How UK Establishment closes ranks to deny the people the truth

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How UK Establishment closes ranks to deny the people the truth
« on: September 21, 2012, 09:04:49 PM »
How UK Establishment closes ranks to deny the people the truth

Masters of cover-up:
How the Establishment closes ranks to protect its own and deny the people the truth
By Stephen Glover = PUBLISHED: 23:14, 14 September 2012 | UPDATED: 17:47, 17 September 2012   
All his life, STEPHEN GLOVER has believed in Britain?s great institutions. No more. The sad lesson of Hillsborough is how the Establishment ? judges, police chiefs, civil servants ? closes ranks to protect its own and deny the people the truth
 Cover-up, lies, obfuscation and incompetence: these are the defects in the police and ambulance service revealed by this week?s damning report into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster in which 96 people died.
It has taken 23 long years to establish the shaming truth, which is that senior police officers manipulated evidence to hide police failings while attempting, with great success, to blacken the good name of the innocent people who needlessly perished.
 Evil is a strong word, but some of the things the top brass of South Yorkshire Police are alleged to have done ? the doctoring of 116 statements to remove criticisms of the force; the imputation of excessive alcohol consumption where none had taken place ? would appear to warrant such a description.
Prosecutions and civil actions will doubtless follow as some of the guilty are finally brought to justice, and there will surely have to be a new inquest. At last everyone seems to be united in condemning the authorities.
 Senior police officers and politicians beat their breasts. David Crompton, current chief constable of South Yorkshire Police, tells us his force is in a ?very different place in 2012?, the implication being that what has happened could never happen again because the police have changed.
 But couldn?t it? Have they? I wish I could believe it. Alas, I don?t. Hillsborough has been a classic institutional cover-up which has only been brought to our notice because of the heroic persistence of the relatives of those who died. The Establishment mindset ? to hide wrong-doing and ineptitude and never say sorry until it is too late ? has not altered.
 As a young journalist I believed in the integrity and good sense of most of our institutions. Of course, there were bad apples and stupid mistakes, but there were enough good and honest people in charge to come clean and own up when things went badly wrong.
 After a succession of scandals over recent years, it grieves me to say that I no longer believe this is true, and I don?t suppose it ever was. One episode after another has revealed a familiar and melancholy pattern of skulduggery and concealment.
Nearly all the institutions which I was taught to revere as a child have turned out to be self-serving, incompetent or dishonest ? the police, Parliament, the Church, the civil service, government, the City and, I regret to say, some parts of the Press.
 A dear and distinguished friend of mine blames the relentless media for hollowing out one institution after another, and lowering them in the public esteem. I?m afraid he?s wrong. The media have simply shone lights where  they used not to be shone,  and illuminated practices which all of us had hoped did not exist.
 In a way, the most shocking thing about Hillsborough is that no one is really very surprised. The police have lost much of the respect they used to command. I was certainly brought up to trust them, and can remember throwing aside in disgust a book by George Orwell in which he doubted the decency of the police.
 But maybe he was right. Of course, there are many brave and conscientious police officers. It?s their bosses I worry about ? people like the then Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair, who tried to block an independent inquiry into the shooting in cold blood by one of his officers of the young Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005.
 Look at Parliament. When I was a boy, I believed there were few more honourable letters to have after your name than MP. Even when I was in the Commons press gallery 30  years ago I still looked up to parliamentarians, though I was beginning to learn they did not always tell the truth. That was long before the more recent MPs? expenses scandal.
 Of course many MPs were innocent of any fiddling, but just as many weren?t. In fact, 389 of them ? more than  half the Commons ? were asked to pay back money to the taxpayer amounting to more than ?1 million.
A hard core were straightforward crooks, and three MPs (and two peers) went to prison. But the majority were simply greedy, claiming for items they should have purchased themselves. It was depressing that some of the miscreants were privileged and supposedly gentlemanly Tory MPs who should have known better.
 Have things improved? I?m not at all convinced they have. Recent figures show that in 2011/12 MPs? expenses rose 26 per cent to ?89.4 million, which is close to pre-scandal levels. First-class rail travel, supposed to be exceptional, is again becoming the norm. Fifty MPs have even been allowed to claim for expensive iPads. Why?
 As with the police over Hillsborough, endemic wrong-doing among MPs remained secret for many years, and was ultimately exposed as a result of the efforts of outsiders, in this case the Press.
But it?s not just the institutions of the State that have let us down. As the son of a clergyman, I was brought up to believe that, come what may, the Church could be trusted. How wrong I was, and how saddened my father would have been to read about the cover-up of hundreds of paedophile cases in the Roman Catholic Church.
 His own Church of England has also betrayed its congregations, albeit on a smaller scale. A recent internal report into the Diocese of Chichester disclosed a familiar picture of senior clergy being slow to act in sexual abuse cases, putting the Church?s reputation before the interests of children and their families. If you can?t trust a priest, whom can you trust?
