This is the text of an article published in the Yorkshire Post a few minutes ago:

I remember where I was on April 15, 1989. I was leading a youth weekend at Rydal Hall in Cumbria, eager to finish a walk in the hills so I could catch up on the Liverpool versus Nottingham Forest FA Cup semi-final being played at the same time. My brother was at the match in Sheffield, and I knew a few other people who had been lucky enough to get tickets.

I got back and turned on my car radio. I couldn’t understand what was going on – even the commentator on the BBC sounded so traumatised that for a long time he simply assumed we all knew. As the news then became clearer, so did the horror begin to dawn.

In the end 96 people died. That is enough for everyone in Liverpool to be connected in some way with someone bereaved. The classic journey of bereavement has shock giving way to anger, anger to grief, and grief to acceptance. However, here, it seems that the grief exploded in a sea of flowers and mementoes at Anfield, while the anger slowly burned. It burned for nearly a quarter of a century before a new inquiry was sanctioned.

It is still hard to buy a copy of the Sun newspaper in Liverpool today. Shameful allegations of fans’ alleged sub-human behaviour pushed grief aside and fired an anger that has simmered ever since. Police behaviour, doctoring statements and all the other stuff now well documented put the reputations of the officers concerned ahead of the grief of bereaved people.

Now a verdict of unlawful killing has been returned, this time on the basis of proper investigation and fully-informed inquests. After more than 27 years, those involved can now move on, knowing that the truth has been heard – not only about what happened on that dreadful day, but also about the deliberate manipulations that subsequently condemned a city to unrequited misery.

One constant throughout this appalling business was the bond between Yorkshire and Liverpool, my home city and the place where four generations of my family still live. One of the most impressive campaigners for justice came from Keighley – Trevor Hicks, who with his then wife lost two daughters in the crush at the Leppings Lane end of the ground. The city of Sheffield recognised from the outset its inescapable involvement in the huge grief of those who had been denied not only the lives of those they loved, but also the justice needed from such an avoidable tragedy.

It was perhaps neither random nor coincidental that the person asked to chair the independent panel, and whose work led to the new new inquests, was a Church of England bishop.

The then Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, understood not only the anger of those offended, but also the need for the sort of justice that can lead to reconciliation.

Pulling back from the blame game, he was able to establish a panel that scrutinised documentation. Objective, rational and concrete, the panel was able to identify just where truth had been obscured, leads missed, facts misrepresented, evidence manipulated. His brief was to expose the truth and then leave it to the judicial authorities to address the consequences

The bishop was equipped to chair this panel because he had the courage, clarity and committed impartiality to search for the truth, regardless of what it might cost those involved. It was also a pastoral response to the destroyed lives, wrecked relationships and demolished hopes of some very distraught people. He also clearly had the confidence of those paying for the whole thing that the narrative of events would be properly pursued under his leadership.

So, where to from here? Well, at least the bereaved – who held their final memorial service at Anfield last month – can know that the truth has been told and heard. Dignity can now be allowed where reputations lay questioned and character suspected.

Justice has been done and been seen to be done. If forgiveness is possible as those affected look to put this quarter of a century to rest, then it can now be credible – arising from knowledge of the facts (even uncomfortable facts) and full awareness of the degree of justified grievance they have borne for so long.

This changes something else. The police and others now deemed to be in some way responsible for the tragedy must address their personal and collective response. This will not be easy for them. Justice must in the end be liberating for everyone, even those for whom the truth is painful.

I am a Scouser and live in Yorkshire. The former Bishop of Liverpool has retired to Yorkshire. (The current Bishop of Liverpool was born and bred in Bradford, West Yorkshire) The bond between the two is not sentimental. It is a fatal error ever to accuse Yorkshire people or Liverpudlians of sentimentalism. But, the shared experience of this grief and anger has constructed a bond that generates mutual respect when it comes to the game of football that should always bring competitive pleasure, but never bring death and humiliation.

In circumstances such as these we often speak of ‘closure’. Not that memories are closed off or emotions allowed to run cold. But, a sense of justice for those who can no longer speak for themselves – who can neither justify nor explain themselves – does allow a future unchained from the grief and anger that will not stop stinging until the sting itself has been drawn.

A verse in the biblical book of Proverbs pleads: “Open your mouth for the dumb!” It has been quoted as an indictment against those who allow injustice to prevail because to protest would be too costly or wearing or inconvenient. Today it can be cited with pride on the part of families, supporters, football clubs, cities and even bishops: the voice of the dead has been honoured and now they can lie in peace.

 

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I caught a hint of a glimpse of a headline somewhere yesterday while on the move. It simply raised the question of how we, citizens of a democratic country, would have responded several decades ago to the suggestion that every individual would carry around on his or her person a tracking device. It sounds absurd, doesn't it? We would reject such a notion as being an infringement of personal privacy and a seriously worrying intrusion by the state (or other powers).

Well, like many things, we allow it to happen because rather than be presented to us as a policy, it simply creeps up incrementally as 'technological development'. So, now, without really thinking a great deal about it, we live in a surveillance state, whereby the 'powers' can know where I am, what I am buying, who I am texting/phoning, which websites I am perusing, where I am driving, who I am with, and so on. CCTV, road cameras, debit/credit cards, social media, mobile signal triangulation, store cards, etc. – the mere fact of this coverage makes any idea of privacy seem a little ironic (in an Orwellian, 1984 sense).

