Thursday, March 15, 2012

Oxford's Posthumous Libel

That there was an operation of subterfuge, smear & distraction at the highest levels in the aftermath of Hillsborough is old news to the families of the 96 victims. Their dogged campaign for justice has long been accompanied by the knowledge that the most senior echelons of government & police colluded in a blame game concerning the fans.
What may have shocked those families, however, was today's leaked report to the BBC concerning the role played by Kenneth Oxford, the then chief constable of Merseyside Police (
Despite the fact that Oxford did not attend the game, he eagerly fed Thatcher's government with additional ammunition in its thinly-disguised plan to denigrate the fans:
"According to the letter, addressed to Mrs Thatcher and headed 'Merseyside Police views on Hillsborough', the Merseyside chief constable told officials: 'A key factor in causing the disaster was the fact that large numbers of Liverpool fans had turned up without tickets. This was getting lost sight of in attempts to blame the police, the football authorities, etc.' "
Oxford's clumsy syntax, if anything, only serves to emphasise the desperation felt by senior police officers in the days following the tragedy; they were terrified that they would be nailed & were prepared to do anything to escape such a fate. What followed ensured that the smears would linger for two decades. Thatcher's government, grateful to the role played by the cops during the miners' strike a few years' earlier, waded in. Bernard Ingham, Thatcher's poodle, aka press spokesman, spoke of "a tanked-up mob" causing the disaster. Then, of course, there was The Sun's contemptible lies.
It's notable that Oxford was keen to embroider his own smear with what he presumably thought would be a passable anecdote: "One officer, born and bred in Liverpool, said he was deeply ashamed to say that it was drunken Liverpool fans who had caused the disaster, just as they had caused the deaths at Heysel."
Oxford didn't & wouldn't identify that officer. Why? Because he didn't exist. He was a figment of Oxford's lurid & loathsome imagination. [As a personal anecdote, I recall the decision to let the fans leave the stadium some two hours after the tragedy. As the fans walked away from the Leppings Lane gates, I overheard a supporter identify himself to a South Yorkshire officer as a serving constable with Merseyside Police. He expressed his disgust, in no uncertain terms, with the force's handling of the day's events.]
The families may wonder why the chief constable of Merseyside Police, their police service, was happy to feed Thatcher with those poisonous lies. An answer lies, in large part, in Oxford's toxic tenure at the head of the local force. The 1981 Toxteth riots gave Oxford a chance to express & demonstrate his almost feudal view of policing, as an Independent obituary of him in 1998 observed (
Some may protest that the dead can't answer back. True. However, Oxford's utterances during the riots should be damningly recalled. His reign over the force on Merseyside was marked by rank racism & a level of arrogance that often warranted the adjective autocratic. Think that's harsh? Then consider this shaming passage from a Big Issue piece last year (
"Policing in Liverpool was certainly informed by dubious attitudes at the top. According to the then Chief Constable Kenneth Oxford, Liverpool had a problem with 'half castes' who lived 'well outside recognised society'. In testimony to Lord Scarman's inquiry into the riots, Oxford spoke of the 'natural criminal proclivities' of people in Liverpool 8."
Given his open prejudice against one particular part of the city's population, it isn't entirely surprising that Oxford sought to libel Liverpool fans. He can no longer be called to account for his actions but this report & his period at the top of Merseyside Police confirm what has long been felt by many in the city: Oxford was a bully & a bigot who was prepared to lie in order to please his political masters.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Local MP Caught Offside

Last year's parliamentary debate on the Hillsborough disaster was notable for an eloquent & moving speech by Steve Rotheram, Labour MP for Liverpool Walton (
He spoke for countless people in reflecting upon the day itself as well as its aftermath, & delivered a measured & poignant address at the annual memorial service in 2009 (
There have, however, been instances when, to put it charitably, his comments haven't been fully thought through (
You might have concluded that Mr Rotheram had learned a lesson about choosing your words carefully. If he had, it's unfortunate to observe that the honorable member for Liverpool Walton has forgotten it. Hugh Muir noted in his Guardian Diary column the other day that the MP put his foot in it over a tweet he sent on March 2nd (!/SteveRotheramMP
Apparently siding with those Liverpool supporters who continue to believe that the club handled the Suarez affair brilliantly, the MP accused anti-racism campaigners of "causing trouble" & that the best thing to do was to ignore them. Not surprisingly, such comments have been countered & rightly so. Mr Rotheram has duly delivered his mea culpa, or act of "evasive action", as Muir puts it. All very unfortunate & oh so avoidable, too had he watched a Channel 4 News report which described how the club privately accepts its failings over the affair ( ).
This episode also draws attention to what is a disturbing ambivalence among many Liverpool supporters over Suarez' incendiary remarks to Patrice Evra in October of last year & the subsequent antics (the proffered & spurned handshake at Old Trafford). It's been said before but bears repeating, blind loyalty is not a virtue & the unthinking, tribal claque who continue to champion Suarez' case just don't understand that. It's sad that an MP who should know better ( & who knows full well about distorted accounts as well as smears) temporarily allied himself with such an ignorant audience.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Decision Day

