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 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2012/mar/15/hillsborough-relatives-liverpool-fans-claim).
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 (http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/obituary-sir-kenneth-oxford-1187338.html).
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 (http://www.bigissueinthenorth.com/2011/07/toxteth-riots-push-people-and-they-will-fight-back/2992):
"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.

1 comment:

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