Chapter 12: Behind the headlines: the origins, promotion and reproduction of unsubstantiated allegations


2.12.1 This chapter responds to bereaved families' and survivors' concerns to demonstrate how the documents disclosed to the Panel add to public understanding of the background to, and sources of, the initial media coverage. The Panel has also researched the documents to trace how unproven and unsubstantiated allegations, rejected by Lord Justice Taylor, persisted after the publication of his Interim Report and gained wide public acceptance.
2.12.2 As it became increasingly evident that people were trapped, dying and injured in the central pens, Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield told Football Association (FA) representatives that Liverpool fans had broken into the stadium and rushed down the tunnel into the packed central pens causing the fatal crush.
2.12.3 His untruthful allegation was broadcast internationally, establishing the immediate portrayal of the unfolding disaster as a further example of soccer-related crowd violence. Indeed, as the previous chapters have shown, the immediate South Yorkshire Police (SYP) reaction was to view through a lens of hooliganism the fans attempting to escape the fatal crush.
2.12.4 The media coverage on the evening of the disaster, and in the morning press on Sunday 16 April, was a confused mix of allegation and counter-allegation alongside controversial pictures of fans' faces, distorted and lifeless, pressed against the perimeter fence while others lay motionless on the pitch.
2.12.5 Jacques Georges, President of UEFA (European football's governing body), condemned Liverpool fans as 'beasts'. Survivors recounted a different story, emphasising overcrowding, lack of stewarding and inadequate emergency response.
2.12.6 On 18 and 19 April, however, more serious allegations against Liverpool fans were made from seemingly reliable sources, first in Sheffield newspapers and then in the nationals. Unnamed sources, supported by the South Yorkshire Police Federation Secretary, Police Constable Paul Middup, and a local Conservative MP, Irvine Patnick, claimed that many Liverpool fans had deliberately arrived late at the stadium.
2.12.7 They were portrayed as predominantly ticketless, drunk, aggressive and determined to force entry. In the throes of the disaster it was alleged that they had assaulted police officers, urinated on officers and the dying, stolen from the dead and verbally sexually abused a lifeless young woman.
2.12.8 While these allegations were found to be unsubstantiated by the Taylor Inquiry and the reporting was criticised subsequently by the Press Council, the allegations persisted throughout the inquiries and investigations.
2.12.9 Further, and much to the bereaved families' and survivors' dismay, the allegations remained prominent and have since been repeated as factually accurate in academic texts, broadcast documentaries, political debate and popular discourse, including fiction writing.