Sorry seems to be the most flexible word
David Cameron’s apology for the Hillsborough disaster was not the real thing
DAVID CAMERON was right to apologise for the extraordinary series of debacles that surrounded the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. The revelations in this week’s report caused even the most cynical observers to gawp in appalled disbelief.
We already knew that the claims on the Sun’s notorious front page – blaming Liverpool fans for urinating on police and robbing the dead – were without any sure foundation. Seven years after the event, Granada Television screened a drama, written by Jimmy McGovern, that rubbished huge sections of the police’s official line.
Yet the new findings still managed to astonish. The scope and vigour of the police cover-up suggested goings-on in a fascist banana republic rather than a modern European democracy. The news that a great many of the injured might have been saved took many, long-harried relatives entirely by surprise.
So, Cameron, as the official face of the United Kingdom, had little choice but to step up and offer one of his measured, steady-eyed apologies. To quibble in any way would have been to offend a body of people who deserve no further offence.
All that noted, it is not unreasonable to wonder exactly what it is Cameron is apologising for. At the time of the tragedy, recently graduated from Oxford, he was working for some creepy Conservative Party think tank. Heaven alone knows what sinister schemes that body hatched, but its involvement with policing in south Yorkshire will have been oblique at best.
We needn’t bother asking similar questions of Kelvin MacKenzie. The former editor of the Sun ascended briefly from the underworld to admit – with uncharacteristic humility – that his paper was wrong to publish those slurs against the Liverpool supporters. In this case, he is apologising for his own actions.
It’s not the first time that Cameron has been called upon to say sorry for the behaviour of other people. The parallels between the Hillsborough story and the Bloody Sunday report are striking. In both cases, campaigners were surprised at quite how vigorously the relevant report vindicated their case and castigated the establishment. In both cases, the right honourable member for Witney made no excuses while delivering his firm apology. In neither case was it really his fault.
The point is a fine one. With many relatives still living and some of the guilty still in their jobs, the prime minister needed to make it clear that he accepted both reports’ findings. The gestures were appropriate.