The biter bitten: MacKenzie can’t justify his actions
NORMAN GILLER passes on some calm advice to Kelvin MacKenzie, who meanwhile offers a beginner’s lesson in how not to handle being doorstepped
Is Kelvin MacKenzie listening to poor advice as the sun goes down on his career? In my opinion, it is obscenely insensitive for him to demand “an apology and recompense” from South Yorkshire Police for misleading him over the Hillsborough tragedy.
It was not the police who wrote The Truth headline and presented the story in a sensational style that left a scar for life on the memories of the relatives, friends and neighbours of the 96 spectators killed on the terraces during that 1989 FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough.
This is a classic case of the messenger shooting the messenger.
Those of us with our ear to the ground knew within 24 hours that The Sun story was false, and even the man whose byline appeared on it – the exceptional and vastly experienced reporter, Harry Arnold – revealed that he argued against the allegations being presented as facts.
Arnold told the BBC that after he had submitted his story he saw MacKenzie writing the infamous headline. “I was about to leave the newsroom when I saw him drawing up the front page,” Arnold said, “When I saw the headline I was aghast because that wasn’t what I’d written.”
He recalled that he told his Editor: “You can’t say that.”
“Why not?” asked MacKenzie, not famous for taking orders from reporters.
Arnold replied: “Because we don’t know that it’s the truth.”
According to Harry, Kelvin said: “Oh don’t worry. I’m going to make it clear that this is what some people are saying.”
Satisfied, Arnold went home but was sickened the next morning to find the story under his name had all doubts deleted, and the allegations he had reported were printed as bullet-pointed facts.
Now MacKenzie is screaming that it is the police – and only the police – who are to blame. If his Spectator piece had been printed in The Sun in his day, the headline would no doubt have read: “Not Me Guv.”
Sorry Kelvin, but you have to be man enough to accept that you as Editor were entirely responsible for prolonging the agony of the Hillsborough victims’ families, which prompted the city-wide boycott of The Sun which, 23 years on, remains strong. It does not become you to try to turn yourself into the victim.
You should have stood up ages ago and admitted that you had got it wrong. I am out of the same school of journalism as you, and my advice is that you withdraw your legal action against the police and go into low profile mode. You will never ever earn sympathy or understanding from the hurting folk of Liverpool no matter what you do or say.
I am sure that if you were to get “recompense” from the police you would immediately hand any money over to the Hillsborough Fund. I am equally sure it would not be accepted.
For those who did not read it, MacKenzie said he suffered “personal vilification for decades” as a result of The Sun’s reporting of the disaster. Convinced the police were telling “the truth”, he ran versions of the now discredited story for four days after the tragedy in April 1989. It claimed wrongly that Liverpool fans urinated on police officers resuscitating the dying and stole from the dead.
Liverpudlian actor Ricky Tomlinson, a pal of mine with whom I have written four books, was in tears as he told me at the time: “They’ve written in The Sun that supporters were stealing wallets from the dead fans. What they were doing was getting the identities so they could inform relatives, and then putting the wallets back. It was a shameful and scandalous thing to report.”
MacKenzie told Spectator readers this week – few of whom would have read the original story: “Now I know – you know, we all know – that the fans were right. But it took 23 years, two inquiries, one inquest and research into 400,000 documents, many of which were kept secret under the 30-year no-publication rule, to discover there was a vast cover-up by South Yorkshire Police about the disaster. Where does that leave me?”
Kelvin went on to reveal that police patrols have been increased around his house and described a “physical danger” that he faces if he goes within a 10-mile radius of Liverpool.
He stated: “But the people who have got away scot-free are South Yorkshire Police.” He added the line that made me wince: “I am seeking recompense for the lies their officers told.”
What he did not write is that many of his Fleet Street colleagues have been telling him for years that he had been misled into spreading lies. He must have known what was going to be revealed in the report. If not, then he has not been listening to the same well-informed people that I have over the years since the tragedy.
I SPENT WEEKS IN LIVERPOOL trying to put together a Gershwin Meets the Beatles concert with a gifted Scouse conductor/composer friend of mine called Wally Fields, and never a day went by without somebody berating The Sun in general and Kelvin MacKenzie in particular. They all knew the paper had printed a pile of lies, so how come Kelvin has left it until now to say sorry? Far, far too late for those mourning on Merseyside.
Kelvin got a taste of his own medicine the day before his Spectator grovel appeared when that excellent reporter for Channel 4 News, Alex Thomson, doorstepped him at his swish Surrey home.
It is not a pretty sight as Kelvin tries to drive away from his home, with the tigerish Thomson refusing to let him close his car door. This was the biter bitten: it was the sort of dedication to duty that was encouraged by Kelvin in his belligerent days as Sun editor.
Again MacKenzie showed poor judgement. He should have faced the camera and politely told the viewers of one of television’s more responsible and respected programmes: “I have nothing to say at this moment apart from reiterating that I am sorry, and I will be making a full statement in due course.” Instead of that he decided to become confrontational rather than conversational.
My well-intended advice: Stop seeking sympathy for yourself and accept you got it hopelessly wrong. Somehow you have to try to close the book on it all, but turning to the legal eagles can only protract your agony and the anger of the Hillsborough families.
Come on, Kelvin, start using your head rather than your mouth.
SKY GAVE A CLASSIC EXAMPLE of their left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing during the reporting of the sensitive Liverpool v Manchester United match on Sunday.
While Sky News was reporting in glowing terms on the behaviour of the Man U fans, Sky Sports News was concentrating on shots of hundreds of supporters chanting “Murderers” at their Scouse rivals.
They even went so far as to caption what they were shouting, not only “murderers” but also “Always the victims, it’s never your fault …”
This was all triggered by one moronic Liverpool fan running in front of the United supporters miming a crashing airplane.
Putting the captions up was way over the top; however, Sky News ignoring the chants – until late bulletins – was misleading.
It is so difficult to get the balance right. Ask Kelvin MacKenzie.
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