So, I was amused to read this morning's (always) excellent Newsbiscuit piece about GCHQ.

 

No, this isn’t another forum for the ubiquitous Professor Brian Cox.

Just listening to the news this morning and there is a raft of serious ethical issues treated as ‘items of (practical) interest’, but without any time for proper consideration in the constant stream of mediated ‘news’:

  • Gazza’s alcoholism – and who, if anyone, is responsible for ‘saving’ him from himself;
  • Gay marriage – not only what happens to the institution of marriage (regardless of your stance on gay marriage itself), but also the assumptions behind the ‘equality’ language;
  • Nuclear waste – and how we make decisions about the earth and its resources when the consequences of those decisions will be borne by generations to come;
  • Banking – and whether splitting retail from investment risk covers all the moral bases and addresses the continuing underlying cultural issues;
  • Covert operations – when a society wants to be protected (and is harsh when protection fails), but doesn’t address what might be the limits of covert practice in providing such protection… especially given the reality that people working against states or societies aren’t always very nice and usually don’t play by the usual rules’
  • Industrial complexity – like when meat guaranteed to be halal is discovered to have forbidden pork in it… illustrating not just the complexity of industrialised food production, but also the need to respect religious and other human/societal sensibilities.

And don’t get me on to Manchester City and the money around the Premier League.

I guess most of us just lurch from one pragmatic judgement to the next when presented with complex moral issues at every turn. Life is complicated enough. But, it also suggests that we – as a society – need to create more space to slow down, think, reflect on long-term consequences of instant choices. Or, as I put it yesterday, to ‘think deeply’ about why what matters matters.

Maybe, as we approach Lent, there is wisdom in slowing down. Not busy is one way of starting. I need to pay attention to what it is saying, and I commend it.

There was an interesting discussion on the Today programme this morning about the visibility (or otherwise) of policing in the UK.

Am I the only one who gets fed up with the Daily Mail-type bleatings about poor policing when this rhetoric wilfully ignores reality? Those who cry out for citizens to take responsibility for their actions must surely also adopt a responsible approach to matters of public import. I’ll explain briefly where I am coming from.

Several years ago I invited the Chief Constable of Leicestershire to address a meeting in the parish where I was the Vicar. It was a bit sexist: it was a monthly men’s group that brought together (that night) around 60 blokes in the pub. The police chief told me later he had assumed he would face hostility and tried to preempt that by explaining his job. He didn’t face hostility, but he did explain his job.

Even then, over a decade ago, he was having to work harder with less. What most people hadn’t realised was that the total number of officers at his disposal had to be divided up into three shifts, also allowing for sickness and holidays. It was not hard to work out then why there could only be two officers at work during a particular night covering a huge area of Leicestershire. It was a bit of an eye-opener.

The second element is that most policing these days is technical, behind the scenes and complex. Anti-terrorism, serious organised crime (in all its forms), internet crime (including sex and finance) and all the other essential long-term detective work is – by definition – unseen by the populace.

So, when people (fired up by the media) complain about the lack of police on the beat or the apparent lack of attention given to ‘small’ crime, they need to ask themselves the following questions:

1. How much in extra tax are they willing to pay in order to recruit, train and retain good police officers?

2. If we wish the police to be more visible and to attend to ‘small’ crime – within current financial limitations – which other areas of hidden police work do we wish them to give up?

3. Do we only trust what we can see or are we adult enough to trust that the police are doing their best with the resources we give them?

4. If we really are serious in wanting police to be on the beat chasing burglars and preventing pickpockets, which element of hidden policing should be sacrificed – and will we then understand when (for example) my identity gets stolen and nothing can be done other than giving me a crime number?

This is all about choices. We rightly demand accountability from the police, but don’t always take responsibility for the constraints we impose upon them. The police don’t always get everything right; they sometimes get a lot wrong. But they can only do what they do with the resources we give them. The call for a serious and comprehensive review of policing is timely: the world has changed and crime has changed with it, but police structures still create expectations that belong to a bygone age.

As with other areas of life (such as wanting Scandinavian-level social care at British-level tax costs), we should either pay more tax or shut up. We simply can’t have what we won’t pay for.

When I was back in Zimbabwe in August 2009 things were looking up. The shops were full, life and commerce were picking up and the police seemed to be encouraging a return to the rule of law. That seems to be in doubt now.

Last week the new Bishop of Manicaland, Julius Makoni, was stopped from attending an episcopal meeting abroad by detention and harrassment at Harare Airport. This was at the behest of the ousted ex-Anglican Bishop of Harare, Nolbert Kunonga.

This follows repeated episodes of harrassment of churches in the Dioceses of Harare and Manicaland – again at the behest of the ousted ex-bishop. Congregations are being prevented from using their church buildings and violence is being used by the police to intimidate the Anglicans for whom Kunonga is no longer their bishop.

Kunonga is not recognised as a bishop in the Anglican Communion. Yet, he continues to be supported by Mugabe who also seems to be keen (once again) to support his indefensible ecclesiastical supporter.

It is important that people know what is happening there. What happens to Anglican opponents of a deposed and discredited bishop is a good guide to whether the rule of law (essential to the future recovery of Zimbabwe at lots of levels) is being restored or ignored.