holding the force responsible for the tragedy, they should be proud of their work. The letter was later removed

Update: You can watch a short video here consisting of photos and testimonials from those who survived the Hillsborough disaster.

Below, a BBC documentary on the tragedy and the cover-up:

NEXT: Crackdown in China

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Not saying that police should not be held guilty for their conducts but I do find it strange to deny all blame from “drunken, violent, and trespassing Liverpool fans.”

    Your personnel behavior is still your responsibility

    1. The problem is that (a) there weren’t any drunken fans causing major trouble: (b) there was no real violence; (c) they were trespassing on the field because they were trying to escape being crushed to death.

      1. Damn you, ninja bird.

      2. I’m guessing ESPN (Classic, probably) will be running a lot of the 30 For 30 about Hillsborough this week and weekend.

        1. I’d like to see it again. I should check On Demand for it.

          1. I’ve seen it a couple of times, and it gets to me every time.

            Also, check out White, Blue and White (with Ossie Ardilles and Ricky Villa), which was awesome.

            The Two Escobars was tremendous.

            The Opposition (about Chile during Pinochet) was a good short one.

            Ceasefire Massacre was gut wrenching.

            The Myth of Garrincha was really good, too.

            For 90s basketball fans, Once Brothers was amazing.

      3. What? So there is absolutely no blame for the crowd? Who cares if they weren’t drunk, but rushing into a crowd and pushing on the person in front of you does have consequences. This sounds a lot like “diffusion of responsibility”, like if 100 people stab a person, none of them are actually responsible for his death.

        After reading about it, sure the police made mistakes and yes they tried to cover it up. But reading about how crazy people were, trying to get into the game, I think at least some of the blame can be placed on the unruly crowd. Also, the police tried to delay the start of the match so they could safely get everyone in, and that request was denied, so the game organizers should take some blame too.

        1. The crowd was at the density it was precisely because of police actions. As noted elsewhere, once a crowd passes a certain density, weird and very bad shit starts to happen that has nothing – NOTHING to do with ill behavior (which there was precious little of, in actual fact). Releasing a crowd at crush density into another area creates its own problems, including shifting the area of peak density further downstream – against immovable fences and crush barriers.

          1. How could it have nothing to do with ill behavior? Someone is applying force voluntarily. Someone is not merely xmitting force passively, but is in the back and shoving against obvious resistance.

            1. You’re showing some pretty big ignorance of the dynamics of crowds in that setting (where there were thousands of people packed into what were literally called “pens”, well over absolute maximum capacity – at the orders of the police).

              1. Not ignorance, disbelief. You can pack people like sardines in perfect safety as long as nobody pushes on them. Even if somebody does push, they have to exert a great deal of force to suffocate anybody. So it would take a lot of people moving their feet to push their bodies against other people.

                1. Yes, ignorance. Ever been in heavy, but flowing traffic, then had to suddenly come to a stop for no apparent reason? It’s not that dissimilar, except that when you’ve got a fuckload of people in a place where merely a shitload is the capacity, small movements can have huge effects. When the area you’re in is surrounded on three sides by immovable barriers, shit can go sideways in a hurry.

                  Watch the 30 For 30. The video clips alone are frightening as shit.

                  1. What kind of traffic: automotive or pedestrian? If you mean automotive traffic, are you saying the vehicles get crushed in such a situation? If you mean pedestrian traffic, sure, I’ve been in such situations, wondering what’s holding us up; nothing bad happened.

          2. So by your own words, “weird stuff happens”, but the police should be 100% knowledgeable about crowd dynamics and therefore should be 100% responsible for what happens?

            I’ll just step back and let you argue against yourself.

        2. That’s what I don’t understand: How could people’s manners be so bad as to be lethal? I’ve been in plenty of crowds, but the people in them didn’t willingly exert such force on the bodies in front of them as to suffocate them. Otherwise there’d be deaths every day on the subway; there are occasionally if someone gets pushed onto the tracks, but nobody’s crushed to death by the other human bodies therein.

          And it really does take a lot of force to press the air out of someone’s lungs. In rugby one mauls by pushing on teammates against opponents pushing likewise, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone suffocated or been suffocated myself even though it’s sometimes several ranks of players pushing quite competitively thru each other’s bodies. I can’t imagine that happening to the point of suffocation in a crowd unless it’s deliberate, i.e. people shoving as hard as they can the person in front of them.

