I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Thursday, September 4, 2014


On 15 April 1989 I drove across the Pennines to watch my team play an FA Cup semi final in Sheffield.

On 15 April 1989 I stood and watched ninety six of my fellow fans lose their lives in the death cages of Hillsborough’s Leppings Lane Terrace.

By 16 April 1989 it was already clear that the authorities were determined to blame the Liverpool supporters for the deaths.

On the 18 April I sent a letter describing my experiences on the Leppings Lane terrace to a number of politicians and journalists.

I also sent a copy to the South Yorkshire Police Force.

After I signed the letter, I inserted the following P.S

I am available to give this evidence in person at any time.’

Well, I had to be very patient.

I waited whilst the front page of the Sun accused me of picking the pockets of the dead and urinating on corpses.

I waited whilst a twenty five year long cover up was snapped into place.

I waited whilst the fans of rival clubs came to Anfield to chant ‘Murderer!’ at me.

I waited as the Berlin Wall came down and Mandela was released and the Millenium Bug never happened.

The super rich got richer and mobile phones got smaller and still I waited for my chance to present my evidence in person.

And then after 25 years, my phone finally rung. A policeman who was tasked to gather evidence for the newly commissioned Hillsborough Inquest had discovered my letter deep in the bowels of some storage room.

He told me that he wanted to drive north to take my statement. I told him I would be delighted to give my statement. I told him that I had been waiting for 25 years to give my statement.

So he came. He was called Gareth and he was good guy. Over several hours he and his colleague walked me through my day in Sheffield and what had happened to me in the aftermath.

He came back a fortnight later with a typed up version of my words and once I had read the thing through, I signed it where it needed to be signed.

Gareth said he didn’t know if I would be called to present my evidence to the Inquest. But he assured me that were I to be called, care would be taken to ensure it would be as comfortable a process as possible. He assured me that this was not an adversarial court. A barrister representing the coroner would simply take me through my evidence. They would make sure that my facts were put in front of the jury in a clear and concise manner.

I assured him that I would welcome the opportunity to present my evidence to the Inquest.

I told him that I had been waiting for 25 years.

A few weeks later a recorded delivery landed on the mat and I put my day in court in the diary.

September 2nd 2014.

25 years and 140 days after 96 of my fellow fans died in front of my eyes.

25 years and 137 days after I sent my letter promising that I would be available to give my evidence in person at any time.

When  I arrived at 305 Bridgewater Place, it was impossible not to compare it to the Leppings Lane Terrace in 1989. Check out the pictures. Birchwood Park is a manicured, no expenses spared parkland home for the HQ’s of blue chip corporations. The Leppings Lane Terrace was a ramshackle wreck surrounded by ground down terraced streets.

From journey’s beginning to journey’s end.

I parked up and went through a security check that would have done an American airport proud. Were they expecting an imminent terrorist attack? And if so, then by who?

A friendly lady led me through sterile corridors with harsh lighting and grey carpet. Into the witness room. A very government room full of sharp edges and bleak furniture. A notice board full of rules.

I asked if I could sit in the court and watch proceedings. I could. I did.

People were divided into blocks. Front and centre were the witness and the Coroner. Lots of clerks. The jury, each with their own personal TV screen. The families and reporters clustered at the edges and five rows of lawyers filling the biggest amount of space.

How many? At least 30, complete with all their paralegals and assistants. The word was that there were several QC’s in their midst. I couldn’t help but wonder what their average hourly rate was? Probably £800 at the top end going down a sliding scale to a hundred or so for the bottom end. The average? Probably in the region of £300 an hour.


An aggregate total of £10,000 an hour.

£60,000 a day.

£300,000 a week.

£1.2 million a month.

North of £20 million for the whole shebang.

How very British. Take one catastrophe. Bury it for 25 years until it is impossible to bury it for any longer. And then? Then you turn it into a gravy train.

I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of the expenses sheet they had sent to me. As a ‘Survivor’ who was there to give my evidence, I was eligible for a subsistence payment of £2.25.

Well thanks for that lads.

An hour's worth of spectating was enough to give me a feel of how the thing was playing out. There was lots of CCTV footage of the mayhem outside the turnstiles that I had never seen before. To be honest, it rocked me. If I had been watching the footage on a DVD at home, I would have paused it and peered at the screen to catch a glimpse of a much younger me. By the fence. Aghast at the crush. Scared. Utterly unaware that what I was watching was merely the precursor of the real horror that was only a matter of minutes away.

