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The Hillsborough disaster’s creation of a powerful campaign

ByCaitlin O'Connor

Mar 30, 2018

For resistance to most effectively damage the oppressive force, organisation is key. Within a movement, different roles should be taken up, depending on individual activists and the context of the movement.

One of the most successful and enduring campaigns in British history is Liverpool’s boycott of The Sun. On 15th April 1989, 96 Liverpool FC fans were unlawfully killed at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium. As the initial steps were taken towards inquiry, a lie was created to definitively blame Liverpool fans for the deaths of the 96.

Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield of the South Yorkshire Police, whose responsibility at the match was to protect the football fans from harm, told the FA that fans had broken down a gate outside the stadium, which led to an inrush into the pens and the deadly crush. In reality, Duckenfield had ordered the opening of the gate to alleviate a crush outside. This lie informed the first inquest, which sought to demonise the fans and disgrace the dead.

This myth, created initially by Duckenfield – who is currently awaiting trial for manslaughter – was cultivated by The Sun, which, on 19th April 1989, published the infamous front page: ‘The Truth’; “Some fans picked pockets of victims,” “Some fans urinated on brave cops”, “Some fans beat up PC giving kiss of life”. The paper went on to valorise the police officers many of whom stood idly by awaiting instruction from Duckenfield that never came.

A documentary charting the Hillsborough disaster, which was released in April 2016 following the conclusion of the inquest, which stated that Liverpool fans were not to blame for the deaths of the 96, is the best insight into the events of 1989. In the programme, Professor Phil Scraton, the academic campaigner behind the Hillsborough justice campaign and a Liverpool icon, tells of the press culture that prioritised scoops over sources. Some officers of the South Yorkshire police had told these lies to journalists, leading to the 27-year cover-up of the truth.

Since 1989, the city of Liverpool and the surrounding areas of Merseyside has boycotted The Sun. The ‘Don’t Buy The Sun’ campaign has taken the form of fundraising concerts, posters plastered around the city, and the boycott. According to various estimates, it costs The Sun millions of pounds every month.

The nature of the boycott is an act of resistance against a right-wing media that demonises working class culture – while many at the game would not identify as such, the creation of the myth about Liverpool fans was inherently classist. It is an increasingly significant act of resistance in proving a city’s strength, its loyalty to the 96, and the outright rejection of hatred. While The Sun is still in print, and the Murdoch empire is expanding, this boycott has informed the perception of The Sun as one that incites hatred and divides Britain. The Murdoch bid to own Sky, for instance, has been injected with questions such as ‘What about Hillsborough?’, leading in part to the conclusion made by the Competition and Markets Authority that it is not in the public interest for Sky to be fully owned by the Murdochs.

The ‘Don’t Buy The Sun’ campaign worked closely with the Hillsborough Independent Panel and the Justice for the 96 campaign. The unified work of these bodies, through active campaigning, working with MPs and speaking publicly about Hillsborough, resulted in the inquest result in 2016 which finally exonerated the fans and the dead.

While the ‘Don’t Buy The Sun’ campaign has not led to the closure of the paper, it is an important act of resistance. Not all resistance can be active, but it should work closely with the more resistant activists to achieve a common aim. All campaigns need a movement, and every action in that movement needs to be carefully balanced and organised depending on the situation. Only then can resistance achieve progress.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

By Caitlin O'Connor

Caitlin is a 3rd year History and English Literature student, and a regular writer for The Student.

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