Cometh the day, cometh the judgement. As Liverpool City Council prepares to vote on the Liverpool Waters scheme, the opposition to Peel's potentially ruinous plans has been noted by a wider audience, Hugh Muir casting his gaze over the affair in today's Guardian Diary column (
Moreover, the penny has dropped for those local players who have hitherto been less than exercised by the issue. However, it's always welcome to receive a sinner back into the fold of the righteous after he's repented. Take a bow, Larry Neild ( Larry has realised that shilling for Aurora Media (formerly October Communications) is no job for a proper journalist; he leaves the PR cesspit sadder, but wiser.
Nonetheless, there remain the siren voices of support for Peel's proposed behemoth &, yes, they largely emanate from Oldham Hall Street. Once again, the Oldham Echo trumpeted its blind loyalty to Peel in a typically sychophantic editorial last week (
Trotting out the tiresome buzz-phrases about "the exciting and exceptionally-ambitious Liverpool Waters scheme", "the most radical regeneration of the city's northern docklands" & "a fantastic opportunity for countless new jobs", the piece was heavy on hype & anorexically light on substance.In fact, the Echo went so far as to proclaim that Peel's plan was "a wonderful chance to allow this part of the city to join the Liverpool revolution."
Revolution? It would be more accurate to describe what's been done to the city in the name of progress as a coup d'etat.
Oh yes, that minor matter about the waterfront's World Heritage Site status. Well, the Echo displays all the breezy dismissiveness of a teenager who wants the latest iPad & is willing to ditch the laptop (so last year):
"It's a great accolade to have, but some things are more important."
Yes, like sucking up to Peel & forsaking any half-hearted attempt at investigative journalism.
Joe Riley weighed in with his backing for His Master's Voice a few days later (
Accompanying his, erm, thoughts with a risible PR video for Peel at the top of his piece (warning: it starts automatically), Joe harrumphed:
"It is nonsense to suggest that even skyscrapers of 700ft, placed at such a distance from the Pier Head, would detract from or diminish the symmetry of the historic waterfront."
For good measure, Joe described any one with the temerity to question the Peel line as "stick-in-the-mud whingers." 
There's nothing like informed, intelligent debate, is there? And that was nothing like it.
Joe, Joe, just a quick word: if your definition of "symmetry" involves a future white elephant which creates a grotesquely lop-sided effect for those who view the waterfront from the river itself, I really think you need to consult a dictionary.
Liam Fogarty certainly doesn't share Joe Riley's meaning of "symmetry". The Independent Mayoral candidate for the city is scathing about Peel's architectural record (
"Peel's record at delivering good architecture is questionable. What is proposed for Peel Ports' dock estate in Liverpool is mediocre and soulless. It's just not good enough for our city. We shouldn't be afraid to insist on the highest design standards."
Alas, Peel, Oldham Hall Street &, as seems likely tonight, Liverpool City Council, equate "the highest design standards" with the highest carbuncles to have ever scarred the city's skyline. Never mind the fact that Fogarty describes Liverpool Waters as representing "a discredited global model of property development that died the day Lehman Brothers went bust", the ugly certainty is that, fresh from penning a third-rate epistle for the Guardian's Northerner column (, Joe "Tea & Sympathy" Anderson will lead his flock to Peel's promised land this evening because, as he so memorably put it in his Guardian piece, "showing strong, effective leadership is what I do best."
Cllr Anderson's "strong, effective leadership" will be toasted by Peel tonight. Hope he's got an invite to the party afterwards.