          1. This wasn’t Rugby. This was the force of hundreds of people against fences and crush barriers with no escape.

            1. And where does that force come from? It doesn’t generate itself.

              1. Are you being purposely stupid?

                1. No, are you? If nobody pushes nobody else, no injuries result.

    2. Except there was no trespassing or violence, really, and it’s been since proven that the drunkenness claimed was almost entirely fabricated by the police.

      So…where does that leave you, exactly?

      1. Sober English soccer fans!!!!!. When did this start happening?

        1. Instead of being an insufferable dick, maybe learn about the events of that day.

        2. That was one of the reasons the cops got away with lying. It was a period of really bad behavior by English fans (the Heysel disaster was 1985) and so, when the cops blamed the fans & some of the papers got on board, it was an easy sell. But you should read it if you’re interested: the cops were altering witness statements within days to cover up their own incompetence.

          1. It really was a colossal failure of the state.

            Also, crushing as a result of dangerous crowd control methods has nothing to do with alcohol consumption by the crushed.

    3. I was going to take this comment seriously and then I read your spelling of “personal.”


      twice in one day

    5. “Not saying that police should not be held guilty for their conducts but I do find it strange to deny all blame from “drunken, violent, and trespassing Liverpool fans.”

      The crowd is treated as if they were a volitionless herd, with the State responsible for their actions.

      It’s arguable that the crowd didn’t know any better, and what seemed to them perfectly reasonable behavior would end in disaster, given the circumstances. But by the same principle, why are cops, even with training, assumed to be omniscient caretakers of the unknowing crowd?

      I’m sure they received some training. But to apply that training to circumstances outside their training, they’d likely have really understand the dynamics of that volitionless herd, beyond some rules of thumb. Giving them a badge doesn’t make them omniscient. We know this better than most.

      Blaming The Man is fun, but when it presupposes All Knowing state agency from other bipeds, you’re not really playing in the Libertarian ball park anymore.

  2. There’s an interesting phenomenon that happens when the government defends the indefensible–it often ends up making the worst people imaginable seem like heroes.

    I can think of four examples off the top of my head.

    1) Hillsborough tragedy

    Did you know it was possible to make football hooligans look like the good guys? “Justice for the 96” became something hooligans would get tattooed. In trying to defend the indefensible, the government made hooligans look like the good guys! They’ve given hooligans legitimate cover as defenders against the brutal stupidity of the police.

    2) Abu Ghraib photos

    Before those photos came out, I thought it was impossible to create world wide sympathy for terrorists. But when the world found out those “enhanced interrogation procedures” migrated from Guantanamo (where they were used on unlawful combatants) to Abu Ghraib (where they were used on legitimate POWs), it was a bit like waking up the next day and finding that the Nazis were now the good guys and America was the villain.

    If Rumsfeld, Gonzo, Cheney, et. al. had stayed up all night trying to think up new and better ways to create world wide sympathy for terrorists, I don’t think they could have come up with anything better than enhanced torture techniques.

    1. Ken, hooligans had nothing whatsoever to do with Hillsborough. Heysel, yes. Any given Chelsea-Millwall game throughout the 80s, yes. Hillsborough, no.

      1. I’m not saying the victims were hooligans–or anything like that.

        I’m saying that hooligans use that event as cover. . . . and as a justification for their hooliganism.

        “A.C.A.B.!” doesn’t have a justification but when you add “Justice for the 96” to it, suddenly it becomes legitimate in the minds of many.


        1. Which hooligans do that? I haven’t seen hooligan-based crowd trouble at a Premier League game pretty much since it was founded after the Taylor Report (’91, I think?), which was what revolutionized stadiums and crowd handling. Fences came down, seats went in, hooligans were forcefully prosecuted.

          Traveling supporters are a bit of a different story.

          1. I’m not trying to paint all football fans as hooligans.

            But I am saying that hooligans do use legitimate injustices committed by the police as a justification for their hooliganism.

            I am not saying that everyone who wanted justice for the 96 is a hooligan.

            I’m saying that the people who are hooligans use police misconduct as a justification (good or otherwise) for their hooligan behavior–in or out of the stadium.

