Liverpool: Interview With Peter Hooton. Finally, The Truth

Hooton, the lead singer of The Farm, has worked tirelessly to expose the lies perpetrated by the police about the Hillsborough disaster. Here, he talks about the campaign for truth and justice for all those killed in the tragedy.
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Immediately after Hillsborough everyone was really numb. I was on the pitch, but it was like it wasn’t real. A lot of people say it was like an out of body experience; you don’t go to a football match and see fans dying. I thought we’d come back to Liverpool and over the next few days there would be massive praise for the fans, because from my eye-witness account the fans were heroes that day - they were absolutely magnificent.

I went on to the pitch about 3:30pm near the infamous line of police who were standing on the halfway line to prevent the so called pitch invasion, and the riots. I asked one of them, “what’s happening?” because we weren’t aware – we were in the stands on the sides so we weren’t fully aware of what was going on. “Oh, we don’t know – we’re only waiting for orders,” they replied. “There are people giving the kiss of life, can’t you help?” I asked. “We can’t break rank, we’ve been told to stay here.”

I witnessed heroic acts on that day. People who probably weren’t even trained in first aid trying to resuscitate victims, and I thought in the aftermath that this was what would be in the press: the Heroes of Hillsborough – as you would expect it to be if it was a correct, eye-witness account of what happened.

I particularly remember one doctor, Dr. Ashton, who was in and around the Leppings Lane trying to prioritise victims. He was doing an interview the next day on the BBC and I remember him being very angry - and it’s unusual that you ever see doctors on TV being angry; they’re usually very calm and composed, but you could see his anger at the lack of help from the emergency services and the authorities. He said it was a complete disaster. There were no defibrillators in the ground, there were ambulances outside the ground that weren’t allowed to come in, and he was trying to perform triage but getting no help, and there was no communication between the police and the other emergency services. It was an absolute shambles.

I thought this was going to be the narrative, but within a few hours you realised that this wasn’t the case. The narrative was going to be the lies.

I thought this was going to be the narrative, but within a few hours you realised that this wasn’t the case. The narrative was going to be the lies.

The lies started immediately. As soon as Duckenfield was in control, Graham Kelly [the chief-executive of the FA] went to the police control room to get some information, and Duckenfield told a lie. He told a lie that drunken, ticketless fans broke the gate down, when he knew he had ordered for the gates to be opened. That lie then spread around the world. Graham Kelly then went on TV and said “we are led to believe that fans broke the gates down and that caused the crush.”

In Justice Taylor’s reports, he said that it was a “monumental blunder” on the part of Duckenfield. The fans had acted magnificently; they initiated and conducted the rescue operation. The problem was that the lie Duckenfield had told a few minutes after the disaster occurred, to save his own skin, was the story that was published on news lines all around the world. From that moment on we were constantly having to defend ourselves. The narrative wasn’t ‘Heroes of Hillsborough’, it was; you’re to blame - you killed your own fans.

We knew that wasn’t the truth, but it has taken so long to clear that lie. When I’m doing interviews on the TV and the radio and they ask “what about the ticketless fans?” You’re always having to dispel that myth, and it gets to the point where you feel people just don’t believe you because this myth, this lie, was spread all around the world – it came when the Sun printed that headline [‘The Truth’] a few days later that was confirming the police lies. We always had to defend ourselves against the wider public. It’s like an air crash disaster where the passengers get the blame.

I spoke to a few touts before the game, and their expression was “it’s on the floor” - meaning they couldn’t give tickets away. Taylor estimated in his report that the capacity of the Leppings Lane end was 10,100. From the best estimate they could get from the turnstile readings, and counting every head on photographic and video evidence, they estimated there were 9,700 fans in attendance, so this idea that is was overcrowded from drunk, ticketless fans was dismissed.

From that day onwards, a lot of us vowed to get the truth out. We’ve had tremendous help, but there have been so many obstacles in the way. That whole mindset of the police on that day was crowd control, not crowd safety. On the day of the disaster, the emergency gates at the Leppings Lane were locked. Part of the regulations at time stated that the emergency gates had to be unlocked on matchday, but they were locked. People couldn’t escape. People were screaming desperately for their lives but being ignored because the police had this mindset that it was just people causing trouble again. It wasn’t until the barrier collapsed at 3:06 and still it took several minutes for people to get on to the pitch.

People were screaming desperately for their lives but being ignored because the police had this mindset that it was just people causing trouble again.

I knew the Leppings Lane End from experience, and everyone had said the year before that they didn’t feel comfortable there because of the pen system. When the Bishop was summing up the report yesterday he said that there had been ample warnings. The problem was that Sheffield City Council, Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and the South Yorkshire Police were always at loggerheads. There were safety reports stating that the turnstiles weren’t safe, but nothing had been done because they didn’t want to spend the money. It was complacency on safety. The fences at the front were horrendous; there were spikes sticking in at the top towards the fans. It was like a medieval war machine. The whole emphasis was to keep these animals off the pitch. Nobody ever died from running on the pitch.