Lunch was called and I wandered out into a gorgeous sunny day where I pretty well chain smoked my way through the hour. Several of the families shared the smoking area. I recognised a couple from the TV. I was tempted to introduce myself, but I figured that might be breaking the rules so I kept myself to myself. But I couldn’t help noticing that they had brought packed lunches and flasks. It didn’t seem that the gravy train had a carriage for the families of the dead.

I was called to the stand at 3.30 and sworn in.

And to start off, everything was exactly as Gareth had told me it would be. A barrister for the coroner took me through the main elements of my statement.

It was what I expected. It wasn’t a problem.

The 25 year wait to be heard was finally over.

But then things changed. Oh and did they ever change!

Mr John Beggs got to his feet. Mr Beggs told me that he was representing the match commanders. Those men of the South Yorkshire Police whose abject incompetence had sent 96 of my fellow fans to their graves.

Mr Beggs was keen to take me back to my letter of 18 April 1989. And Mr Beggs didn’t like my letter of 18 April 1989. He didn’t like it at all.

He read out a passage describing my journey through Sheffield streets en route to the match.

‘There was no sign of any aggressive atmosphere, no hint of violence, simply good natured singing and banter. Anyone who knows anything about the game could tell you that there is no antipathy between the two clubs, and that the chance of trouble was minmal. Despite this there was a massive police presence in the streets; clusters of officers on every corner, threatening military looking vans, none of them smiling or making any attempt to be helpful as they watched and waited for trouble.”

I could tell by the tone of voice that Mr Beggs adopted when he read out my words that he was not a fan. He helpfully pointed out to the court that it was the policemen and not the vans who were not smiling. Yikes. Gareth never mentioned that I would have my grammar mocked by a £500 an hour brief. Beggs then informed me that I was the only person in the whole wide world to have ever described the police vans as having had a 'military' look about them. And he took this as clear evidence that I was using deliberately exaggerated and emotive language to over egg the pudding. I told him that my description was a deliberate - if ungrammatical - attempt to capture the mood and demeanour of the South Yorkshire Police that day. He told me that my language was absurdly over emotional. I told him that the sight of 96 fellow fans dying in front of your eyes can tend to make you feel emotional.

He told me I was a liar to claim that no policeman had smiled on that afternoon. I told him that I had made no such claim. Of course I wasn't claiming that every copper in Sheffield had failed to smile on the afternoon of 15 April 1989. I told him that none of the policemen that I had seen had smiled. He said that was quite frankly unbelievable. I told him that it was true whether or not he believed it or not.


He moved along to my statement of 2014 where I had described an incident on the way to the ground. I had approached a policeman to ask if my dad could be let through a metal fence in order to take a short cut to his turnstile and thereby avoid walking about a mile on his crutches – my dad was suffering from severe arthritis at the time.

The policeman’s response had not been what I had hoped for.

“Fuck off you Scouse bastard”

Mr Beggs pointed out the fact that this incident had not been included in my letter of 18 April 1989. However he pointed out that it was mentioned in my blog of 2012 and my 2014 statement. He told me it was his belief that the fact that it was not mentioned in my original letter was clear proof that the incident had in fact never happened at all. In fact, he put it to me that I had made it up.


I pointed out that I had clearly indicated that the purpose of my letter was to highlight the fact that a catastrophic failure of policing had been the sole reason for 96 deaths. The fact that one officer had behave like a foul mouthed yob had in no way, shape or form played any part in any single one of those deaths. This was the reason why it was not mentioned in the original letter. It was not relevant.

He disagreed and moved swiftly on to the end of my letter. It was clear that he had a major problem with my final paragraph.

‘I work in the animal feed industry and I sometimes go to cattle auctions. The cows are transferred from wagon to pen to ring with the minimum of harshness. Were they treated or herded around in remotely the same way that we fans are shoved around by the police on a Saturday afternoon the RSPCA would have a great deal to say about it. Which puts me in mind of the words of a young poet called Wilfred Owen who 60 years ago wrote a poem called ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’. Its first line suddenly after all these years seems horribly topical.

“What passing bells for those who die like cattle.”

Well Mr Beggs really didn’t like this at all and with a derisive snort he pointed out that 72 years had elapsed since Owen penned the lines in question and not 60 years. Bloody hell, things were not looking good. First he had nailed me on my grammar and now it was a mistake on dates. He said that this was unacceptably emotive language which was so overblown as to be impossible to be taken seriously. I pointed out that the way dairy cows were moved from shed to pen was similar in almost every respect to the way football fans were herded around in the 1980’s. He said that I was the only person he had ever heard who had compared the experience of human beings to that of cows. Well maybe I was, but I have clear memory of crushed groups of fans taunting the police with cow imitation ‘MOOOOO!!!’ sounds.

