Kelvin MacKenzie has demonstrated once again what might charitably be described as his tenacious character, confirming that he wants South Yorkshire Police to apologise for misleading him about Liverpool fans’ conduct during the Hillsborough disaster. His move follows the recent disclosure of documents relating to the 1989 event, which proved that the infamous Sun headline “The Truth”, signed off by then-editor MacKenzie, was nothing of the sort.
In an article in today’s Spectator, MacKenzie reveals that he has instructed his lawyer, Ian Rosenblatt, to contact the South Yorkshire squad, hoping that “after 23 years we can all agree on the truth”. MacKenzie portrays himself as “deeply affected by the affair”, and while he carefully avoids describing himself as a victim, he adds that he has suffered “collateral damage”.
MacKenzie describes in some detail that his source for the story was a local Sheffield press agency, which had gathered testimony from several South Yorkshire officers, a Police Federation spokesperson and a local MP. As such, he thinks that they should take the blame for the paper’s reporting.
However, many have greeted MacKenzie’s move with incredulity. The Sun was alone in publishing the allegations as fact and furthermore, according to journalists at the title – including staff reporter Harry Arnold, who wrote the story – MacKenzie was alone within The Sun in wanting to run with the incendiary headline. In addition, MacKenzie has repeatedly refused to apologise for the story himself, even when the evidence against it began to mount following the 1989 Taylor Report and the first inquiry in 1997. It has taken this month’s full disclosure for him to apologise for the coverage, but the Spectator revelations see him attempting to shift blame elsewhere.
While South Yorkshire Police have substantial questions to answer, their spokesman said: “It is well known that many media outlets ran similar stories at the time based on the same sources but chose to treat them differently. Mr MacKenzie was responsible for the particular headline he chose to run with.”
The lessons for managerial responsibility are sure to be observed across the news media.