An excerpt from Brian Reade’s “43 Years with the Same Bird”

Taken from Brian Reade’s book, ’43 Years with the Same Bird,’ and posted with Brian’s permission.

And then, on Wednesday, the shit hit the fans. It was the single costliest miscalculation by a newspaper this country has seen, and it pushed the people of Liverpool over the edge. Under the headline THE TRUTH the Sun cleared its front page to tell the world: ‘Some fans picked pockets of victims; Some fans urinated on the brave cops; Some fans beat up PC giving kiss of life.’ The words that accompanied it claimed that ‘drunken Liverpool fans viciously attacked rescue workers as they tried to revive victims’ and ‘police officers, firemen and ambulance crew were punched, kicked and urinated upon’. One anonymous copper was quoted as saying that a dead girl had been abused, while fans ‘were openly urinating on us and the bodies of the dead.’

The Sun’s editor, Kelvin MacKenzie, had willingly bought the Police Federation lies, dressed them up, and sold them on in a typically sensationalist style designed to steal the moral high-ground and sell papers. There was only one Truth. And it was the Sun wot pronounced it. And anyone who thought differently could stick it up their junta.

It was war. Scousers, regardless of their football leanings, were apoplectic. To accuse them of killing their own was bad enough, but to state as fact that they picked the pockets of their own as they were dying was a call to arms. A paper that was already regarded by many on Merseyside as loathsome due to its rabid Thatcherite stance, Loadsamoney tone and obsession with tits and bums, was now seen as the spawn of the devil. It had slandered an entire people. And it would pay.

Overnight thousands of copies were stolen and destroyed. There were public burnings. Delivery men refused to touch it, shopkeepers refused to stock it. From selling 200,000 copies a day on Merseyside it plunged to a couple of thousand. Nineteen years on that figure hovers around 12,000, and humiliations are still handed out when copies are spotted being read in public.

The Sunhas tried many times to win back Scousers, and failed dismally, mainly because each attempt at rapprochement was viewed as a cynical ploy to win back lost readers. When Kelvin MacKenzie revealed in November 2006 that he only apologized at the time because the paper’s owner Rupert Murdoch ordered him to, it showed that Scousers had been right to boycott it all along.

I admire them deeply for sticking to their guns. For once a community showed the solidarity can deeply hurt a business which is trying to hurt you. But be in no doubt, ‘The Truth’ front page was really all about one man. MacKenzie.

They were decent journalists working on the Sun in 1989 who were as appalled at the front pages as any Liverpudlian. In their book Stick It Up Your Punter(an account of MacKenzie’s time at the Sun), Peter Chippindale and Chris Horrie described what happened that night:

’As MacKenzie’s layout was seen by more and more people, a collective shudder ran through the office [but] MacKenzie’s dominance was so total there was nobody left in the organisation who could rein him in except Murdoch. [Everyone] seemed paralysed, ‘looking like rabbits in the headlights’, as one hack described them. The error staring them in the face was too glaring. It obviously wasn’t a silly mistake; nor was it a simple oversight. Nobody really had any comment on it—they just took one look and went away shaking their heads in wonder at the enormity of it. It was a ‘classic smear’.

The reality is that every national newspaper had the story fed to it, but only MacKenzie chose to run it in the manner he did. A couple of others carried the claims as part of a report, and immediately retracted them when it was clear how false and offensive they were.

But MacKenzie revelled in it. He had a tale that fitted neatly with his prejudices. It was Our Boys in Blue, the same brave lads who stood up to the scumbag miners, who were now standing up to scumbag Scousers. It was his patriotic duty to back them, regardless of The Truth. For years afterwards the hurt it caused, not simply to the Sun’s circulation, was incalculable.

Back then almost four million people were buying the Sun, meaning 12 million people were reading it, the majority of whom were probably believing all that they read. Despite Lord Justice Taylor’s report denouncing the report as lies, Liverpool fans have literally had to fight against the slur over the years. I’ve had at least three brawls with people who have argued that there was clearly no smoke without fire. That our police would not tell a paper such a story, nor would a paper publish it, if there were no truth in it.

All down to the owner of one twisted mind, one gargantuan ego, who to this day is convinced tanked-up, ticketless Liverpool fans caused the deaths and is proud to admit, ‘I was not sorry then and I’m not sorry now.’

When MacKenzie eventually suffers the same fate as the ninety-six, there is a line in Elvis Costello’s ‘Man Out Of Time’ which should be chiselledon his headstone: ‘He’s got a mind like a sewer and a heart like a fridge.’

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