Friday, September 14, 2012

I Don't Believe You

Throughout a memorable day at Liverpool's Anglican cathedral for the families of the ninety six people who lost their lives so utterly needlessly at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough football ground in 1989, one phrase dominated above all else: 'the truth.' These were the words most infamously abused by that sour and disgraceful headline in the Sun, above a series of stories which we now know, in extraordinarily shocking detail, were lies, fed to an arse-licking journalist - and his scumbag editor - by the South Yorkshire police (via a local MP who was, seemingly, complicit in their mendacity). All to deflect their own culpability and incompetence at the disaster coming to light and, instead, passing the blame on to the innocent victims themselves. And, if the sheer disgusting disgracefulness of that doesn't make you sick to the pit of your stomach, dear blog reader, there was plenty more in the three hundred and ninety five page report to do the trick.
    The panel, constituted in 2009 on the initiative of the then Labour ministers Andy Burnham and Maria Eagle (both MPs with Merseyside connections), found one hundred and sixteen of one hundred and sixty four statements supplied by South Yorkshire Police in response to the disaster were subsequently changed to 'remove or alter comments directly unfavourable to South Yorkshire Police.' In the days after the disaster, a narrative took hold that drunken Liverpool fans had caused the situation by forcing a gate open. Allegations were printed in national newspapers that Liverpool fans had pick-pocketed the dead and hampered rescue attempts, most notably - although by no means uniquely - in an infamous Sun front page, headlined The Truth, which led to a boycott of the paper on Merseyside that (rightly) continues to this day. The Sun editor at the time, odious bucket-of-slime Kelvin MacKenzie, on Wednesday offered 'profuse apologies' for the first time in twenty three years despite having numerous previous opportunities to do so. The day that the Sun allegations were published - Tuesday 19 April 1989, four days after the tragedy - the report describes an extraordinary meeting of the South Yorkshire Police Federation in the Pickwick restaurant in Sheffield. At the meeting, the chief constable of South Yorkshire Police, Peter Wright, who died last year, said that officers should not talk to the media and should 'prepare a rock solid story.' He said the force needed to 'take control' of the narrative presented to the inquiry and that 'if anybody should be blamed, it should be the drunken, ticketless individuals.' 'When you get the chief constable sitting down with his trade union to cobble together a solid story, then you know we've reached a new depth of depravity,' said Trevor Hicks, who lost two daughters, Sarah and Victoria, at Hillsborough and is president of the Hillsborough Family Support Group. 'There were two disasters at Hillsborough. The one on the day and the one afterwards. It was not only a disaster, it was a contrived, manipulated, vengeful and spiteful attempt to shift the blame.'
    A fresh inquest into the disaster is likely to be ordered after the full scale of the establishment cover-up over the disaster was revealed for the first time. Criminal prosecutions of key figures are also possible after the Hillsborough Independent Panel – which was chaired by the bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, and had unrestricted access to four hundred and fifty thousand documents over three years – revealed the depth of a police cover-up which swung into action within hours of the tragedy happening. It confirmed Lord Justice Taylor's key finding after his initial inquiry in August 1989 that the main reason for the disaster was 'a failure in police control.' But it also revealed that 'multiple failures' in other emergency services and public bodies also contributed to the death toll. Similarly, serious failings in the inquests and reviews which followed prolonged the agony of the families of the victims. Legal representatives for the families of the ninety six victims crushed to death at the Leppings Lane end of the ground said that South Yorkshire Police, Sheffield city council and Sheffield Wednesday Football Club could all face charges for corporate manslaughter. The Hillsborough Panel found the safety of fans admitted to the terrace at Leppings Lane was 'compromised at every level.' From the condition of the turnstiles to the management of the crowd, alterations to the terrace, the construction of the 'pens' into which fans were herded, like cattle, the placement of the crush barriers and the access to the fateful central pens via an entrance tunnel with a one in six gradient. The deficiencies were 'well known' and made the crush 'foreseeable.' yet nothing was done to prevent it. According to documents disclosed to the inquiry, there was a serious crush on the terrace at the 1981 FA Cup semi-final between Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers in which 'many people were injured and fatalities narrowly avoided.' New documents show following that incident there was a breakdown in the relationship between Sheffield Wednesday and South Yorkshire Police, which considered the capacity of the terrace too high at ten thousand one hundred.
     The ground was not used for semi finals again until 1987, by which time there had been various moderations and alterations – none of which led to revised safety certificates being issues. Indeed, as any football fan who attended the ground will know - like this blogger when his beloved Newcastle United visited Hillsborough in November 1983 and visiting fans were, as usual, housed in the Leppings Lane end - with hindsight this was tragedy which was simply waiting to happen. And, if it hadn't happened at Hillsborough it would probably have happened somewhere else. Recommendations to feed the pens from designated turnstiles, enabling the club to monitor the number of fans in each one, were ignored because it would have 'cost too much.' 'It is evident from the disclosed documents that South Yorkshire Police were preoccupied with crowd management [but] Sheffield Wednesday's primary concern was to limit costs,' the report noted. The issue of congested access to the turnstiles remained unresolved, with over twenty four thousand fans entering through twenty three turnstiles at Leppings Lane. The panel found that key issues were not 'discussed or recorded' at annual safety inspections. There was a delayed kick-off at the 1987 FA Cup semi-final and also crushing at the 1988 semi-final (also between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest). A concerned fan even wrote to the Football Association after the 1988 semi-final to highlight the problem which he had seen first hand. His letter was, seemingly, ignored. Well, he was a football supporter in the 1980s, he'd've been well used to being treated like something the FA, and the police, and politicians of all parties scraped off the sole of their shoe.