            If you’re looking for video of a hooligan in action screaming, “I’m doing this for the 96” just before he starts brutalizing the police and everyone else around him, you’re probably not going to find anything closer than this:


            Regardless, bad people use legitimate instances of police misconduct to justify doing bad things, and isn’t it ironic that such misconduct by the government tends to legitimize groups of rotten people–who, otherwise, probably wouldn’t have a leg to stand on in the public’s imagination?

            1. I’m trying to understand why you’re so anxious to collectivize people because some outcast, not-particularly-like-in-any-sense douchecanoes take advantage of a situation.

              1. I’m not collectivizing anyone.

                Those are voices in your head.

                I’m pointing out that government/police misconduct can make the otherwise impossibly unglamorous seem far more glamorous than they would otherwise.

                And that’s interesting.

                Government abuse of the sex offender registry can generate sympathy for convicted sex offenders!

                It’s an interesting topic.

                Meanwhile, mentioning that police misconduct might create some sympathy for hooligans or that hooligans might use legitimate police misconduct as a bad excuse for their hooliganism really shouldn’t be so hard to understand. It’s a thread about police misconduct and football fans.

        2. Not a single hooligan has used JFT96, save for the assholes in Manchester and Leeds (mostly, a few other places) that have used it as an anti-Liverpool chant in the past.

          1. You mean there’s something that can unite ManUre and Leeds fans?

            TBF, Liverpool has been feeding at the Munich Air Disaster trough for a good long while.

            1. Not denying we have a bunch of asshole fans who sing Munich songs.

            2. JFT96 unites Liverpool and Everton fans.

              Of course, Everton fans are just as pissed about the portrayal of their city by the cops.

    2. Abu Ghraib (where they were used on legitimate POWs)

      its been awhile, but I’m pretty sure nobody at AG was a legit POW under the legal definitions of the term. Pretty hard to be a POW unless you are fighting in the official army of a recognized sovereign, wearing a uniform, etc.

      Not defending the idiots at AG, just being pedantically picayune.

      1. The whole point of the Schlesinger Report was that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” authorized for use on unlawful combatants at Guantanamo migrated to Abu Ghrab when the people responsible for interrogation were transferred from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib.

        Not all of the victims at Abu Ghraib were waterboarded, but many were subjected to the other “enhanced interrogation techniques” that were only approved for use on unlawful combatants who, according to Yoo, Gonzo, and Rumsfeld, were not afforded the protections of the Geneva Conventions on torture.

        Abu Ghrabi at the time was still full of captured Iraqi officers, and they were subjected to those “enhanced interrogation techniques”. They were captured in uniform on the battlefield, and they were entitled to all the legal protections of the Geneva Conventions as POWs.

        Take a look at the original report yourself:


        Start with page 9 of the Executive Summary where it reads, “Interrogators and lists of techniques circulated from Guantanamo and Afghanistan to Iraq. During July and August 2003, the 519th Military Intelligence Company was sent to the Abu Ghraib detention facility to conduct interrogation operations”.

        Please keep in mind, we didn’t capture Saddam Hussein until December of 2003. Abu Ghraib was full of POWs, and we were looking for Saddam Hussein.

        1. Well, there you go. There were legit POWs at AG.

  3. It’s just amazing how the government persistently fucks up things you’d think were impossible to fuck up.

    3) Twin Peaks Waco Shootout

    Only the government can make violent fogies on outdated motorcycles seem like droopy-eyed bunnies.

    4) Branch Davidians.

    Only government stupidity could turn David Koresh into a heroic figure to so many people.

    1. I would add:
      5) Ruby Ridge. The feds managed to make some weird ass apocalyptic survivalists living off the grid and stockpiling guns look like martyrs.

  4. I still stand by my initial findings that many if not all of those soccer fans died of boredom.

    1. That joke never gets old. Extra points for tastelessness.

        1. Nah, just retarded and dickhole-ish.

    2. Suffocation is hoo-larious!

  5. I quit my office job and now I am getting paid 69 Dollars hourly. How? I work-over internet! My old work was making me miseraable, so I was to try-something different. 1 years after…I can say my life is changed completely for the better! Check it out what i do…UI2

    ========== http://www.Report20.com

  6. Let’s see if this sets a precedent for Rotherham. There are whole busloads of government people there who need to burn for what they did and didn’t do.