After the ‘Truth’ headline, we thought a lot of people would just see through it as a police smear. But it’s amazing how many people think there’s no smoke without fire, even though the Justice Taylor report dismissed those abhorrent allegations. After searching through over 70 hours of video footage, 3776 statements and 1500 letters, Taylor didn’t find a single shred of evidence to back up those so called allegations. Not one police officer, medic or fan mentioned it. We knew what the truth was. What the HIP report yesterday did was reveal the length of the cover up. We thought we knew the whole truth about Hillsborough after the Taylor report, but we didn’t really. Everyone who has been campaigning was shocked by the extent of the cover up, and the collusion. We suspected it, but we never thought there would be documentation to prove it.

The panel had access to documents that Taylor never had access to. When Taylor blamed the police for letting things get out of control, Margaret Thatcher and Mark Ingram, the press secretary, weren’t particularly happy with that. The South Yorkshire Police were never going to be blamed under the Thatcher government. She referred them as storm troopers during the miner’s strike, so there was no way she was going to let them take the rap. This was a massive, massive miscarriage of justice – one of the biggest of the 20th century. It’s up there with Bloody Sunday and the Birmingham 6.

This was a massive, massive miscarriage of justice – one of the biggest of the 20th century.

What surprised us yesterday is that the report was black and white. We thought there might have been a few grey areas.

I’m very disappointed by consecutive governments – both Conservative and Labour – for not acting decisively enough. You’re dealing with the establishment. You’re dealing with the legal system. You’re dealing with the police federation. There was no way they were going to take the rap. They were hoping the campaign would go away. They were hoping that after 20 years it would fizzle out.

To be honest, before the 20th anniversary there I think there was a sense of fatigue from everyone. Before the anniversary, Steve Rotherham (who’s now a MP but was Lord Mayor of Liverpool at the time) rang me and said “the club have decided they’re not going to do anything for the anniversary. Peter, I want to do something to commemorate it from the fans.” So he asked me to get involved. We decided to record a version of Fields of Anfield Road, and I wrote the third verse, the Hillsborough verse.  We got John Power involved and various other people, and we wanted to do it as a cool song, not a tacky, celebrity song. People were saying we can get this person and this person, but they weren’t the type of artists that I wanted; I wanted people who it really meant something to.

After the success of the Fields of Anfield Road song, last year we managed to organise a Don't Buy The Sun concert, which was a great success, and after that we took it all around the UK & Ireland, and then through Europe supporting The Stone Roses. Eric Cantona appeared with us singing Rock the Casbah in Lyon in the biblical setting of a Roman amphitheatre. He knew all about the Justice Campaign and he said he completely supported us and the campaign!

The 20th anniversary seemed to reinvigorate everyone. There was a story behind it with it being a milestone, there was the record, Rafa Benitez and other players were at the launch so it helped generate publicity and I really do believe that it was reinviogorating. Mick Jones asked whether I wanted to take the tour on the road, as he was so affected by the campaign. He, along with John Power, even travelled up to Liverpool on Wednesday just to be in the city when the report was released, without knowing that it would contain.

Eric Cantona appeared with us singing Rock the Casbah in Lyon in the biblical setting of a Roman amphitheatre. He knew all about the Justice Campaign and he said he completely supported us and the campaign!

When Andy Burnham came to the anniversary to address the audience, over 35,000 people turned up; it was like a match day. Usually the club only have the Kop open for the memorial service, but they expected more than the capacity of the Kop, maybe 20,000, so they decided to open parts of the Kemlyn Road and the Main Stand. Eventually they had to open the Anfield Road end, too! The support was just fantastic. I think that was largely down to the publicity of it being the 20th anniversary, with the various documentaries being televised, and also some of the attention that the song brought, but before that there was certainly a sense of fatigue.

Andy Burnham was heckled by the fans. Those justice chants were very moving, and I think they really helped drive home just what a massive sense of injustice there was. He went back to Gordon Brown and didn’t just say “we’ve got to look back in to this”, but he ensured that action was taken, and he deserves the utmost credit and respect for playing such a key role in helping form the panel and the truth coming out. But that’s only because there was massive injustice, and when people know the truth, they never give up.

The David Cameron apology was unprecedented. I don’t think anyone was expecting the extent or breadth of the apology. The report was so damning that obviously senior government officials have said to Cameron that this was what he had to do - there are no grey areas here; it is black and white. There has been a cover up, a smear campaign, and deliberate acts to change statements. They were criminal acts, really. If you or I were to do it we’d be in prison. I’ve only heard about the Sun apology, but I would have preferred “we lied” as the headline on the front cover. I still won’t be buying The Sun. I never bought it before Hillsborough.

I was in the cathedral with the families when the report was released, and the good thing about it is that you can read it. It’s available for everyone, and it’s not written in legal terminology; it is written so the lay person can understand it. Still, there were no celebrations last night at the vigil. There were hugs, there were tears, but there were no celebrations. It was as dignified as ever. Thanking the support of Andy Burnham, Steve Rotherham made their way back up from London after being in the House of Parliament. It wasn’t a mood of celebration. If anything it was a mood of sadness; sadness that it has taken so long to get the truth. The next step is keeping up the momentum towards reaching justice, removing the verdict of the old inquest and reopening the investigation, and to make those responsible accountable.

At least now, everyone knows the truth.

Peter was talking to Alex Woo.

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