 Then there are the bankers. Some of them, such as the Royal Bank of Scotland?s disgraced former chief executive Fred Goodwin, showed recklessness and greed while behaving as if the banks were their own private property. Here it is hard to believe that their predecessors of 50 years ago were as rapacious and blindly egotistical.
 Most of all, we have been disheartened by the lies and evasions of government. I believe that Tony Blair manipulated the evidence in taking this country to war against Iraq. It is perfectly true that most observers thought Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. What Blair did was to exaggerate the potency of weapons that turned out in any case to be fictitious.
 His response to the growing case against him was a classic Establishment ruse ? to appoint a friendly judge, in this instance Lord Hutton, and give him a narrow brief. Nine times out of ten a judge-led inquiry will obligingly come up with findings which suit the government of the day.
 That was the case with Lord Hutton, though his implausible exoneration of Mr Blair may possibly be reversed by Sir John Chilcot?s inquiry, which has yet to deliver its verdict. This is being impeded by the Coalition?s refusal to allow it to publish relevant Cabinet papers. As ever, the Whitehall mandarins who stand behind every government live in fear of openness and candour.
 The repeated failures of judge-led inquiries implicate the judiciary in the secretiveness that disfigures so many of our institutions. Another example is the clean bill of health Lord Chief Justice Widgery handed out to the Army after the ?Bloody Sunday? massacre in Londonderry in 1972.
 It took nearly 30 years for the full truth to emerge after a further ? and absurdly prolonged ? inquiry. Lord Savile judged that the Army overreacted and lost control, and in all probability had fired the first shot.
Despite this finding, I should say that the Armed Forces remain for me one of our few national institutions not to be tarnished by secretive double-dealing and cover-ups. In clinging to this view I hope I am not being simple-minded.
 Hillsborough itself offers further proof of the inadequacy of judge-led inquiries. We should probably not be too critical of Lord Justice Taylor?s initial investigation since he was not given full access to the thousands of documents examined by the independent panel which has come up with the withering report about the South Yorkshire Police.
Nonetheless, the Taylor Inquiry was far from grasping of the extent either of police incompetence at Hillsborough or of the subsequent mendacity. So was a subsequent report produced by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith in 1998.
 In fact, it has taken the independent panel, chaired not by a judge but by the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, to get at the truth of what really happened. Among the nine members  on the panel there wasn?t a  single judge and only one  lawyer. Most unusually, there were two journalists, one of whom has experience of  investigative journalism.
 Isn?t there a lesson here? Judges are Establishment figures who seem generally loath to produce reports critical of government or state institutions, which is doubtless why governments are so eager to appoint them.
Let?s hope that Lord Justice Leveson, who is currently writing a report into media ethics, shows he is a free spirit rather than an official stooge. I say that as someone who condemns the News Of The World?s phone-hacking, as well as The Sun?s egregious misreporting in 1989 of what happened at Hillsborough.
 But in a country beset with secretive and sometimes dysfunctional institutions, we surely need a free and independent Press that dares to expose their shortcomings, as happened in the case of MPs? expenses.
The all-important question is why our institutions should behave in this way and resist being accountable. My tentative suggestion is that they have been reluctant to adapt to the democratic age. They retain a conviction that they know what is best for us.
There is a sense in which politicians, the police and the civil service still regard us almost as serfs with limited rights. The NHS offers a good example. Its intentions are entirely benevolent but it can also be high-handed and inefficient. Patients are often treated with indifference, and sometimes with contempt.
 The police and ambulance service at Hillsborough were supposed to be serving the best interests of the fans, but as a result of incompetence only let them down. Then they strove to cover up their mistakes without consideration for those who had died or their relatives.
 What they had not counted on was the endurance and hunger for justice of the families of the victims. I am speaking of brave hearts such as Trevor Hicks, chairman of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, who lost two daughters in the tragedy. Year after year he and others like him campaigned for a terrible wrong to be recognised, only to be rewarded with insults, indifference and stone-walling.
One of the most moving responses to the report came from Becky Shah, whose mother died at Hillsborough. She said: ?I have mixed feelings. I am relieved that Liverpool fans, survivors and the dead have been exonerated, and the city of Liverpool, too. But I was a young woman of 17, who lost her only parent at Hillsborough, and the fact that it has taken more than half of my life to get justice is absolutely outrageous in a democratic society.?
 She?s right, of course. It is outrageous. But it is also inspiring that ordinary families should have taken on the authorities in the direst of circumstances and, with the help of some good and brave people, finally prevailed.
There?s good cause to be disenchanted by the way the police and so many of our other institutions cover up their mistakes and wrong-doing. I?m certainly not naive enough to believe that the wall-to-wall apologies mean that something like this can?t happen again.
 But the strength and determination of the families on behalf of those they love does give me some hope. It is a kind of victory. And maybe, just maybe, the people who oversee our self-serving institutions will begin to hear the message that the people have  had enough.

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