     The debriefings from both 1987 and 1988 were described as 'inadequate.' 'From the earliest safety assessments made by safety engineers commissioned in 1978 by Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, it was apparent that the stadium failed to meet minimum standards under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975,' the report stated. 'Recommendations to feed fans directly from designated turnstiles into each pen, thus monitoring precisely the distribution of fans between the pens, were not acted on because of anticipated costs to SWFC. The fire service raised concerns about provision for emergency evacuation of the terraces. As the only means of escaping forwards was onto the pitch, concern was raised specifically about the width of the perimeter fence gates which was well below the standard recommended by The Green Guide. The gradient of the tunnel under the West Stand leading down onto the terrace also significantly breached the Green Guide's recommendation. While modifications were made inside the stadium, the issue of congested access to the turnstiles outside the stadium remained unresolved. Following alterations, the safety of the existing maximum capacity for the Leppings Lane terrace was questioned, repeatedly, yet the decision was taken by the Club and the safety engineers not to revise the figure.'
     The decision to replace an experienced match commander, chief superintendent Brian Mole, with one who had minimal experience of Hillsborough, chief superintendent David Duckenfield, on the day of the tragedy remains, to this day, unexplained. But the panel found that 'flaws in responding to the emerging crisis on the day were rooted in institutional tension within and between organisations.' There was inadequate communication and senior officers' decision making was hampered by a malfunctioning radio system and the design of the control box. The management roles and responsibilities of the police were 'unclear' and the prevailing mindset 'prioritised crowd control over crowd safety.' Which was, simply, how it was in those days up and down the country. The police appeared to regard all football supporters as scum of the earth, to be contained and, wherever possible made to suffer the maximum discomfort and inconvenience. Again, just about every single football supporter in this country will have a story or two about a 'near-Hillsborough' which they themselves witnessed or were in the middle of (this blogger's own include a trip to, of all places, Barnsley - note, the same South Yorkshire Police force - in 1982 and another, even more scary, trip to Tottenham for an FA Cup tie in 1987 which is notorious among Newcastle fans for the disgusting treatment dished out to them by the alleged forces of law and order). Duckenfield acceded to a request for Hillsborough's exit gate C to be opened to 'relieve pressure' outside the ground but failed to anticipate the impact on the already-packed central pen of fans descending the tunnel directly opposite. There was no instruction given to manage the flow or the direction of the incoming crowd. 'From the documents provided to the panel it is clear the crush at the Leppings Lane turnstiles outside the stadium was not caused by fans arriving "late" for the kick-off,' the report concluded, destroying one, long held, myth about the tragedy. Unlike previous years, fans were not filtered or checked on their approach to the ground. South Yorkshire Police said the distribution of fans between the pens was based on 'an informal practice' which allowed fans to 'find their own level.' Information relating to a crush at the previous year's semi-final was deleted from officers' statements and information showing that they had controlled access to the tunnel once central pens were full was also deleted from some statements. 'Senior South Yorkshire Police officers denied knowledge of tunnel closures at previous semi-finals. Yet South Yorkshire Police officers responsible for closing the tunnel in 1988 claimed they had acted, on that occasion, "under instructions" from senior officers,' it said.
     For a prolonged period, the number of casualties and their serious nature overwhelmed those involved in the initial rescue. The panel found the emergency response to the disaster had not previously been fully examined because of the (wrongful) assumption that the outcome for those who died was irretrievably fixed long before they could have helped. Disclosed documents show senior officers interpreted crowd unrest in the Leppings Lane end as a sign of 'potential disorder' and were slow to recognise that spectators were being 'crushed, injured and killed.' Ambulance service officers were even slower than police to realise the severity of the crush, despite being close to the central pens. Neither fully activated the major incident procedure. Disclosed documents show 'clear and repeated evidence of failures in leadership and emergency response co-ordination.' There was a lack of basic equipment and no triage. Statements and ambulance transcripts reveal opportunities to exercise control were missed for almost an hour. The stadium's gymnasium was used as a temporary mortuary for unexplained reasons and intrusive questioning about the social and drinking habits of the deceased was perceived as being 'insensitive and irrelevant.' The evidence from pathologists led the coroner, Doctor Stefan Popper, to impose a cut off time of 3.15pm for his inquest – based on the assumption that all of those who died were already critically injured or brain dead by then. But the panel found that idea was 'unsustainable.' The panel found there was 'clear evidence' that twenty eight of those who died did not have traumatic asphyxia and it may have taken longer to be fatal. There was separate evidence that the heart and lungs of thirty one victims had continued to function after the crush and that was for a prolonged period in sixteen of the cases. Some of the dead featured in both groups, but in all forty one victims fell into one or both category.
