Tag Archives: #Hillsborough

Lessons for the Church from Hillsborough

The vindication of the Campaign for Justice for the 96 Hillsborough dead has touched the nation, and is causing many to re-think how one views such pressure groups.

Historically it should not surprise us. The campaign to free the Birmingham 6 was similarly lengthy and convoluted, and it is not only victims who receive justice belatedly;  perpetrators of abuse are also found out in time, as some of the nation’s well established celebrities are  discovering.

Yet for every guilty Jimmy Savile, there is an innocent  Nigel Evans: Stuart Hall was properly found guilty, Leon Britton went to his grave under an unjust cloud of suspicion because  police officers were too enmeshed in the virtue of their investigation to retain objectivity.

Even the disgraced footballer Ched Evans – who undoubtedly behaved very badly towards a young woman – has been granted a re-trial because the procedure which convicted him has been considered by the Court of Appeal and found  to be unsafe.

So this is the first lesson for the Church. Justice matters, even historic injustice must be righted, even if it takes time and erodes confidence in an important institution.

This brings us to the late Bishop George Bell.

From the little they knew, the Hillsborough families were not able to accept that what they were being told by the powers that be, was safe and based upon a transparent process of integrity. For such temerity, they were characterised as “whining scousers” who were unduly inclined to embrace victimhood. Such claims look pretty shoddy this side of the Inquest verdicts.

This is the second lesson which we can draw from Hillsborough for the Church. Ignoring legitimate concerns is wrong. It will also be a fundamental error to characterise those scrutinising the Church’s  investigation of the Bishop Bell case as “strident”.

Nobody in the campaign is denying the possibility that the complainant in the case is telling the truth, yet what is attracting objective people to support the campaign, is an examination of the information currently in the public domain which draws experienced lawyers and public figures to the inescapable conclusion that one cannot see a fair- and therefore a safe  – process at work.

In the past the Church has often applied an unfair opaque process leading to injustice for the accusers; it is no improvement to replace that with an unjust opaque process leading to injustice to the accused.

This is the third lesson of Hillsborough for the Church. Those campaigning for Justice do not go away quietly

The Church authorities have tried to close the debate by refusing to answer questions. We are told that they have conducted a comprehensive enquiry and have been advised by experts. They refuse even to confirm the area professional expertise of those experts. We must trust the process because the Church says it has been thorough.

Nothing will alarm anyone with expertise in Child Protection Law more than such a patronising assertion.

Over the past thirty years, there have been many public Inquiries into issues of child protection; that history is littered with discarded , confidently asserted  expert opinion.

There are fashions in child abuse practice just as there are in skirt lengths.

The existence of widespread ‘Satanic Child Abuse’, has dropped off the agenda and the nature of  “Munchausen Syndrome” and “False Memory Syndrome” have been downgraded from the status of medically diagnosable syndromes, to that of a  loose description of phenomena to be considered –  but only with with a great deal of caution.

For anyone acquainted with such matters, “Trust me I am an expert” cuts no more ice than ” Trust me I am a Bishop’. An expert opinion is only as good as the facts made available and not all are as intellectually curious outside of the brief presented.

Once, Freudian Psychiatrists would earnestly tell the Courts that many little girls fantasise over having sex with their fathers; we are currently in an age where many assert that all complainants must be assumed to be truthful. We seem to forgotten the lesson of the Cleveland Report which was to “listen to the child ( complainant) and take what they say seriously’. That is not the same as belief, and requires an ongoing objectivity throughout the process.

So, the fourth lesson is surely The Age of deference has passed.

Paradoxically, that may have washed in Bishop Bell’s day, but it certainly is not accepted today.

The Hillsborough Campaign gathered support because enough people cared to keep it in the public eye. If the Church hierarchy is hoping that those troubled by the current state of publicly available information will let it drop, it is mistaken. Questions will be asked at Synod and any attempt to evade questions on the basis of a mistaken view of what is and is not “confidential” will only irritate Synod members.

That irritation will be picked up by the Church press and such mainstream commentators as Charles Moore and Peter Hitchens. It is understood that members of the House of Lords are disquieted and may introduce a debate.

So lesson number five is The concerns of ordinary people do reach the public ear.

Plainly the Church does not want the issue of sexual abuse to again dominate the headlines; the complainant has said publicly that every time the matter hits the headlines, she is distressed.

