Sunday, 23 September 2012

A Few Good Men

I haven't had much time for commenting on Hillsborough, in fact I've little to say on the subject. Like others, I'll simply watch the wagon with the big band on it that is clattering up the path to the High Courts of this land. What I will say is that in 1993 I had the benefit of attending a senior officers course on the management of disaster and civil emergencies and one afternoon we had a very detailed briefing from one of the disaster's senior investigating officers (SIO), a senior detective from what I believe was the West Midlands Police. Suffice to say that I too was left with the impression that there was a good deal of drunkenness and rowdyism from the fans en route to the game, but then there often was at the numerous football matches I attended during my police career. My experiences as a police officer at these sporting events almost put me off professional football for life.

What I will say is that if senior officers have gilded some lilies and altered statements to put themselves in a better perceived light, it hasn't surprised me. But neither has it made me feel that the South Yorkshire Police is untrustworthy, yet sadly that will be the impression gained by a lot of people.

I was once deceived, lied to and ultimately let down by a few very senior officers. I had presented them with evidence that revealed misconduct, the details of which I won't reveal for that is not my point. I did it by the book with a detailed report supported by evidence noted in my personal notes. It wasn't very nice but it could have been dealt with easily, using the discipline code and procedures that every force has. They didn't deal with it in that way, there was a `fudge` and at a very senior level the matter was in effect unofficially written off, hidden, ignored call it what you will. It cost me a lot of lost sleep and other things I may not even be aware of.

What I didn't discover, until years later, was that my report never followed the official path but simply `disappeared` en route. It never reached the intended recipients in the discipline and complaints department (or `professional standards` as they are now known). So some years later, when another incident involving the subject of my report raised its nasty little head again (as tends to happen when things aren't dealt with properly) and I was asked about the matter, I explained that as far as I was concerned that case was closed and as no action was taken at the time I had no desire to re-visit it and, furthermore, I wished to say no more on the subject other than to refer the investigators to my original report.

It was then that I discovered my original report didn't seem to exist. `Never mind`, I thought, `the few individuals in that chain of command wouldn't forget such a thing, would they`? The new investigators could just ask them. To my surprise, no one remembered anything, not even my immediate supervisor, with whom I'd spoken to at length, for it was a very thorny issue. He could not possibly have forgotten such a thing. Yet he actually denied that our conversation ever took place. He was of even higher rank by now so perhaps the memory plays tricks when the oxygen gets thin at high altitude? I would like to have seen his face when I remembered I had kept copies of my original report at home, just in case and which I personally delivered to HQ (after taking further copies of course). I have no idea of the details, what the final outcome was or whether or not my report was ever used. I didn't try to find out. I was not interested.

So what am I saying? Well, in the above case I am saying that a very small number conspired to protect someone or something. I have no idea why. I know who the individuals were, you could count them on the fingers of one hand with a thumb and pinky to spare. They were very senior officers. One of them saw to it that my report never left his office in a readable condition. The other later denied that my report and the conversation we had about it ever took place. I have no idea what happened years later, when my photocopy of the original appeared, but as he was further promoted I can only assume that his lapse of memory excuse held true. He probably considered it a trifling matter. I saw it as a matter of integrity. I would not wish to see this man ever again.

Going back to Hillsborough, the fact remains that it doesn't take many to tarnish many. Senior officers represent a very small percentage of the overall compliment of any police force yet they carry much responsibility. If some of them choose to deceive, rather than admit fallibility, over something as massive as Hillsborough then that small number can have such a disproportionately large effect, QED. I would always understand genuine error made with the best of intentions, especially when under pressure and would do my utmost to support those who, despite their best efforts made at the time, fell short of perfect.

Sadly, I reiterate that I am not surprised that some senior people appear to have muddied the waters and worse. If there is credible evidence of malfeasance and breaches of the criminal law then those responsible will surely wish they had simply told the truth and be hoping that their gods will help them, because I for one wouldn't lift a finger to.


Anonymous said...

Well said. I've been retired for almost as long as I served but I still feel bitter about the way I am questioned about Police untruths in relation to Hillsborough. The fairest comment I have heard from a MOP was that no-one could have reacted fast enough to have prevented the deaths once the incident began. There may have been a failure to anticipate the possible consequences when planning the Police action, or even a panic attack and lack of experience at the top when all hell broke loose. Why didn't the Senior Staff have the guts to own up to that. And where has the claim that Police blamed the deceased for causing the problem come from. It wasn't in any briefing I had into handling Major Incidents. Of course, who will listen to a proper explanation now.
How many fans who arrived late and surged into the pen have ever come forward and said, Sorry?

CI-Roller Dude said...

I'm sad to report that I've known too many senior officers who did things like this...and worse, others who'd go fishing for some reason to get good officers in trouble.
I didn't like either type- I did respect the ones who always did the right thing- regardless of what did or who got hurt.
We were paid to be honest.

JuliaM said...

"I would like to have seen his face when I remembered I had kept copies of my original report at home, just in case and which I personally delivered to HQ (after taking further copies of course). "

So would I! But once again, I'm forced to wonder at the competence of people who don't think for one moment that a lie so blatant can possibly ever be contradicted by such a simple thing as a copy.

Then again, if it didn't affect his promotion in any conceivable way, why would they bother with such trifles?

JuliaM said...

"The fairest comment I have heard from a MOP was that no-one could have reacted fast enough to have prevented the deaths once the incident began."

If the gates hadn't been opened, I wonder if there'd have been deaths, albeit OUTSIDE..?

Hogdayafternoon said...

Thanks. I concur totally and remain a little bewildered. Its just not my style to do things like that so I find it hard when my peers did such things.

Simple stuff, so why do some take the rocky road?

I reiterate, I would not want to see that man ever again.

As for the crowds outside the gates, we were told that mounted branch officers, in the midst of the crowd, had their horses literally lifted clear off the gound with the crush of fans. Incredible.

rosey said...

I find it reprehensible that "whisleblowers" trying to do the right thing, the moral, the legal and well the right thing are treated as pariahs and shunned. It isn't simply a matter of snitching (like in the schoolyard) but of taking the higher ground to correct a travesty of lies, deceipt and graft. Sadly today this is treated with distrust instead of gratitude.

On a separate note, thank you for your dedicated service to your community and to mankind sir. You have gained my admiration....

Hogdayafternoon said...

Hi Rosey and a warm welcome. Thanks for dropping by and thanks for your kind words, for which I could say `same to you`, especially as a mighty blue water navy man. My respect, always.