How UK Police Attempted To Misuse Official Databases To Smear Disaster Victims

from the if-they-can,-they-will dept

A recent scandal in the UK concerned the country’s worst sporting disaster, when 96 football/soccer fans were crushed to death at a stadium in Hillsborough in 1989. Prime Minister David Cameron issued an official apology to the families of the victims for the fact that the safety measures at the ground were known to be inadequate, and that police and emergency services had tried to deflect the blame for the disaster onto fans.

One way the police did this was by falsifying statements made to them after the disaster, to remove negative comments about how they had handled the situation. But another way involved trying to suggest the deaths were caused in part by the drunken behavior of fans. One attempt to bolster this view apparently involved the use of the UK’s main Police National Computer system. Here’s what the Report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel (pdf) wrote about new evidence that had come to light:

2.5.112 The document indicates that a Police National Computer (PNC) check was conducted on all who died at Hillsborough for whom a blood alcohol reading above zero was recorded. It includes a handwritten list of the names, dates of birth, blood alcohol readings and home addresses of 51 of the deceased and provides screen-prints apparently drawn from the PNC. A summary of the results appears on the front page, establishing the number ‘with cons’ (convictions).

The idea was clearly to point to previous convictions as evidence that many of those who died were in some way responsible for the deaths of themselves and others because of drunkenness. As TJ McIntyre emphasizes in a blog post on this revelation:

This illustrates an important point that privacy campaigners have been making for a long time: centralised databases of this type can and will be abused, and the power to trawl databases for information on individuals — in effect, to manufacture a case against them — is a dangerous one. It’s not hard to imagine how data retention records might be abused in a similar way in future.

Although the UK government’s proposed “Snooper’s Charter” foresees the creation of distributed databases of information about every citizen’s online activities, it will be possible to carry out “filters” — searches — across them, unifying them into a single, virtual centralized database. As McIntyre notes, it’s easy to imagine these hugely-detailed records being trawled for information and then used by the police to cover up their own blunders in the future, or to support a flimsy case against someone, in exactly the same way that those involved in the Hillsborough disaster tried to do with the existing PNC database. The latest revelations of database misuse are another compelling reason not to bring in the intrusive and ineffective approach that lies at the heart of the UK government’s plans.

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Comments on “How UK Police Attempted To Misuse Official Databases To Smear Disaster Victims”

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Andrew Norton (profile) says:

Common Knowledge

I remember the incident well. I knew some of the people there. Had a maths teacher who was injured at it, and had a stutter/tick because of it.

Everyone in Liverpool knew about the actions of the police. The hard part has always been getting something DONE about it.

It’s actually an area that has united Everton and Liverpool fans, who had been bitter rivals for over a century (Liverpol FC was founded in 1892 when the stadium owner and Everton fell out. Everton moved across the park to Goodison, and the stadium owner started Liverpool FC)
News International’s newspapers have sold really badly there since they sided with the cops in 89. Even now it’s not THAT unusual to see someone spit on a copy of The Sun if they see it.
Also, as side-note, my step-mother is a ‘capacity compliance officer’ at Goodison. A position created to prevent this happening again. To do that job, the entire stadium is crawling in CCTV cameras. You ARE being watched at a premiership game.

Tim Griffiths (profile) says:

Re: Common Knowledge

I’m also from Liverpool, too young to remember what happened but it’s been, sadly, an deeply embed aspect to living in the city. The city has never been really allowed to morn the tragedy because the people involved and the families of the day have been forced to fight these lies all the while being accused of playing up being victims.

What I guess some readers of this site won’t fully understand is the context of the relationship between the city and the rest of the country. There has often been a very strained relationships between the North and the South and Liverpool has often been at the centre of that due to strikes and riots and other things. I mean there was an actual idea brought up in Thatcher’s cabinet about effectively abandoning the city. I don’t think it was ever seriously considered but the fact such a thing could be talked about about one of the biggest cities in the country gives you some idea of issues.

There was basically a sterotype that every one in liverpool was a theft and benefit scrounger. We had as much as that as any other major city that was going through a very bad period of depression but you can imagine the pain that having that sterotype being used to try and blame the victims of this disaster caused. They accused people of looting the dead… a shitty paper, incompetent police and fucking conservative members of parliament colluding to tell the world that fiction to hide their own mistakes… using and re-enforcing a false and deeply negative image of the city by dragging the victims and their families through the mud.

The eejit (profile) says:

Re: Way to go

The major issue, surprisingly was not with the actions of regular “beat bobbies” per se. The problem was, essentially, a perfect storm of clusterfuckery, followed by illegal measures by senior officers in the South Yorkshire force, alongside a press agency and a now-ex Member of Parliament who went beyond extraordinary ;engths to shift the blame.

This is decidedly not to exonerate all the officers involved, but it does go a ways to explaining some of the actions, when seen as a “damage limitation” exercise done to extremes.

With Hillsborough, it was a horrifying incident that allowed the scum they call Kelvin MacKenzie permission to tar Liverpool fans with the same brush as those at Heysel in 1985. That is why the narrative was so popular: in a similar fashion to Millwall fans in the late 1990s/early 2000s being all tarred with the moniker “Millbrawl”.

Hillsborough was a horrible incident, and what happenhed int he press was even more horrifying. But the truth here is out, mand it involves some very high people in the Met. And that should be the horrifying part: that one or two of the people actually got a better job as a direct result of the handling of the Hillsborough didaster.

Anonymous Coward says:

‘centralised databases of this type can and will be abused…to manufacture a case against’ someone.

‘The latest revelations of database misuse are another compelling reason not to bring in the intrusive and ineffective approach that lies at the heart of the UK government’s plans.’

and this is exactly why the UK government and others around the world, mostly under the insistence of the USA, is going to ignore all the warnings issued by privacy campaigners and go ahead and do what they want. the problems caused will be ignored, as are those that are falsely accused of some wrong doing. the ‘facts’ will be changed, as they were in the Hillsborough incident, to suit what the authorities want

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