Saturday, April 19, 2008

1989: Boycott of Sun newspaper begins after it vilifies Liverpool fans at Hillsborough stadium tragedy

On 19th April 1989, an unofficial Liverpool-wide boycott of The Sun newspaper began, after Rupert Murdoch's newspaper - which had long railed against the 'Socialist Republic of Liverpool' - published a series of lies about Liverpool fans' behaviour during the Hillsborough disaster, under the banner headline 'The Truth'.

The previous Saturday, 15th April, Liverpool had been playing Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough stadium, in an FA Cup Semi Final. The match was abandoned six minutes into the first half, as fans began climbing over the steel fencing and onto the pitch. Due to overcrowding and a police decision to open a set of gates without turnstiles, fans were being crushed to death at the front of the terraces. The pitch began to fill with people trying to escape the mayhem, and receive medical treatment.

Ninety-four fans died on the day, and 766 were injured. By the Wednesday, the death toll was ninety-five, following the death of fourteen-year-old Lee Nicol (Tony Bland would die in 1993, having never woken from a coma).

The disaster was highly embarrassing for the Thatcherite establishment, at a time of heightened social tensions, especially since it was becoming clear from witness statements that the police bore a heavy responsibility. In conjunction with David Duckenfield, Chief Superintendent in charge on the day, then Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie responded by trying to shift the blame onto Liverpudlians, who the front page claimed had 'picked pockets of victims', 'urinated on the brave cops' and 'beat up PC giving kiss of life'.

This backfired massively. MacKenzie's allegations were shown to be fictional by the Taylor Inquiry, which investigated the causes and aftermath of the disaster. In Liverpool, furious crowds stole and burned thousands of copies of the paper. From that day onwards, many local shops refused to stock The Sun, a boycott that still holds in many parts of the city.

The Hillsborough Justice Campaign still works extensively within Liverpool and around the world. On January 6th 2007, fans organised a 'Truth Day' event to coincide with the televised FA Cup tie against Arsenal at Anfield. This was to protest against the BBC hiring Kelvin MacKenzie as a presenter.
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