It seems amazing that Jack Straw, a former Home Secretary, can be described as “very silly” for saying what we have all known for nearly 30 years.
Responding to the announcement of the Hillsborough cover-up by South Yorkshire Police, he said Margaret – now Baroness – Thatcher, the Prime Minister at the time, had created a “culture of impunity” in the police that made such corruption possible.
Anyone who lived through the 1980s should be well aware of this. Mrs Thatcher used the police as a political weapon throughout her period in office.
Look at the way she used police – and in fact transported officers from forces across the country – to intimidate miners during the strike of 1984-5; look at the way she used them to stop people celebrating the summer solstice at Stonehenge.
According to the BBC website, Mr Straw told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The Thatcher government, because they needed the police to be a partisan force, particularly for the miners strike and other industrial troubles, created a culture of impunity in the police service.
“They really were immune from outside influences and they thought they could rule the roost – and that is what we absolutely saw in south Yorkshire.”
In a time when most workers’ pay was being severely restricted by her government, Mrs Thatcher boosted police pay – by up to 45 per cent in some cases. I seem to recall she built up their pensions as well, and her government broke the link between a local beat policeman and his community, so that police were put on patrol in places away from their own homes.
These moves created forces that were loyal to the Conservative government, and who believed they could act without fear of reprisals; they had the government backing them up.
Many of those who took part in the Hillsborough cover-up – and other abuses of power across the country – will never be brought to justice. I mention this because I was in a hospital outpatients’ waiting room today, watching Loose Women (of all things). Before I was distracted by a young girl wearing a wrist brace, who wanted to tell me about her dead gerbil, I heard Janet Street-Porter announce to the viewing world that the police who were involved in the cover-up should be suspended.
It was 23 years ago; many of them will have retired by now, and former police officers are never questioned on their activities when they were on duty.
How do I know this?
Let’s just say I know a few ladies who were subjected to serious physical, mental and sexual abuse (over a 28-year period, in one case), at the hands of one man. These ladies appealed to the police for help on several occasions, documented by doctors – but not by the officers who dealt with them. Instead, they were told to go home. The ladies concerned escaped after years of abuse, but when they tried to seek justice against those in the police force who collaborated with their abuser, they were told there was no record of their allegations and the police officers concerned had retired. The police service refused to track down these former officers and so the crimes have gone unpunished.
This is what I think will happen with the police who were at Hillsborough.
A “culture of impunity”? Yes, I think so.