     Finally, despite the coroner ordering blood alcohol levels to be taken from all the deceased - including all of the children, some as young as ten - there was 'no evidence to support the proposition that alcohol played any part in the genesis of the disaster and it is regrettable that those in positions of responsibility created and promoted a portrayal of drunkness as contributing to the disaster.' Throughout multiple investigations including the 1989 Taylor inquiry, the coroner's inquiry and inquest and a criminal inquiry led by West Midlands Police, the panel said it was 'evident' that South Yorkshire Police sought to establish a case emphasising 'exceptional levels of drunkenness and aggression' among Liverpool fans, alleging many had arrived at the stadium late, without tickets and determined to force entry to the ground. The panel found that the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher was 'very likely' given this version of events when she arrived in Liverpool on the Sunday after the disaster, though it found no evidence that she had, specifically, 'colluded' with them. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, South Yorkshire Police prioritised an internal investigation and the collection of handwritten statements in which officers should consider themselves 'the accused.' Following the publication of the Taylor report, which laid the blame at the door of the police and exonerated the fans, the prime minister was briefed by her private secretary that the 'defensive – at times close to deceitful – behaviour by the senior officers in South Yorkshire sounds depressingly familiar.' In Cabinet papers, however, Thatcher was said to have expressed her 'concern' that the 'broad thrust' of Taylor's report constituted 'a devastating criticism of the police' and told the Home Secretary that the government should not 'welcome' its findings. Douglas Hurd's comments after the publication of the report were, as a consequence, changed.
     It emerged in 1997 that senior South Yorkshire Police officers had subjected the statements of junior officers on duty at Hillsborough to a process of 'review and alteration.' The police themselves claimed that it was done to 'remove conjecture and opinion' from the junior officers' statements, leaving only 'matters of fact.' However, the panel found that the statements were actually changed, by senior South Yorkshire Police officers working with the force's solicitor, to alter, delete or qualify any comments made by officers which were likely to be 'unhelpful to the force's case.' Of one hundred and sixty four statements substantially amended, the panel found one hundred and sixteen were to 'remove or alter comments unfavourable to South Yorkshire Police.' Allegations of drunkenness by supporters were emphasised, criticism of the police's own operation or of senior officers was changed or deleted. The panel also found that statements from the South Yorkshire Metropolitan ambulance service were also altered. 'In a number of cases they deflected criticisms and emphasised the efficiency of the SYMAS response.' Margaret Aspinall, whose son James, then eighteen, died at what should have been a joyful day out, an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in spring sunshine, said that the families had been forced to fight, for twenty three years, for the truth. Aspinall, the chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, said that although the families' loss would 'never fade', she was 'delighted' at the unequivocal, 'profound' apology given for Hillsborough's savage failings by David Cameron.
    The panel, chaired by the bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, had inspected four hundred and fifty thousand documents generated by the police, Sheffield Wednesday and all other bodies responsible, and delivered its remarkable three hundred and ninety five-page report indicting official failings and vindicating the victims and football supporters. Some of what happened to cause the disaster, and the police's subsequent blame-shifting, had already been exposed over these long decades. But the sheer depth of what the families call 'a cover-up', in particular the deliberate, relentless South Yorkshire Police campaign to avoid its own responsibilities and craft the false case against the supporters, was still startling to all who heard it. In a concerted campaign begun even as the dead were still lying in a temporary mortuary in Hillsborough's gymnasium – led, the panel found, by the chief constable, Peter Wright – the South Yorkshire Police marshalled their story that drunken supporters or those without tickets had caused the disaster. The victims, most younger than thirty, many of them teenagers, the youngest aged just ten, had their blood tested for alcohol levels. This was 'an exceptional decision,' the panel said, for which it found 'no rationale.' One of the new revelations from this extraordinary process, in which all the organisations released to the panel their internal documents relating to Hillsborough, was that where victims had no alcohol in their blood, the police then checked to find out if any had criminal records.
    The report, substantially authored by professor Phil Scraton of Queen's University, Belfast, and unanimously agreed by the panel of eight experts, found there was 'no evidence to verify the serious allegations of exceptional levels of drunkenness, ticketlessness or violence among Liverpool fans.' The report found that even as the family members, many of them parents stricken with the loss of their children, were plunged into the most dreadful of nightmares, Wright was meeting his police federation in a Sheffield restaurant to prepare 'a defence' and 'a rock-solid story.' The secretary of the South Yorkshire Police federation branch, constable Paul Middup, according to the minutes cited by the panel, told the restaurant meeting before Wright turned up: 'The chief constable had said the truth could not come from him, but had given the secretary a totally free hand and supported him,' as had many senior officers. The meeting, at the Pickwick restaurant in Sheffield, was held on the morning of 19 April 1989, just four days after the disaster. It was the day that Kelvin MacKenzie's Sun newspaper splashed its headline The Truth over a whole series of lies fed to it, via White's Press agency, by, the panel found, four senior South Yorkshire police officers and a local MP. Middup was encouraged to continue this police campaign of defaming Liverpool supporters for supposed drunkenness and misbehaviour and 'to get the message – togetherness – across to the force.' The panel's report sustained the allegation made in parliament – by the Labour Merseyside MP Maria Eagle – that the orchestrated changing of junior officers' statements by senior South Yorkshire police officers amounted to a 'black propaganda unit.' The officers' statements, presented as official police accounts to the subsequent inquiry by Lord Justice Taylor, were changed to delete criticism of the police themselves on the day, and, largely, emphasise misbehaviour by supporters. The panel found that the operation went as deep and extensive, statements being amended 'to remove or alter comments unfavourable to South Yorkshire Police.' The police had claimed this was done only to remove 'conjecture' and 'opinion' from the statements, but the panel had no doubt the operation, to craft a case rather than deliver truthful police accounts, went further. 'It was done to remove criticism of the police,' Scraton said.