    1. ^This x 1000

      I find it nearly as appalling that so little was done to those responsible for Rotherham as what the pedophiles did. If it were up to me they would all hang.

      1. And who knows how many more Rotherhams there are.

    2. Yes, in 27 years the government will admit to covering it up. However, raping kuffar girls will be legal at that point, so it will be moot.

    3. I’m sure it will – but Reason still won’t cover it. Goes against the Open Borderz narrative.

  7. I made the mistake of looking up information on “crushing” by crowd deaths, how at certain densities a crowd behaves like a fluid, how prisoners at concentration camps died from being packed into a gas chamber to the point they could no longer breath as much as the gas, the thousands that died during the Hajj in Saudi Arabia because of the sheer size and density of the crowd… and then I kept going to over crowd related disasters like the Station fire in RI. All terrible ideas for reading before bed. But it is fascinating and most of the horror is (to me) that you could be in the back of a crowd and never know that you just trying to shuffle forward is causing the people way ahead of you to die where they stand. Link for broad daylight to where I got started.

    For this particular story, though, it’s just another case of police buying into prejudice instead of trying to be outside and objective. Worried more about covering their own butts than helping their communities. I’m amazed people have apologized, even if it took my lifetime for them to do it. Usually they start believing the lie over decades.

    1. I was at a concert once where me and my friends got literally picked up by the crush and dragged about ten feet forward. That shit gets scary very fast.

    2. From the linked discussion:

      Because it’s the density itself that facilitates the pushing. Even when people are just casually walking forward in relatively low densities at the back it eventually catches up to people where the densities become higher and they cannot keep up with even a casual walking pace, and hence everyone starts the fluid-like behavior… which is not a voluntary push but rather just being caught in the flow.

      This is what I don’t understand and don’t believe. People with their feet on the floor must use traction to move in any direction. Someone must be deliberately pushing someone else in front of them, or the phenomenon can’t happen. No matter how close you get to each other, you can just stand still, and if everyone does that, nothing can happen. This fluid model is ridiculous unless you assume people voluntarily push each other.

      1. Sorry to rain on your ‘bleefs, but that’s what happened. It’s documented, recorded, and a bunch of it is available on various video representations in various documentaries and other films.

        1. Oh, I’m sure “it happened”. But what happened didn’t happen for the reason you may think it happened. You may be describing the behavior of large numbers of people, saying that in such a mass, some jerk is going to push. But the cause of the problem is the jerks pushing, not some disembodied non-volitional phenomenon.

  8. When I watched that ESPN 30 for 30 on this event a year or two ago, I was transfixed. It led me to research other riots/tragedies/etc. that have taken place at European soccer matches. Sadly, there have been a number of them.

    1. But they have diminished sharply, right? With the construction of new stadiums with seats for every ticket holder?

      1. They’ve been eliminated in England. Similar crowd crush issues persist where terraces and fencing is still prevalent, though the Germans have managed to avoid it (their stadiums, as I recall, are not all all-seater yet). This usually means southeastern and eastern Europe.

        However, most of the real tragedies have been occurring in Africa and the Middle East (where crowd control is appalling) and often is the result of people using the matches as an outlet for political protest – because political protest is violently put down everywhere else in their societies.

  9. I’m a Liverpool die-hard, so this has been very important to me for a long time.

    The only reason this happened is because these families wouldn’t take no for an answer from the government and basically spent 27 years fighting for this.

    Biggest regret is that Anne Williams, aka the Iron Lady, whose son died at Hillsborough and was the face of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign for two decades, died of cancer a couple of years back. She should’ve gotten to see this.

    1. The only reason this happened is because these families wouldn’t take no for an answer from the government and basically spent 27 years fighting for this.

      But we need more government in our lives to take care of things for us anyway, right?

  10. Finally the lies are exposed. JFT96 YNWA and the sport is called Football not soccer

    1. Association football.

      Soccer for short. To distinguish from Rugby football, rugby for short.

  11. Whenever I hear about people being killed due to idiots following rules, this comes to mind given I had just returned from Korea.
    Clearly the arsonist is mainly to blame, but locking the train for 20 minutes as toxic fumes waft in is disgusting. We are cattle.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.