Hillsborough report represents a 'watershed' for police reputation

The Hillsbrough report could represent a reputational 'watershed' for the police as significant as that of Stephen Lawrence, senior PR operators have claimed.

Hillsborough: A reputational threat to the police (credit: Rex Features)
Hillsborough: A reputational threat to the police (credit: Rex Features)

This week a report into the tragedy, in which 96 Liverpool supporters died at an FA Cup semi-final in 1989 as a result of a crush at the stadium in Sheffield, found that police had covered up their own mistakes in an effort to blame fans.

Jo Tanner, director at In House Communications, said that the historical nature of the events and scale of potential injustice were something no ‘PR could be trained to handle.’

And with south Yorkshire police set to reopen investigations into its own conduct at the stadium 23 years ago, as well as possible criminal prosecutions to come, she added:

‘Given the historical nature of what’s gone and the fact there’s such huge myriad of problems that must be faced even deciding what to do will be tough for the police, let alone then attempting to communicate it. They’re operating in the unknown, and I think this will be a real watershed moment in the way that Stephen Lawrence was for the Metropolitan Police.’

Over recent days, South Yorkshire Police current chief constable David Crompton, talked of ‘disgraceful lies’ made by the Force at the time and made an ‘unreserved apology’ on its behalf.

Crompton was not involved with the force at the time of the tragedy. However, Sir Norman Bettison, Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police and a leading figure involved with the investigation at the time, has refused to resign. He added the ‘fans behaviour’ on the day made things ‘hard’ for officers.

Mike Morgan, CEO of The Red Consultancy, said: ‘The police are looking at alleged criminal behave and it takes us back to other big miscarriages of justice. To have been as evasive they’ve seen to have been will make it very difficult to build back trust.’

But while David Cameron, who said he was ‘profoundly sorry’, was praised for setting the right tone, it was a different story for others.

Having initially released a statement without an explicit apology yesterday morning, the Football Association (FA) quickly switched tack, with chairman David Bernstein making a 'full and unreserved apology' four hours later.

Morgan also saw issues for the Prime Minister's potential party leadership rival, Boris Johnson.

Referring to an apology made by London Mayor Johnson over disparaging remarks made about the inhabitants of Liverpool in The Spectator while he was editor, Morgan said:

‘It’s a significant bump in the road for him following his domination in the summer. it reminds a lot of people of the less cuddly aspects of him. He has not come out of it well and it will be played out for a long time.’

Meanwhile, Tanner added that while the approach taken by The Sun, which accused Liverpool fans of being responsible at the time, would only go so far.

Referring to their front page apology, she added: ‘It’s ultimately a small step- how much can one newspaper do in one day? It now needs to use its campaigning power to back the families of victims.’

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