Lessons from the Hillsborough Tragedy
Professor Phil Scraton’s most important message at the recent SSAT National Conference was “ we have to see education as investigative. It is not just a curriculum that we receive and impart. Its more about how we engage with issues of our time. “
The very act of education is questioning, he said. Education is not just the top down imparting of knowledge. The tightening of the curriculum means you have, in effect, to de-school students at university. And there is a deinstitutionalising knowledge process. Knowledge is currently passed down ,not upwards but we need to create an alternative view from below . Students need to be taught to think for themselves and create their own version of events , thinking outside the box. Too frequently they come to him and ask him what they need to know and to ask what they need to write. So, we all have a part to play in developing an inquiring mind.
His experience of uncovering the false narrative ,surrounding the Hillsbrough Stadium tragedy, systematically spun by the police, lawyers and authorities and supported by the media, shows how important an investigative mind is and how important it is that students are taught what good research looks like and how to navigate through evidence. Its in not just the authorities who should write history. Pay attention to dissenting accounts and alternative views about events .The Police dishonestly sought to blame allegedly drunk Liverpool fans for the stadium crush, when it was, in fact, their operational mistakes , aswell as of those running the stadium, along with the poor reaction by emergency services ,that contributed to the disaster . In 2016, new inquests into the disaster found the fans were unlawfully rather than accidentally killed , which had been the initial verdict . The FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forrest, held at Sheffield Wednesday’s stadium, was stopped after six minutes following a crush on the terraces. At the original inquests in 1991, the deaths were ruled accidental but those verdicts were quashed following the 2012 Hillsborough Independent Panel (HIP) report, and new hearings were then ordered.
In Scratons book ‘ Hillsborough: The Truth’ he revealed that that the South Yorkshire Police, together with their solicitors, had systematically reviewed and doctored individual police officers statements in order to give a false account of the disaster to exonerate the police and cover up their failures. Statements were identical even including the same spelling mistakes. There was almost total corruption of the evidence, This was on a biblical scale over many years.
A jury ultimately found that all 96 had been unlawfully killed, through the 25 findings delivered against the authorities – particularly the police leading to the exoneration of the fans. Alcohol ,it transpired, played no part in the tragedy. Scraton reflected on what C Wright Mills said that neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both .Our personal situation is linked to the forces of history and the society we live in. There are alternative accounts and not just the authorities accounts, to big events and we should pay more attention to researching these in order to get closer to the truth. Knowledge and truth is not simply dispensed top down.
Scratons triumph is that through single minded resilience and despite numerous setbacks, over many years, he not only helped uncover the truth and righted a wrong and fundamental injustice but he gave a voice to the victims and their relatives, empowering them, rewriting the truth from the bottom up. A great sadness is that some relatives of the victims did not live long enough to see the results of his efforts.
He also made a compelling argument that a vital outcome for education is to develop an inquiring mind in pursuit of the truth. His presentation at the SSAT Annual conference received a richly deserved standing ovation.