Saturday 10 December 2016

Times 'made a mistake' for not covering Hillsborough inquests as former Sun editor apologises

Published 27/04/2016 | 13:03

MacKenzie, pictured in 2011, edited The Sun from 1981 to 1994
MacKenzie, pictured in 2011, edited The Sun from 1981 to 1994

The Times newspaper has said it "made a mistake" by not including coverage of the Hillsborough inquests on the front page of its first edition.

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The paper faced criticism, along with its sister paper The Sun, for not featuring on its front page the story that an inquest jury had ruled that 96 Liverpool fans who died in the 1989 tragedy were unlawfully killed.

In a statement posted on Twitter, the paper said: "The Times led with Hillsborough coverage on all our digital editions throughout the day.

"This morning we have covered it extensively in the paper with two spreads, the back page, a top leader and an interactive on the victims.

"We made a mistake with the front page of our first edition, and we fixed it for the second edition."

A photo of the families outside the Warrington court room appeared on later editions of The Times, along with a trailer for its coverage that ran into several pages, including an editorial comment.

The Sun came in for particular criticism, having run a front page story proclaiming to tell "The Truth" four days after the disaster.

The article featured claims from an anonymous policeman that some fans had "picked pockets of victims", "urinated on cops" and that some beat up a policeman giving the "kiss of life".

Despite not covering the verdict of the two-year inquest on the front page, which cleared the fans of any fault, the paper ran a double-page spread on the outcome, and covered it in their main leader.

The leader stated that after 27 years, the "Hillsborough families finally have their first measure of justice".

It added: "Whether they get more is in the hands of the CPS. We hope they do.

"The horror that befell Liverpool fans was, as the inquest has now found, the fault of catastrophic police blunders - specifically by former Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield - which were shamefully then covered up.

"Failures by the ambulance service were also to blame, as was the design of the Sheffield stadium.

"The supporters were not to blame. But the police smeared them with a pack of lies which in 1989 The Sun and others in the media swallowed whole.

"We apologised prominently 12 years ago, again four years ago on the front page, and do so unreservedly again now.

"Further, we pay tribute to the admirable tenacity of the friends and relatives over so many years on behalf of the 96 who died."

The absence of coverage of the Hillsborough inquest on Wednesday's front page led to criticism of the paper, with many on Twitter voicing their opinions.

Impressionist and comedian Rory Bremner tweeted that the relegation of the story to pages eight and nine was "extraordinary".

On Tuesday night "The Sun" became a trending topic on Twitter in the United Kingdom, with more than 124,000 tweets using the term.

Actor Stephen Mangan questioned: "Wait - neither @TheSun nor @thetimes mention Hillsborough on their front pages?!"

In 2012 The Sun ran a front page called "The Real Truth" in which the paper announced they were "profoundly sorry for false reports".

On Tuesday former editor of The Sun Kelvin MacKenzie, who oversaw the story published in 1989 blaming fans, also apologised for the "hurt" the story caused.

In a statement he said: "Today's verdicts are an important step in obtaining justice for the victims. My heart goes out to those who have waited so long for vindication.

"As I have said before, the headline I published was wrong and I am profoundly sorry for the hurt it caused."

Talking on Sky News's press preview, The Sun's political editor Tom Newton Dunn said the police are at the "core" of the whole story and the paper were misled by them.

He said if people are still angry over the 1989 front page he "completely understands", adding: "We deserve everything that is thrown our way."

MacKenzie was editor of the paper at the time and later admitted it was his “decision alone” to run with the front page of which he said the story came from a Sheffield news agency and cited sources including a senior police officer as well as a Conservative MP. It has been claimed fellow journalists warned him against the front page.

Responding to the decision by a long-running inquiry which found on Tuesday that all 96 victims of the disaster were “unlawfully killed” and Liverpool fans were not to blame for the crush, MacKenzie issued a statement apologising.

“Today’s verdicts are an important step in obtaining justice for the victims. My heart goes out to those who have waited so long for vindication,” he said.

“As I have said before, the headline I published was wrong and I am profoundly sorry for the hurt caused. Clearly, I was wrong to take the police’s version of events at face value and it is a mistake I deeply regret.”

MacKenzie, who still writes for the paper, also told ITV news he “absolutely” agreed with the jury’s verdict. “It’s been an absolute disgrace what the police have done in south Yorkshire this last 27 years, I feel desperate for the families and the people and I also feel that in some strange way I got caught up in it […] everybody got sent this agency story, I printed it in that way but honestly the way it affected those families was a disgrace, I’m delighted for those families.”

The paper apologised for its reporting of the disaster in 2004 and again in 2012 after the Hillsborough report was released. MacKenzie wrote: “It would have been far more accurate had I written the headline ‘The Lies’ rather than ‘The Truth’.” An editorial in the paper called the 1989 report “the blackest day in this newspaper’s history”.

MacKenzie was also doorstopped by Channel 4 news in 2012 where he refused to make any further comment on camera saying he’d “already explained how sorry I am”.

The findings of yesterday’s ruling are notably absent from The Sun’s from page today. The Times, which also owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp group also failed to put the findings on the front page of its first edition.

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