It’s too simplistic to say his interest in the subject came purely from being a native Liverpudlian. But the fact that the disaster’s impact was felt on his doorstep certainly fuelled McGovern’s passionate anger at what he believes was the ﬁnal injustice heaped on working-class communities by Margaret Thatcher. For McGovern — and Alby — Hillsborough marked the nightmare end of the 80s, a decade which had provoked a deep- rooted sense of anger and outrage in the writer.
‘I saw the 19803 start with the Falklands war and a police force that thought in terms of the enemy within,’ says McGovern. ‘By the time you get to 1989, you have a police force which has nothing but contempt for the people they are policing, especially when they happen to be working class football supporters. That mind- set led to Hillsborough — these pe0ple are no better than animals who were caged in. So I always had that anger about Hillsborough and what led to it.’
The commission to write Hillsborough came about after a private screening of To Be A Somebody organised for the families of Hillsborough victims. McGovern asked the group if there was anything else he could do, and the message came back loud and clear: ‘tell the truth’. He conceived the idea of a docu- drama which would closely detail the events of IS April l989, and the legal and emotional fall- out that followed.
‘At the back of my mind was how you explain to the families who lost kids that I’m doing a fictional interpretation of Hillsborough,’ he says, ‘and not only that I’m doing it for lTV, and in the middle of that they will be selling cornﬂakes. But I knew my anger was genuine. I knew I wouldn’t shit on the families.’
The resulting two-hour film reconstructs the events in the immediate run up to the disaster, intercut with actual footage shot on the day, and then deals at length with the way the victims and their families were treated by the police and judicial system. What McGovern sees as the authorities’ failure to acknowledge
Christopher Eccleston and Annabelle Apsion as Hillsborough parents fighting for Justice
the suffering of bereaved families is the key to his sense of injustice, which fuels Hillsborough.
McGovern’s anger has only been heightened by the recent compensation awards to police on duty at Hillsborough stadium who subsequently suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while the families remain uncompensated for the loss of a relative. ‘What proportion of that post- traumatic stress disorder is actually guilt?’ asks McGovern. ‘I know a man [Eddie Spearritt: see
‘At the back of my mind was how you explain to the families who lost kids that I’m doing a fictional interpretation of Hillsborough for l‘l'V - and in the middle of it they will be selling cornflakes.’
panel] who held his son up in one of those pens and he died in his arms. He suffers from post- traumatic stress disorder and he knows the main ingredient of PTSD is guilt — that he didn’t do enough to save his son.’
Guilt and blame are inextricably linked in the story of the Hillsborough disaster. With Heysel
“3%? 5 id“.
‘ ‘ United in grief: Ricky iomllnson (top row left) as Jon Glover, Mark Vlomaclt (top row centre) as Eddie Spearitt
still fresh in many people’s minds, when rioting Liverpool fans caused the deaths of 39 Juventus fans in Brussels, the immediate assumption was that hooliganism was to blame for Hillsborough. Immediately after identifying bodies, family members were asked if their dead relatives were likely to have been drinking or trying to enter the stadium without a ticket. The apportioning of blame started almost immediately.
The Sun famously demonised the Liverpool fans, accusing them of urinating on rescuers and picking the pockets of unconscious victims. Though an extreme example, the tabloid’s reporting of the disaster reflected a wider feeling in the rest of Britain that the city had somehow brought the disaster on itself.
‘The families talked more and more about the truth coming out,’ says McGovern. ‘Not so much the truth about what led to Hillsborough, although that’s not been fully investigated either, but the aftermath. People constantly said there were two tragedies — the tragedy of Hillsborough itself and the tragedy of the way the system treats people who have been through that. The thing that has interfered with the grieving process is that they have had to defend their loved ones from scurrilous police accusations of drunkenness and hooliganism which were shown by the Taylor inquiry to be absolute lies.’
Hillsborough is based on verbatim transcripts from the Government-commissioned Taylor inquiry, with the words spoken by policemen and other ‘authority figures’ attributed to them on the public record. Only the words of the three families are fictionalised, and even those are based on recollections ofevents gathered by McGovern in a series of in-depth interviews. The result is drama because the parts of real people are played by actors, but documentary in the sense that every attempt has been made to be as factually accurate as possible.
‘Once we decided to tell the truth about what happened at Hillsborough and the aftermath, they had to be real people,’ says McGovern. ‘One of the tragedies of Hillsborough was the anonymity — in the eyes of authority you are not an individual anymore, you are simply one of 96 who died. To mention them on air is nothing compared to death, but it is some tiny morsel of comfort. The biggest tragedy was telling people who hoped to have the story of the person they lost told that actually we weren’t telling their story. In a small way they became a casualty again.’ Hillsborough is on Thurs 5 Dec at 9pm on Scottish. y
and tracy Wilkinson (front row centre) as Joe Spearitt
The List 29 Nov-l2 Dec I996 9