The devil was in the detail of this indispensable BBC film about Hillsborough - review
A purple face. Blackened tongues. A sobbing policeman shielding the deceased. Polaroids of dead faces on the wall of a gym. A room filling with priests and vicars. A mother forbidden to cuddle her son because his body was now the property of the coroner.
We think we know the Hillsborough (BBC Two) story by now, don’t we? For two harrowing hours, Daniel Gordon’s outstanding, meticulous documentary reconstructed the day and its shameful aftermath, and as the testimony flowed from those who were there, it felt tantamount to attending the inquest whose verdict was announced last week. The devil was in the detail.
Television has tackled Hillsborough before in the shape of Jimmy McGovern’s 1996 drama, but then the bereaved were played by actors. Here a few scenes were dramatised, including the cruel police prank that triggered the removal of Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield’s much more experienced predecessor weeks before the biggest day in South Yorkshire Police’s calendar.
Instead, the jaw-dropping facts of the cover-up were explained in forensic detail by Professor Phil Scraton, author of Hillsborough: The Truth, while mothers and fathers and survivors revisited the unfolding tragedy. The film derived extra power from contributors who were serving as police officers on the day, honest men tormented by the discovery that they too were betrayed by superiors.
“Unless I forget my law,” said Martin McLoughlin, “altering a person’s statement is a criminal offence, without their knowledge or consent.” His pause was immaculate. “And I don’t like criminals.”
The human cost of the institutional failure to accept the Taylor Report’s initial and swift verdict was written on everyone’s faces. “Why would you believe I did it?” shouted Liverpool fan Tony Evans, unable to contain his wrath as he recalled being forever asked if he’d really urinated on policemen as they tried to save lives.
It was the mothers of the dead who articulated the crushing sorrow of bereavement exacerbated by injustice. Margaret Aspinall remembered the last words spoken to her by her son James as he left for the game. “We’re gonna win today.” The win took 27 years. And it has come at too high a price. Still don’t quite believe in establishment cover-ups? You need to watch this indispensable film.