He collected the next piece of paper from his file and the small triumphant smile on his face suggested that he was pretty sure that his next attack would succeed in proving that I was nothing more than a serial liar and a fantasist. He referred to my blog of 2012 and my statement of 2014 where I had described being ambushed by the Home Secretary, David Waddington at a businessman’s lunch at the Tickled Trout Hotel in Preston on 20 April 1989.

He patiently took me through what I had described. Me and my dad had been sitting at our table minding our own business when Waddington had strutted over and said to me "You were at Hillsborough weren’t you?” He then went on to behave in an absurdly insensitive and aggressive manner.

“Do you stand by this?” Asked Beggs, his cocky smile now a notch wider.

“Yes I do.”

“And what if I was to tell you that David Waddington was not appointed to the position of Home Secretary until October 1989? Do you still stand by what you claim? Or will you agree with me that you have simply made the whole thing up to embellish your account?”

I told him that I didn’t agree with him at all, at which point he clearly found me to be an utterly contemptible human being. I asked him if his research had revealed what Cabinet position David Waddington had in fact held on 20 April 1989. It had. Chief Whip.

So I explained that after 23 years had passed, I had the memory of a Tory Cabinet stomping over to try and bully me and my dad. No doubt when Waddington had been appointed Home Secretary six months later, I must have thought ‘Christ, that was that piece of work who had a go at us in the Tickled Trout.’

So. He had been a cabinet member. He had tried to bully us. He had simply been the Chief Whip and still six months shy of making the step up to Home Secretary.

He told me that I had been irresponsible in not properly checking my facts. Ouch. Bad grammar, wrong dates, and now no fact checking. I told him I was a not a professional journalist.

He wasn’t impressed at all and told me that he had no more questions.

Mr Beggs' grilling meant there was no time left for the lawyers representing the families to have their turn. The Coroner gave me a rueful look and said that I would have to come back to finish up in the morning. I said that was fine. I nearly said that after waiting for 25 years and 137 days, another night was not an issue. But I didn’t.

The questions I was asked in the morning by the lawyers representing the families of the victims were depressing to say the least.

Had I seen any Liverpool fans behaving aggressively?

Had I seen any Liverpool fans who were obviously drunk?

Had I seen any Liverpool fans fighting?

Had I seen any Liverpool fans so drunk they needed supporting?

Had I seen any Liverpool fans spitting at people?

Jesus. There was only one reason I was being asked these question. Nothing had changed. Those accused of being behind 96 deaths were still trying to blame the whole thing on drunken Liverpool fans.

Well I’m sorry Mr bloody Beggs, but I’m going to go all flowery again and quote some Shakespeare. I guess that proves I am still a serial liar, a fantasist and a man incapable of acceptable grammar. I could look for the right words to describe the bottomless contempt I feel for those men who are still trying to pass the buck to save their skins. But I’m not going to bother, Instead I’ll let the Bard say it because he says it better than I ever could.

“But man, proud man,
Dressed in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he's most assured,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As makes the angels weep.”

Well I don’t know about the angels, but they certainly make me want to weep. And you know what Gareth, it wasn’t like you said it would be. After waiting for 25 years I was subjected to a prolonged personal attack by a bloke who was earning more in an hour than I earn in a week. I guess I was one of the lucky ones. Over the last few months I have been involved in several pretty spiky debates as someone who is representing the ‘Yes’ side in the Scottish Referendum Campaign. I have got used to people having a right go at me in very crowded rooms. I reckon I held my corner. I hope I did.

What really bothers me is all the lads who will be headed for a similar experience over the coming months. Many of them will have no experience of dealing with the likes of Mr Beggs and they are going to find it really tough. I absolutely accept that Beggs is merely doing his job. He is being paid a King’s ransom to save the bacon of the men whose ineptitude killed ninety six of my fellow fans.

What is important is that all the lads know exactly what is coming. Be ready. And do all you can to make sure he doesn’t back you down. We CAN'T allow it. We MUSTN'T allow it. Not after so many years and so many lies. So. When he tries to mock you and belittle you and when he accuses you of lying or exaggerating or making stuff up, just remember one thing.

Remember there are 96 your fellow fans who are standing right by your side in the witness stand and they are ready for justice. We have all waited a long, long time for this. We must not let the likes of Beggs snatch it away. Be proud, be strong, and when he tries to niggle you, just go straight through him like you are Graham Souness in a 50/50 tackle.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I was there too. I have always known the truth
    Can we have a chat?

  3. Excellent article. Every football fan that went to away games in 80s knows we were treated worse than cattle. No football fan should ever go to a game and never come home. JUSTICE FOR THE 96