Belfast Telegraph

QUB prof tells Desert Island Discs of death threats

QUB expert on pressure he faced to keep quiet

By Staff Reporter

A Queen's University academic received death threats during his campaign to establish the truth about the 1989 Hillsborough soccer tragedy in which 96 Liverpool fans died after being crushed at an FA Cup semi-final game.

Appearing on the BBC's long-running Desert Island Discs, criminologist Professor Phil Scraton (68) told presenter Kirsty Young about some of the difficulties he faced as he searched for the truth about what happened.

"To be honest, in 2000, I felt I had let the families down - I had written two reports, I had written the first edition of (his book) Hillsborough: The Truth and nothing came of it and they had not been vindicated in the public eye," he told the radio show.

The first coroner's inquest into the disaster, completed in 1991, ruled that all the deaths at the Sheffield Wednesday stadium were accidental.

But sustained pressure from the families of the victims led to further inquiries into how the police behaved during and after the incident 28 years ago.

Their campaign was ultimately successful, and in 2009 the Labour Government established a Hillsborough Independent Panel - that including Professor Scraton - to look afresh at the evidence.

"The most important thing about the Hillsborough Independent Panel was the word 'independent' and, although we were serviced by the Government departments, the panel was in the driving seat," he told the programme.

The Wallasey-born academic revealed that during his decades-long investigation and campaigning on the issue, he became a target for death threats, as well as facing institutional pressure from his employers - though not from Queen's, Professor Scraton stressed.

"I had death threats to my home phone number, which was ex-directory, and have had a whole series of checks or attempted checks put on by my institutions, not the one I am working with now.

"But previously one famous memo (said) perhaps I should think less about being involved in Hillsborough and more about getting on with the rest of my academic work," he recalled.

In 2016, following the Hillsborough Independent Panel's report, fresh inquests were held which found that the 96 soccer fans had been unlawfully killed.

Earlier this year five men, including ex-South Yorkshire Police Chief Inspector and former Chief Constable of Merseyside Police Sir Norman Bettison, were charged with offences connected to the Hillsborough disaster.

Professor Scraton's Desert Island Discs can be heard via the BBC's iPlayer app

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