Dishonest police, a broken legal system and a callous press: the Hillsborough verdicts bring shame on Britain

A relative holds a photo of Ian Thomas Glover, who died in the Hillsborough disaster (PA)

Coverage of the recent Hillsborough verdicts (all news outlets, everywhere, no links necessary) has aroused intense feelings and reactions in Liverpool; but it seems to me that while Hillsborough is of great concern to people in Liverpool, it ought to be so to the rest of us as well.

The questions raised should concern us all. First of all, why did it take 27 years for us to reach this verdict? Justice delayed, we all know, is justice denied: and for those survivors of the Hillsborough disaster who did not live to see this day, justice has certainly been denied. Would this have been the case if the disaster had happened at a different sporting occasion, such as Wimbledon, Henley or Ascot? Or had happened at a cricket match? One is left with the uncomfortable realisation that the administration of justice in Britain is not even handed.

If justice is not even handed, neither has been the response of many of those in power, or some sections of the press. The attempt to blame the victims is shocking. It now appears that at least one newspaper published a completely fabricated story about the events at Hillsborough and the behaviour of the fans on that terrible afternoon. Can we ever trust such newspapers again?

Even more worrying is the revelation that a senior police officer lied, and kept on lying for quarter of a century. This is flabbergasting. When someone lies to us, it usually entails a dramatic loss of trust in that person. How can we ever trust the police again? Their reputation has been tarnished of late by a series of follies. This latest revelation leads to inescapable conclusion that Britain’s police forces need to take urgent steps to rebuild public confidence in them. This is extremely serious: untrustworthy police forces are a hallmark of Third World countries, places where the rule of law does not exist.

Britain was once justly proud of its police and of the way it observed the rule of law. Hillsborough should convince us that we cannot take anything for granted any more. Our police are far from perfect, our judicial system seems broken, and people from the perceived wrong side of tracks have to wait a generation to be vindicated in the courts. It’s not good enough.

Given that this is a Catholic magazine, it is useful to remind ourselves of the principles of Catholic social teaching, which could act as a useful corrective in this case.

First of all, all are called to participate in national life: there are no ‘them’ and ‘us’, no people on the wrong side of the tracks, indeed no tracks. We should show solidarity with each other, which is based on the realisation that what affects one section of the community affects us all.

Secondly, we should all adhere to the common good: a justice system that take so long, and newspapers that defame the dead and the suffering, do not contribute to the common good, rather they have a morally corrosive effect on national life. As someone once said: we are all in this together. If only that were so. We need to change, and to make that pious wish a reality.