Why The Times got it wrong, over Hillsborough

Last week a jury concluded that the 96 people who died at the Hillsborough football stadium disaster in 1989 were unlawfully killed and a catalogue of failings by police and the ambulance services contributed to their deaths. This was a dramatic moment and signalled the end of a 27 year fight to clear the name of the Liverpool fans involved in this tragedy.

Unsurprisingly and justifiably this news dominated the written press and news bulletins. It was the biggest news story of the day and from a journalistic perspective deserved to be covered as such. This made the decision of two newspapers not to cover the story on their front pages hugely surprising. These two papers were The Sun and The Times.

This is only part of the story. After the initial tragedy in 1989 The Sunpublished its now infamous front-page headline simply stating ‘The Truth’. This headline and the following written piece made several horrible smears about the Liverpool fans and their actions on the day, all of which have now been found to be totally false.

The Sun has since apologised for this headline and no longer stands by the story, but have never been forgiven in Merseyside where a large number of residents boycott the newspaper. This could from a perverse angle explain why The Sun choose not to cover the story on the front page as they believed it may draw attention to their past failings. This cannot be a defence for The Times though.

The Times is The Sun’s sister newspaper and both are owned by Rupert Murdoch. In light of the verdict and all the ensuing history, specific attention was always going to be placed on these two newspapers and how they reported the story. This makes their decision not to report the story on the front page even more astonishing. At worst this looked conspiratorial and spiteful and at best looked like a horrendous mistake.

The Times did correct their mistake before the second edition was released, largely due to pressure from their own reporters and social media criticism and put media coverage of the story on their front page. The following day they did also release a statement apologising and trying to justify their position. The apology was necessary and The Times deserve some respect for this. However in reality this was never a situation that The Times should have placed themselves in. It was a sad day for one of this country’s established and respected newspapers!

Article by Mike Hough

Photograph – The Time magazine

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