In Part 1 of the Murdoch Virus, we saw how Murdoch’s publications (Sydney’s Daily Mirror and Britain’s News Of The World), published fabricated stories about rampant teenage promiscuity which resulted in the suicides of a 13 year old boy and a 15 year old girl. This pattern of “making shit up, and bugger the consequences” is one of the most prevalent traits across all of Murdoch’s outlets, from newspapers to TV.
In Part 2 of The Murdoch Virus series, we’ll look at one of the most shameful incidents in the Murdoch Empire’s history, the Hillsborough Disaster.
On April 15 1989, during the FA Cup semi-final between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool, 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives, and a further 766 were injured as a result of being crushed at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England.
This was a result of poor planning, and even worse policing at the match.
As a result of rampant hooliganism at English football matches at the time, Hillsborough, like many other stadiums, had erected steel fences between the playing field and spectators. A similar crush had occurred at the 1981 FA Cup semi-final between Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhapton Wanderers which resulted in 38 injuries. Following this, the team that uses Hillsborough as its home ground, Sheffield Wednesday, altered the design of the enclosure at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium. The enclosure was divided into three separate pens, and then five pens in 1984.
At English football matches it is customary to divide the fans and keep them separate to prevent violence between the opposing crowds. For reasons which have never been explained, the police decided to house the Nottingham fans at the Spion Kop end of the stadium. This end could cater for 21,000 fans. The Liverpool fans, which far outnumbered the Nottingham crowd, were bizarrely assigned to the Leppings Lane end. This end could only cater for 14,600 fans.
In order to get into the stadium in time for the 3.00pm kick off, a bottleneck of fans had already started to build up by 2.30pm. This bottleneck developed because more fans had turned up for the match than the enclosure at the Leppings Lane end could accommodate. Fans who were being turned away at the turnstiles couldn’t leave because of the growing crowds behind them.. To lessen the build up, police opened a set of gates normally used as exits. This resulted in a rush of fans through these gates into the stadium.
The fans at the front of the enclosure pens , which were already overcrowded, were then pinned to the fencing as the crowd behind them increased. Under circumstances like this, police usually stand in front of the entering fans and direct them into side pens. On this particular day they did not do this.
What was happening in the pens was not noticed by match officials as the match got under way. Six minutes after the kick off, referee Ray Lewis stopped play from continuing as fans who were climbing the fences in a bid for survival, started to pour onto the pitch. Desperate fans had torn open a small gate in the fence and were also starting to escape from this. Those who had escaped were trying to rescue fellow fans by pulling them over the fence. While this was going on, the police were trying to stop fans getting onto the pitch, exacerbating the situation.
The police had also formed a barrier between the ensuing disaster and the Nottingham fans. Escaping Liverpool fans tried to break through this barrier to try and get those suffering from injuries to ambulances and first aid staff, but were repelled by the police cordon. The police also prevented ambulances from entering the scene. Of the forty four ambulances that had arrived, only one was let through. Only 14 victims ever made it to hospital.
Many of the victims died at the scene from compressive asphyxia. 94 people died either at the scene, en route to the hospital, or shortly after arriving at the hospital on that day. One more Liverpool fan, a 14 year old boy, died in hospital four days after the event.
The death of the final of the 96 victims occurred four years after the incident in 1993 when the life support system that had kept 22 year old Tony Bland alive, was switched off. He had remained in a vegetative state since the fatal day, and had shown no signs of improving since the incident.
The final death toll consisted of the following
- 96 people aged from 10 years old to 67 years old;
- 79 people aged under 30;
- Two sisters;
- Three pairs of brothers;
- A father and son’
- Two men whose wives were pregnant and due to give birth at the time;
- The youngest victim, 10 year old Jon-Paul Gilhooley was the cousin of current Liverpool captain Steven Gerard.
Over the years since April 15 1989, 3 people have committed suicide as a result of emotional conditions brought about by being present at the disaster. Numerous cases of substance abuse and marital breakdowns of those who were present have also been reported .
Wot The Sun Dun
On April 19 1989, the Murdoch owned tabloid, the Sun was published with the following on its front page:
During the incident, Liverpool fans were actively helping rescue personnel by stretchering victims to safety and ambulances, and also assisting them with first aid procedures. Despite this, The Sun alleged that Liverpool fans:
- Picked the pockets of victims;
- Urinated on police and rescue personnel;
- Urinated on victims;
- Assaulted a police officer trying to resuscitate a victim;
- Sexually abused a female victim.
In reaction to these allegations, most of the major newsagents across Liverpool refused to stock The Sun, and those that did were boycotted by Liverpudlians. Huge numbers of locals also cancelled their subscriptions to The Sun.
The Editor of The Sun at the time, Kelvin MacKenzie, apologised for publishing these smears before a Parliamentary Committee in 1993. In 2006 he repudiated his apology claiming he had only apologised because he was ordered to do so by Rupert Murdoch.
The Sun finally got around to offering a “without reservation” apology to its readers on July 7 2004, more than 11 years after the smears were first published.
In the next instalment of The Murdoch Virus, we will look at the modus operandi, and impact of one of Murdoch’s biggest money earners in The Murdoch Virus Part 3 – Outfoxed.
NB – The picture portraying Rupert Murdoch as The Godfather was created by Photoshop Wizard doctornonono (also known on Twitter as George Bludger). You can check out more of his works on flickr here: doctornonono
The Godfather imagery and logo (© Paramount Pictures) and the image of Rupert Murdoch are satire and/or parody and are used under the fair use provisions of various international copyright laws.
Photos of Hillsborough used in this article were sourced from Wikipedia, and are also used under the fair use provisions of international copyright law.