Leaders: Justice demands fresh Hillsborough inquests
IT IS hard to fully imagine the heartbreak of those Liverpool families who saw their loved ones set off to support their beloved football team on 15 April, 1989, with usual high spirits and camaraderie, never again to see them alive.
It is much easier to grasp the intensity of their anger at the confirmation, dragged from the authorities after decades of campaigning, that dozens of those who lost their lives on that terrible day might have been saved, had it not been for the serial incompetence of those in charge of ensuring their safety.
David Cameron’s apology yesterday, on the occasion of the release of thousands of pages of documents about the Hillsborough disaster, is a welcome acknowledgement from government of the enormity of the tragedy that befell Liverpool that day. But it is hard to imagine this providing any significant degree of comfort or closure for the bereaved, beyond the grim satisfaction of being proved right after all these years.
What is most striking from yesterday’s disclosures is not the series of failings on the part of police and emergency services on the day of the match itself in Sheffield, breathtaking though they are. Rather it is the cynical way these agencies – the very people we should expect to be able to rely upon for decency and professionalism in times of crisis – tried to cover up their inadequacies when held to account.
Worse still is the way some senior police officers traduced the reputations of the dead and injured in a desperate and callous attempt to avoid the consequences of their professional incompetence. In particular, the police record searches done on the dead in a twisted attempt to lend credence to a narrative that pinned the blame on the victims themselves were a grotesque abuse of power and authority. The primary response to this evidence is one of disgust. These police officers disgraced their uniforms and their profession.
In the aftermath of Hillsborough, the Taylor inquiry sought to establish the truth of what happened that day. Plainly, it failed in that task. Should it have interrogated the evidence from police and emergency services in a more aggressive fashion? At this distance, it is easy to conclude that no, not nearly enough rigour was shown. But independent judicial inquiries have, in general, been useful and legitimate methods of examining such tragedies, and the inadequacies of the Taylor process should not lead to a denigration of this kind of official response.
Now, however, further examination of the facts of the Hillsborough tragedy is required, and the most appropriate forum for this is the re-opening of the inquests into the 96 deaths. Some might question the wisdom or efficacy of revisiting this in so much detail. They are wrong. Senior police officers and officials were mistakenly exonerated of blame at the time, and a sense of justice and common decency demands they are finally held to account.
Clarity needed on EU membership
Some of the debates about Scottish independence have taken on an almost ritualistic character, with each side’s stratagems all too familiar to the rival camp, and the debate generating more heat than light.
So it is with the dispute over whether a newly-independent Scotland would automatically become a full member of the European Union.
Into this argument recently strode no less a figure than the president of the European Commission (EC) himself, Jose Manuel Barroso, who said a region that secedes from a member state would have to renegotiate “within the international legal order”. Now this message has been underscored by senior EC official Olivier Bailly, in comments that have sparked this debate anew.
It is not hard to see why the EC should become newly-engaged on this issue. A new nationalist administration in Catalonia has brought this area into sharp focus for Brussels bureaucrats.
All of this is unwelcome news for a Scottish Government that has stonewalled freedom of information requests on any legal advice it has received on Scotland’s status in Europe after independence. In the meantime, each side wheels out its own constitutional experts to insist that their particular interpretation of events is the solid gold truth of the matter.
All this matters a great deal in an independence referendum campaign that is slowly but surely gathering pace. What voters are looking for is solid evidence on which to base a historic decision.
Unhelpfully, the only legitimate conclusion to draw on whether Scotland would indeed slip seamlessly into the European Union is that no-one knows for sure.
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