     This propaganda did not convince Taylor. He ruled as quickly as August 1989 that the police stories of fan drunkenness and misbehaviour were entirely false, and criticised the police for advancing such claims. Taylor exposed that Sheffield Wednesday's football ground was unsafe in crucial respects, that the Football Association had selected it as the venue for its prestigious match without even checking if Hillsborough had a valid safety certificate, which it did not. In that landscape of neglect, it was the mismanagement of the crowd by South Yorkshire Police, commanded by an inexperienced Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, which was 'the prime cause' of the disaster. The police lost control outside the ground, where twenty four thousand Liverpool fans had to be funnelled through just twenty three turnstiles, so Duckenfield ordered a large exit gate to be opened and a large number of people to be allowed in. His 'blunder of the first magnitude,' according to Taylor, was the failure to close off the tunnel which led to the already overcrowded central 'pens' of the Leppings Lane terrace.
     That much was already established by Taylor, yet the police, undaunted, brazenly repeated their claims to the subsequent inquest and were allowed to get away with it. Its procedure was marked by the coroner's decision not to take evidence of what happened after 3.15pm on the day of the disaster, thereby excluding an emergency response the panel found to have been chaotic. The finding that forty one of the ninety six who died could possibly have been saved had the police and ambulance service done their jobs decently is damning of those bodies and, Aspinall said, difficult for the families to contemplate. The attorney general, Dominic Grieve, is now, in the light of the panel's report, to consider whether to make an application to the high court for the inquest verdict of accidental death to be quashed and a new inquest held. There may be prosecutions too, after all these years, of Sheffield Wednesday, South Yorkshire Police and Sheffield city council, which failed in its duty to oversee safety of the football ground. The damning report also, for the first time, identifies Tory MP, Irvine Patnick, and high-ranking South Yorkshire police officers, as the - previously nameless - 'sources' for the allegations that led to the Sun's notorious front page. The April 1989 splash claimed in three sub-headlines that: 'Some fans picked pockets of victims; Some fans urinated on the brave cops; Some fans beat up PC giving kiss of life.' Other papers also carried the story but qualified it by saying there were 'reports' that fans had been abusive or that these were 'claims' made by police officers rather than, as the odious louse MacKenzie did, stating they were 'the truth.' Documents released to the Hillsborough independent panel showed that the South Yorkshire Police federation and Patnick, the then MP for Sheffield Hallam, were responsible for passing false allegations to White's Press Agency in Sheffield which led, indirectly, to the Sun story - these lies had been first picked up, a day earlier, by the Evening Standard. The Scum Express and the Scum Mail also carried versions of it. In the past MacKenzie has merely said that 'a Tory MP' had made the allegations, protesting that his only 'mistake was I believed what an MP said.' The prime minister told parliament that the families 'were right' to have 'long believed that some of the authorities attempted to create a completely unjust account of events that sought to blame the fans for what happened.'
      In an opening address on the report, Cameron said: 'Several newspapers reported false allegations that fans were drunk and violent and stole from the dead. The Sun's report sensationalised these allegations under a banner headline The Truth. This was clearly wrong and caused huge offence, distress and hurt.' Cameron revealed that News International had 'co-operated' with the Hillsborough panel. 'For the first time, today's report reveals that the source for these despicable untruths was a Sheffield news agency reporting conversations with South Yorkshire police and Irvine Patnick, the then MP for Sheffield Hallam,' said Cameron. During questions about MacKenzie's legacy in relation to Hillsborough, Cameron said he 'hopes [MacKenzie] stands up to his responsibilities.' Asked by Labour MP Chris Bryant whether the Sun should apologise, Cameron said he understood that the paper had done so in the past. However he added what the paper had written was 'appalling' and 'my view is that Kelvin MacKenzie needs to take responsibility for that.' He added: 'Now is the time for proper heartfelt apologies, not only "I'm sorry" but "here's what went wrong."' The current editor of the Sun, Dominic Mohan, said on Wednesday that the paper was 'deeply ashamed and profoundly sorry' for publishing 'an inaccurate and offensive story' and would be 'reflect our deep sense of shame' in Thursday's edition- with its headline The Real Truth. Which, to be fair to them, they did.