If the Church wants to bring this matter to a satisfactory close it can do so by being more transparent and engaging properly with the questions that are legitimately raised as to the processes by which its decisions have been reached.

The Establishment approached the Hillsborough families with imperious disregard for proper standards of justice, and tried to defend the indefensible. People not only now distrust what happened then, they are now distrustful of how the police and Government will act in the future

Here we have the sixth and final lesson.

Justice4GeorgeBell is not about Justice for the past but whether the Church is currently capable of delivering  Justice now and in the future.

At present, it is impossible to answer that question in the affirmative.


Liverpool can and must “move on” from resentment

The PR debacle over Ed Milliband having posed for photographs with a copy of the Sun and subsequently apologising, raises a number of issues.

In one sense this is to be welcomed. Mr Milliband is at least apologising for one of his own mistakes, instead of offering one for which neither he nor Brother Ivo and his readers bear any responsibility. A return to a coherent moral universe is something to be applauded. How much of an error this was is debatable.

He plainly knew what he was doing.

It was a posed event and his handlers could not have been unaware of the image to be projected which was innocent enough. All three major party leaders had the same opportunity and took it: they were associating themselves with England’s bid to win the Football World Cup. It was all pretty innocuous and doubtless they would have done the same if any other of the home nations were our sole representative.

The association of the newspaper with his party was far from unprecedented. During the Blair/Brown years Labour was only too happy to have the support of one of the country’s largest publications, especially one which spoke so often to and for the constituencies with which Labour traditionally associated itself.

But in the world of grievance politics, he had sinned and swiftly felt the need to repent. Liverpool had spoken. How dare he consort with their hated enemy, and where that citiy’s historic resentment post -Hillsborough headed, the Left quickly fell in line.

An early attack on Rupert Murdoch and all his works might normally be expected by way of atonement – or in reality- by way of placating of his followers. Yet that can’t happen, for Mr Milliband is shortly to meet the Murdoch representatives in a bid to either win over their support for the coming election or at least modulate the criticism into a minor key.

Paradox time: at a point where he most needed support, he demonstrated by his volte face his unworthiness of it. He had fallen into that familiar trap of the politically supine. In the words of Alexander Auguste Ledru-Rollin ” I must follow them , for I am their leader”.

He is not the only one. Liverpool’s clergy, both those in post, and those with historic links to the city routinely articulate that city’s institutional hatred of a newspaper and all its works, despite it having acceded to the demand for an apology. The Sun gave its apology for bad reporting on the Hillsborough tragedy on 12th September 2013. The offending Editor Kelvin Mackenzie added his personal apology the following day.

Brother Ivo holds no brief for Rupert Murdoch and his organisation. He and it will manage well enough whatever he, Ed Milliband or Liverpool will think. What surely matters is what happens to those incapable of “moving on” from past wrongs.

In this Liverpool’s clergy perhaps need to be more active. Isn’t the essence of the Christian message the forgiveness if sins and moving un-encumbered towards a newer and better life?

Wallowing in historic grievance has not served the people’s of the Middle East or Ireland particularly well. In contrast, whatever one thinks of the EU, the co-operation, reconciliation and ” moving on” needed to build it certainly serves as a pointer to a better way than clinging to resentments.

Good leaders, secular and religious, move their people on, sometimes whether they like it or not. One only has to call to mind the grumbling which Moses endured. Peaceful treating with one’s opponents was what characterised the lives of Ghandi, Martin Luther King and the more modest Gordon Wilson who forgave those who killed his daughter in the Inniskillen bombing.

Liverpool needs to move on.

Doubtless there will be those who will insist that this case -their case- is different, that their enemy is uniquely undeserving, yet that is a nonsense.

Liverpool can draw on its own history.

Brother Ivo woke up this morning with a hunch. He followed it up with a simple Google search and was proved right. Liverpool is twinned with Cologne. Both cities had seen their homes and communities destroyed in the Second World War and their sons decimated twice within a generation. Somehow the leaders of those communities were able to find ways to put that past aside.

What is perhaps most striking is the date of the twinning: it was 1952.

Liverpool, its leaders, and those who wish them well should ponder what it took for that early generation to set aside their resentments and losses to choose reconciliation. This is not for the benefits of the Murdochs or even the Labour Party, but rather for a people who have been bigger than this kind of self indulgent self pity and should be again.

If you found this interesting or helpful, please pass it on by link on twitter/ Facebook or email. Brother Ivo remains away from his home computer without his twitter password