Kim Johnson MP: Starmer should apologise and promise he and his team will never again write for The S*n

'When his S*n article was published after the conference, we felt doubly betrayed'

Keir Starmer speaking at a lectern

Kim Johnson is MP for Liverpool Riverside and a member of the Education Select committee

On 15 April 1989, Liverpool fans, attending  a football match, died at Hillsborough; 95 men, women and children – the oldest 67, the youngest 10 – who went to cheer on their team and never came home again.  Tony Bland died four years later from his injuries, Andrew Devine died on 27 July this year, 32 years after sustaining injuries.

Thousands more watched in horror as fans at the front of the central pens were crushed, caused by the negligence of  Chief Superintendent David Duckinfield who gave the order to open an exit gate pushing thousands  of Liverpool fans down a tunnel into an already over- crowded terrace. 

It was the worst footballing disaster in history.

Ninety-seven families suffered the most appalling and tragic loss on that day and just days later the finger of blame pointed at the fans themselves. Duckinfield claimed it was the Liverpool fans that “forced” the gates, a lie that spread across the world, blaming “drunk and ticketless” supporters.  But these lies were taken up most viciously by Murdoch’s Sun newspaper.

Under a screaming banner headline, “The Truth”, the paper claimed Liverpool fans had “urinated on police officers” and “picked the pockets of the dead”. For the grieving families, the survivors and the city of Liverpool – red and blue – it was an unforgiveable slur, a monstrous lie that compounded their grief.  Sales of the newspaper dropped by 80% and have never recovered in the region to this day.

It took 15 years for The Sun to apologise for its “carelessness and thoughtlessness”, and in the same breath told the families and the city it was “time to move on”. How, when their search for the truth and for justice had been blocked and delayed?

It wasn’t until April 2009 that a mass petition led to the release of 300,000 unseen documents and the establishment of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which resulted in the overturning of the original inquest verdict. A new inquest, which ran for two years, saw Duckinfield admit his actions caused the deaths of the 96 fans, and a new judgement that the fans were unlawfully killed.

Despite these revelations, earlier this year the trial of two senior police officers and the West Yorkshire police solicitor for perverting the course of justice in altering police records was dismissed by the trial judge.

A 32-year fight for truth, justice, and for the people responsible for the avoidable tragedy of that April day in 1989 was over. They and the people of Liverpool know the truth, but the state conspired to ensure they didn’t get the justice they deserved. 

Maria Eagle MP presented her Public Advocate Bill on 16th September 2021 to ensure no families had to endure the lack of support ever again. The speeches, including the first-hand testament from Ian Byrne MP, demonstrate why emotions run so strongly still on Merseyside.

This is not about football, the struggle of the Hillsborough families is about the fight for truth, justice and accountability against a system weighted against them. 

When Sir Keir Starmer promised in his leadership election speech in Liverpool not to talk to the S*n for the duration of the campaign he was met with rapturous applause.  We trusted that he knew the depth of the anguish and anger felt in the city, at the avoidable deaths, at the justice denied, at the hatred of the lies from the Murdoch press. We trusted him to be on our side.

The S*n newspaper played a key role in the conspiracies, the deflection from the real culprits and the blaming of innocent fans, that this great city will never forget.

So, when his S*n article  was published after the conference, we felt doubly betrayed. Betrayed that he wasn’t on the side of the families’ fight for truth and justice. Betrayed that he had deliberately played us in Liverpool for fools in his leadership campaign.

We are the Socialist republic of Liverpool, a city that marches to the beat of a different drum, a resilient city that will always come back fighting.  But we have a long memory and will not forget this betrayal by the leader of the Labour Party, in our Labour city.

Nothing was gained by writing for a newspaper with a low circulation and influence, one which resorts to phone-hacking and scapegoating immigrants and the working class to try to remain relevant. We have an army of members wanting to campaign directly with the electorate, to give them the confidence that Labour will address their concerns – about low pay, insecure jobs, rising food, energy and fuel costs, a seriously underfunded NHS and care sector, and the need for decent and affordable homes. 

I’m joining other colleagues to urge Keir Starmer to issue an apology and promise he and his team will never again write for The S*n or turn his back on Liverpool, the 97, the Hillsborough families, survivors, and the working class.

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