      In July 2004, the Sun said it was 'truly sorry' and that its false allegations were 'the most terrible mistake in its history.' Less than a year later, in February 2005, the Sun's managing editor Graham Dudman, admitted in a BBC documentary that the Hillsborough coverage was 'the worst mistake in our history.' However a year later, old wounds were re-opened after the odious MacKenzie was quoted as saying at a private business lunch with a Newcastle law firm: 'All I did wrong was tell the truth. I was not sorry then and I'm not sorry now because we told the truth.' Or, not. Boris Johnson, meanwhile, has apologised for an article in the Spectator magazine in 2004 when he was editor which also claimed that drunken fans were 'partly responsible' for the Hillsborough tragedy. Johnson, who at the time held down the job of editor at the political magazine while also serving as a shadow minister for the arts and vice-chairman of the Conservative party, ran an editorial following the death of Kenneth Bigley, an engineer from Liverpool who was killed in Iraq after being held hostage, which referred to Hillsborough. In an article that accused Liverpudlians of 'wallowing in their victim status,' the editorial stated: 'The deaths of more than fifty Liverpool football supporters at Hillsborough in 1989 was undeniably a greater tragedy than the single death, however horrible, of Mr Bigley; but that is no excuse for Liverpool's failure to acknowledge, even to this day, the part played in the disaster by drunken fans at the back of the crowd who mindlessly tried to fight their way into the ground that Saturday afternoon.' Johnson said on Thursday that he was 'very, very sorry' for the comments. The London mayor - and hairdo - said: 'I'm very glad that this report does lay to rest the false allegation that was made at the time about the behaviour of those fans. I was very, very sorry in 2004 that the Spectator did carry an editorial that partially repeated those allegations, I apologised then and I apologise now. I do hope the families of the ninety six victims will take some comfort from this report and that they can reach some sort of closure.' Eight years ago, the then MP for Henley-on-Thames was forced to apologise and received a 'kick up the pants' from the then Conservative leader Michael Howard over his comments and was subsequently dispatched to Liverpool to mend bridges.
     The columnist Simon Heffer recently revealed that he, at Johnson's request, had drafted the article. He wrote: 'Michael Howard, who was then Tory leader, fired him shortly afterwards following a row over a leading article in the Spectator magazine, which Mr Johnson was editing in his "spare" time as a shadow minister. It attacked the culture of sentimentality in Liverpool, which had just announced a two-minute silence because of the murder by militants in Iraq of a local man held hostage there. I know a bit about this episode, because I wrote the first draft of the article, at Mr Johnson's request. When I heard the piece (which described Liverpool "wallowing in victim status") had created a furore in the city and that Mr Johnson was in trouble with Michael Howard, I offered to ring the then Tory leader and admit responsibility. Mr Johnson, most creditably I thought, refused to let me do this, saying he was the editor of the magazine, and it was his duty to deal with the matter. Perhaps, though, this response was because he felt he was untouchable, for his penitent tour of Liverpool earned him more admirers. Then he went on to become mayor of London, and now has the apparently legitimate ambition to be Tory leader and prime minister.' Trevor Hicks, both of whose teenage daughters, Sarah and Victoria, died in the Leppings Lane crush, said the Hillsborough victims families will pursue all legal redress: 'The truth is out today,' Hicks said. 'Tomorrow is for justice.' Margaret Aspinall said she felt a 'profound sense of outrage and injustice' at the campaign she and other families have been forced to fight, especially as the 'real truth' was known to authorities all along. 'What the families have been put through for twenty three years was a disgrace, to put the families through this much pain.' She complained that while the families had to find the money to pay their own costs through years of legal processes, the South Yorkshire Police, individual officers and other public bodies had theirs paid by the taxpayer. 'Yet,' she said, 'they were liars and we were the truthful ones.' Bishop Jones, sitting calmly in the cathedral from which he performs his duties to the diocese of Liverpool, said that as a pastor he was 'committed to a just and fair world.' He added: 'That goes to the heart of our work as a panel: we are looking for truth, and justice.' And there was that word again. After so many years, so much pain, so long and terrible a battle waged by families who would not give up for their loved ones, it has been finally reclaimed. The truth.

Ex-Home Secretary Jack Straw has said Margaret Thatcher's government created a 'culture of impunity' in the police which led to the Hillsborough cover-up. An independent report accused the South Yorkshire Police of deflecting blame for the disaster on to innocent fans. But Labour's Mr Straw said the then Conservative government was complicit because they needed 'partisan' support from the police. Straw said that it was 'a matter of great regret' to him that Labour had not ensured that the disaster had been investigated thoroughly enough earlier in its time in office, between 1997 and 2010. But he also told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'The Thatcher government, because they needed the police to be a partisan force, particularly for the miners strike and other industrial troubles, created a culture of impunity in the police service. They really were immune from outside influences and they thought they could rule the roost and that is what we absolutely saw in south Yorkshire.' David Mellor, the former Conservative cabinet minister, said Straw's remarks were disappointing. 'I'm astonished that he should divert attention away from what we should really be talking about today, which is how we bring to book those police officers who perverted the course of justice by altering the statements of their colleagues,' he said. 'I was a Home Office minister for five years in the 1980s, I took through Parliament the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, the first time tape recorders and microphones were introduced in police stations to ensure that the police could not fit up defendants by inventing confessions. Our conscience is very clear on the police.' Labour shadow cabinet member Andy Burnham, who commissioned the Hillsborough report in the first place, praised the prime minister's statement in the Commons on Wednesday, and said he did not want to make political points. Asked about Straw's comments, he said that 'everyone has questions to answer, ourselves included. The welfare, safety, of ordinary people was cast aside as some very heavy-handed approaches to policing were adopted.' he told the BBC. 'Everyone needs to have an open discussion about how this culture of negligence, the sheer mendacity of the police force in pursuing the victims and survivors of that tragedy, how on earth as a society we ever let that to happen.'

