Hillsborough and the social conscience that comes with it

Matthew Charlton is the CEO of Brothers and Sisters. He was a founder of BETC London, has run agencies in London, Amsterdam and the US and has worked on brands including Johnnie Walker, PlayStation and Sony Ericsson.

One word – Hillsborough. I think I feel sick. Sick to my stomach. And I am not alone. Everyone I know does. Everyone I know is angry.

I sit here reflecting on the Hillsborough verdict and the heart-sapping stories of those poor people that died, my own dreadful memory of watching it live on TV, and reading the evidence against the police and complete lies that were told over a consistent period of years to appallingly displace blame onto the victims.

Online I watched an incredibly powerful interview with Adam Spearritt’s brother. Poor Adam was 14 when he went with his dad to the match and sadly he didn’t make it home. His father passed out but made it through. If this isn’t a bad enough tale, and of course it is more than bad enough, Adam’s brother explains that his father was allowed to always believe that he was at fault for what happened, and that his father has since passed away and will never know the truth. As a dad I cannot imagine how that poor man was allowed to feel. That all the families were dragged through this nightmare while trying to come to terms with their grief is just unforgivable. It made me think about what kind of country, what kind of twisted individuals, what kind of collusion, can morally think that this is ok?

As a one-off event it is terrible, but as a child of the 70s and a teenager of the 80s it made me think much further about the system of the time. It made me think of Operation Yewtree and all the people that I grew up supporting who were found abusing the system. The crown prince of manipulation, Jimmy Saville. One of my favourite TV presenters as a child, raising money for charities so he could molest children, protected by the system. Then I think about Stuart Hall, Rolf Harris, Gary Glitter and all the rest. My god I loved Gary Glitter. I still have a pile of albums from him and I want to pour petrol over them. In fact I need to do it. I need to burn my memories. And now with the Hillsborough lies I need to decide which other memories I need to burn. What do you believe and what not? Maybe burn the lot.

It made me wonder, what kind of world did I grow up in? I thought the world was simple and less stressful then. Lots of cycling around on bikes in the countryside, picking strawberries and sailing with my brother. I was lucky. I was allowed to live in my bubble and like John Lennon, another great son of Liverpool, believe in fairies until someone proved me wrong. The innocent 70s and and exciting 80s they may have appeared. But now it’s clear to all it was entirely possible (as was demonstrated) to manipulate justice and truth and for the establishment and well-connected to get away with horrific behaviour against our own way of living and human rights.

Clearly I have to see these now as dark times in the history of our country. Any time when truth is traded so easily by the few against the many is a dark time. The more you discover the more you see your own youth through sewage-tinted spectacles. And let’s be clear, the generation that oversaw this, and are still around, need to be held to account. Thank god the relatives pursued the Hillsborough cause for 27 years and didn’t give up.

Switching my thinking to the present, I am hit by a huge surge in optimism for my children’s generation and the world they grow up in. It is often said that they are growing up in a different world. That world can be scary and risky. But truth is clearer now. The truth is that the explosion of social media and placing the power of reporting into the hands of all people means that while not impossible for this type of cover-up and dire self-interest to be perpetrated, it is much much harder. If Hillsborough happened again (please god it won’t) I believe it would be impossible to manipulate the facts of what happened.

Social media helps hold to account all who we ask to protect us. Of course it has its downsides and risks and it can lead to people being falsely accused before justice is properly served. But then if it takes 27 years for justice to be properly served it is almost certainly a risk we have to take. Compared to how I feel about the world I grew up in, I say tweet, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat the hell out of everything. Film it, photograph it, record it. Of course responsibly. But while much of what we put on social is banal nonsense, one day you may need it; in fact one day we may all need it to be the judge and jury of truth.

So while we weep for those poor Liverpool fans at Hillsborough and the subsequent disgrace they were subjected to, we must also thank them as their victory is a victory for all of us and a lesson that now we have crossed the rubicon and have personal control over our media, we must not only protect it at all costs but leverage it, use it, and hold those in power across all our lives to account. We should shout about it, debate it, find our own evidence and draw our own conclusions. The power to draw our own conclusions is the new power we must protect for the future.

Ultimately the sheer fear of truth and mass participation around it should inspire people to do their jobs properly – whatever that job, from an MP to a policeman to a TV presenter and beyond. And to be clear, doing your job properly means not killing us, our fathers, sisters and brothers when we go to see a beautiful football match in the beautiful sunshine. And then lie about it. I hope those days are behind us.

Follow Matthew on Twitter @MJCharltonesq

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