Meanwhile, there's a very interesting piece by the Gruniad's Roy Greenslade on why the Mirra didn't run a similar story to the Sun in 1989: 'Three days after the tragedy, the Mirror had three reporters in Liverpool - the vastly experienced Syd Young (now retired), plus Christian Gysin (now with the Daily Mail) and Gordon Hay (now running a media consultancy in Scotland). The London newsdesk called to alert them to copy that had been filed by Whites news agency in Sheffield that afternoon. It made serious allegations against the Liverpool fans, claiming they had been drunk, had pick-pocketed victims and had urinated on policemen. The trio were told by the newsdesk briefer that he had previously called the paper's two reporters in Sheffield - the late Ted Oliver and Frank Thorne (now freelancing in Australia) - with the same information. They had looked into it and rejected it as untrue. They told the desk they could not stand up the allegations so they would not be filing. Oliver actually said that if such a story appeared under his byline he would resign. So Young, Gysin and Hay made calls too and couldn't find any supporting evidence for the allegations. Indeed, all the indications they were getting suggested "the Yorkshire cops were trying to divert attention away from their own failings."' Three national dailies, meanwhile, failed to lead on Thursday with the Hillsborough report - the Financial Times, the Daily Scum Express and Daily Torygraph. Given its business agenda, FT's decision was unsurprising. The Scum Express has a lengthy record of refusing to give top billing to big stories that everyone else thinks important. It went with some risible nonsense about migrants (so, no surprise there). But the Torygraph's omission was more surprising. It preferred to lead on a story about hospital patients' lives being at risk due to a critical shortage of out-of-hours doctors, a very important story, to be fair. Even accepting the importance of that topic, however, surely the Hillsborough report deserved some space on the front page as well? There was a blurb over the masthead to five pages of, admittedly very good, coverage in the sports section, including two excellent commentaries, one by Henry Winter. There was also a thoughtful article by the former Liverpool footballer, Alan Hansen, now a Torygraph columnist, who was in the team that played that day at Hillsborough. He wrote: 'I have encountered ignorance about Hillsborough on many occasions, finding myself having to correct the inaccurate version of events. Recently I was at an event when the tragedy became a topic of conversation. "Yes, but really. It was the Liverpool fans who were responsible wasn't it," I was told. You can put straight those who say this, but then feel deeply disturbed that such a view still exists. How could anyone fail to know the fans were blameless in 1989? But regardless of how angry I feel hearing such views expressed, what must the families have suffered hearing similar for twenty three years? The report explicitly removes the excuse of ignorance for those who misunderstood the tragedy. Each sentence in it reads as a tribute to the honesty, integrity and dignity of the families and is an acknowledgement of everything they have been saying since those first, scurrilous accusations surfaced.' To used one of Hansen's most widely-used catchphrases, 'unbelievable.'

The Leveson Inquiry into media ethics has 'strayed' far beyond its remit, a senior Conservative MP has said. John Whittingdale, chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, and clearly aiming for a seat at the top table of Murdoch-lickers alongside the vile and odious rascal and the rat-faced loathsome wretched odious nasty slavver-merchant and George Formby lookalike, suggested Lord Leveson had invited 'anybody who has a grudge against the press' to give evidence. No he didn't, he didn't invite this blogger for a kick-off. This is why the inquiry had encompassed 'controversial issues' such as Page Three girls, Whitteringdale told BBC Radio 4. 'You don't need a judicial inquiry to look into that,' he said. Why not, exactly? In an interview with The Media Show, Whittingdale said: 'Some of the witnesses have borne grudges about treatment by the press, quite understandably, but it has looked slightly like "come and form an orderly queue and come and kick the press."' And again, I ask, why not? He claimed it would be 'a dangerous road to go down' if Lord Justice Leveson recommended statutory regulation of the press. 'There will be great pressure on the prime minister to immediately accept the recommendations made by Leveson. I hope he won't, whatever it is,' he said. The Conservative backbencher said Lord Leveson had 'encouraged anybody who has a grudge against the press over many years to come and unburden themselves in front of him, and as a result he has been looking at things which just seem to be a long way from what he was meant to be doing. Things like the question of Page Three girls. That's a controversial issue but you don't need a judicial inquiry to look into that.'

A married couple have been arrested by police who are investigating alleged corrupt and naughty payments to public officials. The husband, a forty two-year-old member of the armed forces, was arrested on suspicion of corruption, misconduct in a public office, and conspiracy to commit both offences. His wife, thirty two, was held on suspicion of conspiracy to commit corruption and conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office. They were being questioned in Surrey. The arrests were part of the Met Police's Operation Elveden, which is investigating allegations of inappropriate payments to police and public officials. It is running alongside Operation Weeting, the probe into phone hacking. The woman was arrested at her home address in Chertsey at 06:00, while the man was arrested at an address in Camberley about half an hour later. Scotland Yard said the arrests were the result of information provided by News Corporation's management standards committee, which was set up in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal. The arrests take the number of suspects questioned as part of the two police operations to forty six. Most recently, on Tuesday a prison officer in Northampton was held by Operation Elveden detectives on suspicion of conspiracy to corrupt and misconduct in a public office. Another man, twenty eight, was arrested on the same day under Operation Tuleta, which is looking at computer hacking, the alleged illegal accessing of stolen mobile phones and other privacy breaches and nefarious skulduggery.

The Crown Prosecution Service has published its final guidelines on the prosecution of journalists over illicit newsgathering methods, with so-called 'fishing expeditions' to 'face closer scrutiny.' Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, said on Thursday that the guidance underlines the need for prosecutors to consider 'public interest factors' before deciding whether to bring criminal charges against journalists. 'The purpose of the guidelines is to strike the right balance between the important public interest in a free press and the need to prosecute serious wrongdoing,' said Starmer. Changes following a five-month consultation on the draft guidelines include fresh guidance on prosecutions in cases involving so-called 'fishing expeditions,' and examples of stories that could be described as 'raising important matters of public debate.' The guidance advises prosecutors to consider what information was available to a journalist at the start of their investigation into the target of a story. This means that fishing expeditions – where the journalist does not have prima facie evidence of wrongdoing before using illicit newsgathering methods – will face 'closer scrutiny' by prosecutors when deciding whether to launch criminal proceedings. Another section gives examples for the first time about what prosecutors should consider 'important matters of public debate.' The guidance says that 'serious impropriety,' 'significant unethical conduct' and 'significant incompetence' should all fall under this category. The revised guidelines contain more detail about invasions of privacy by journalists. Prosecutors are advised to examine the particular impact of the invasion of privacy – which could include voicemail interception or e-mail hacking – on the victim. 'When considering invasions of privacy, regard must be given to the level of seriousness of the invasion, whether on the facts there was a reasonable expectation of privacy, and whether the conduct in question was proportionate to the public interest claimed to have been served,' the CPS guidelines state. The guidelines come into force immediately and represent the first formal CPS policy involving the prosecution of journalists. They follow an unprecedented spate of arrests of journalists – at least eighty four – in Scotland Yard's investigation into alleged phone-hacking, computer-hacking, other breaches of privacy, and payments to police and public officials. The CPS said it had examined ongoing prosecutions in this area – including the high-profile charges brought against former News International chief executive and well-known Crystal Tipps lookalike Rebekah Brooks and the former Scum of the World editor Andy Coulson – and decided they are 'in line' with the formal guidance published on Thursday. Prosecutors are advised to consider whether the public interest served by journalistic conduct outweighs the overall criminality before bringing criminal proceedings.

Has the Doctor finally met his match? One only asks the question because Lord Sugar-Sweetie is alleged to crop up in this Saturday's episode of Doctor Who, at least according to the Daily Lies. They claim he appears in his Apprentice role after millions of black cubes appear all over the world and he challenges his wannabe entrepreneurs to sell as many of them as possible. Of course, this is the same Daily Lies with a long - and by long we mean really long - history of talking utter shit about who is and isn't going to be appearing on Doctor Who. So, you know, as ever, take this with a Siberian salt-mine full of salt.

Episodes has been renewed for a third season by the BBC and Showtime. The sitcom starring Matt LeBlanc as a fictionalised version of himself will return in 2013 for a nine-episode run. Co-produced by Showtime and the BBC, it will enter production in Los Angeles and London next year. Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig also star in the comedy about a British married writing couple who head over to the US for a largely-reworked American version of their UK programme.

John Simm and Maxine Peake are to star in new BBC1 drama The Village. The series - written by Peter Moffat - follows the residents of one English village across the Twentieth Century and their turbulent lives. Newcomer Bill Jones will play Bert Middleton, the youngest child of a poor family whose parents John (Simm) and Grace (Peake) struggle to provide for him. Upstairs Downstairs actor Nico Mirallegro will also star as their second son Joe, who works at the Big House and comes into contact with the troubled Caro (Emily Beecham). Charlie Murphy will play village newcomer Martha Lane, who has a big impact on Bert's life, while Anthony Flanagan, Annabelle Apsion, Joe Armstrong, Matt Stokoe and Stephen Walters will also appear. Simm said: 'I'm delighted to be working with such a great director (Antonia Bird) and brilliant writer in Peter - I've long been a fan of both, alongside such a great cast.' 'Beautiful writing - a period piece when we're not focusing on the decision makers but the working people,' Maxine Peake added. 'It is so great to see the other side - changes within a chain of social and political life, in minutiae. My character, Grace, channels all her energy into her family with a focus on ambition and the idea of freedom for her sons. Women moving into the workplace as the men went to fight and finding independence.' The six-part series of The Village will film on location in the Peak District and will be broadcast on BBC1 in 2013.

BT and BSkyB are on opposing sides in a battle over the future participation of top English rugby union clubs in the Heineken Cup. The conflict over Europe's premier club rugby union competition marks a significant escalation in BT's challenge to Sky's twenty-year dominance of UK pay-TV sports rights, after the telecoms company snatched a share of live Premier League football matches earlier in 2012. Both companies claimed exclusive UK TV rights to show flagship European games featuring English Aviva Premiership clubs from 2014 on Wednesday. BSkyB announced it had secured an extension of its exclusive live TV rights to the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup competitions from 2014 to 2018, just hours after BT announced its own one hundred and fifty two million quid deal for exclusive live rights to matches involving Premiership Rugby clubs, including European matches. The rival deals exposed a rift at the heart of professional club rugby in Europe. The row centres on which body – European Rugby Club, which organises the Heineken Cup, or Premiership Rugby, the organisation representing top flight English clubs – has the mandate to sell live TV UK rights for European competition games. Both Premiership Rugby and the ERC have claimed ownership of the rights in the row, which has cast into doubt the future of the Heineken Cup, the world's leading rugby club tournament. After the BT deal was announced, ERC issued a statement questioning the Premiership Rugby deal. 'While awaiting further information regarding Premiership Rugby's proposed agreement with BT, the ERC board, which met in Dublin today, believes that any such agreement would be in breach both of [International Rugby Board] regulations and of a mandate from the ERC board itself,' the body said. 'European club rugby's six participant unions have granted the authority to sell broadcast rights to its tournaments solely to ERC. It was unanimously agreed at an ERC board meeting on 6 June, 2012 that ERC would conclude a new four-year agreement with Sky Sports for the UK and Ireland exclusive live broadcast rights to the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup until 2018. Premiership Rugby was party to that decision.' The rift deepened later on Wednesday when Premiership Rugby moved to deny the claim by the ERC that BT's deal was in breach of International Rugby Board regulations. 'The deal which Premiership Rugby has completed with BT is financially strong for Premiership Rugby clubs and future European competitions, bringing up to one hundred and fifty two million pounds into the game, over the next four years,' said a statement from Premiership Rugby. English and French clubs have threatened to walk away from the Heineken Cup from 2014, after the current TV rights deal expires, if they cannot secure better terms. The ERC will meet in Dublin on Tuesday to discuss the deals amid the prospect of English and French clubs forming a rival breakaway tournament. Premiership Rugby's thirty eight million smackers-a-year deal with BT will see up to sixty nine rugby games move from BSkyB and ESPN to BT Vision for four years from 2013. It includes the rights to all European matches played in England from the 2014‑15 season. BSkyB's deal is for the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup from 2014 – but rivals quickly pointed to doubts about whether the Heineken Cup will even exist by the time this deal comes around. BT's agreement gives it the rights to any European tournament formed by breakaway clubs. The deal was seen as a huge statement of intent by BT, which has moved robustly to add to its growing portfolio of live TV sport by outbidding both BSkyB and ESPN. BT's thirty eight million quid-a-year deal is more than double the eighteen million knicker-a-year contract thrashed out by BSkyB and ESPN previously. It is understood that BSkyB decided not to table a rival bid for the current rights package when BT's ambitious move came to light.

Bob Dylan has responded to suggestions that he has 'plagiarised' artists in his work and failed to credit his sources properly. 'Wussies and pussies complain about that stuff,' the veteran musician told Rolling Stone magazine. 'In folk and jazz, quotation is a rich and enriching tradition. It's true for everybody but me. There are different rules for me.' Dylan's thirty fifth studio LP, Tempest, was released this week. Earlier this year the seventy one-year-old received the Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honour, from President Obama. The singer was accused of borrowing from Henry Timrod, a Nineteenth Century poet who died in 1867, on his 2006 CD Modern Times. Another Lp, 2001's Love and Theft, was claimed to have passages similar to lines from Confessions of a Yakuza, a gangster novel by obscure Japanese writer Junichi Saga. 'As far as Henry Timrod is concerned, have you even heard of him? Who's been reading him lately? And who's pushed him to the forefront?' he told Rolling Stone. 'If you think it's so easy to quote him and it can help your work, do it yourself and see how far you can get. These are the same people that tried to pin the name "Judas" on me. Judas, the most hated name in human history!' he continued, referring to the controversy over his 1965 LP Bringing It All Back Home his subsequent 'electric' tour of Britain' with The Band in 1966. 'If you think you've been called a bad name, try to work your way out from under that. And for what? For playing an electric guitar?' Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman in 1941 and began his musical career in 1959, playing in coffee houses in Minnesota. He took his stage name from the poet Dylan Thomas. Much of his best-known work dates from the 1960s, when he became an informal historian of America's troubles. The musician's decision to move away from traditional guitar in favour of an electric version in the mid-1960s proved controversial among die-hard folk fans. You know, the sort of people who never get invited to any of the cool kids parties. 'It's called songwriting,' Dylan told Rolling Stone. 'It has to do with melody and rhythm, and then after that anything goes. You make everything yours.'

Yer actual Keith Telly Topping would, like as now, now include a Bob Dylan single as today's Keith Telly Topping 45 of the Day. But, memorably, there's very little Bob himself on YouTube - for reasons I've never fully fathomed. So, instead, here's Blind Boy Grunt & The Hawks. Or someone.