The Sun and Hillsborough: Tabloid issued front-page apology in 2012 for its 'blackest day' - Press Gazette

The Sun and Hillsborough: Tabloid issued front-page apology in 2012 for its 'blackest day'

The Sun today declined to issue an official statement on the Hillsborough inquest verdict has Liverpool fans were cleared of blame for the tragedy in which 96 people died.

The tabloid was again subject to widespread criticism on Twitter for its 1989 front page which reported smears made against Liverpool fans.

But it is worth remembering that in September 2012 the paper ran a front page apology in the light of the findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel.



Both then Sun editor Dominic Mohan and his predecessor Kelvin MacKenzie issued apologies.

The now infamous Sun front page, published on 19 April 1989, was headlined THE TRUTH and was based on copy supplied by White’s News Agency in Sheffield.

They agency based its report on interviews with un-named police sources, local Conservative MP Irvine Patnick and South Yorkshire Police Federation spokesperson Paul Middup.

The Sun report alleged that Liverpool fans had assualted and urinated on police officers resuscitating the dying, stolen from the dead and sexually abused an unconscious young woman.

While many of the allegations were first reported in the Sheffield Star the previous day, and they were carried in many other media outlets, The Sun went much further than any other title in presenting the allegations as fact. The coverage prompted a boycott of The Sun in Liverpool which continues to this day.

The report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel found that Patnick “based his comments on a conversation with police officers on the evening of the disaster while the officers were in considerable distress”.

The report concluded: “The Panel found no evidence among the vast number of disclosed documents and many hours of video material to verify the serious allegations of exceptional levels of drunkenness, ticketlessness or violence among Liverpool fans.

“There was no evidence that fans had conspired to arrive late at the stadium and force entry and no evidence that they stole from the dead and dying. Documents show that fans became frustrated by the inadequate response to the unfolding tragedy. The vast majority of fans on the pitch assisted in rescuing and evacuating the injured and the dead.”

MacKenzie: ‘I was totally misled’

MacKenzie, who was responsibly for the 1989 front page,  said: “Today I offer my profuse apologies to the people of Liverpool for that headline.

“I too was totally misled. Twenty three ago I was handed a piece of copy from a reputable news agency in Sheffield in which a senior police officer and a senior local MP were making serious allegations against fans in the stadium.

“I had absolutely no reason to believe that these authority figures would lie and deceive over such a disaster.

“As the Prime Minister has made clear these allegations were wholly untrue and were part of a concerted plot by police officers to discredit the supporters thereby shifting the blame for the tragedy from themselves.

“It has taken more than two decades, 400,000 documents and a two-year inquiry to discover to my horror that it would have been far more accurate had I written the headline The Lies rather than The Truth.

“I published in good faith and I am sorry that it was so wrong.”

Sun editor Dominic Mohan said the paper was “deeply ashamed and profoundly sorry” for the paper’s actions.

And The Sun also published the following leader collumn:

THE Sun’s reporting of the Hillsborough tragedy 23 years ago is without doubt the blackest day in this newspaper’s history.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report into the disaster lays bare the disgraceful attempt by South Yorkshire Police to hide their culpability behind a smokescreen of lies.

It highlights a concerted campaign by senior officers to smear the innocent by fabricating lurid allegations about Liverpool fans — and then feeding them to the media.

But it is to the eternal discredit of The Sun that we reported as fact this misinformation which tarnished the reputation of Liverpool fans including the 96 victims.

Today we unreservedly apologise to the Hillsborough victims, their families, Liverpool supporters, the city of Liverpool and all our readers for that misjudgment.

The role of a newspaper is to uncover injustice. To forensically examine the claims made by those who are in positions of power.

In the aftermath of the Hillsborough tragedy we failed.

Wrong and right … 1989 Page 1 and today’s

And by failing in our duty we heaped more misery on the families of those who lost their lives and the people of Liverpool.

Nothing can excuse The Sun’s Page One presentation, under the headline The Truth.

It was inaccurate, grossly insensitive and offensive. This version of events was NOT the truth.

Today, thanks to the hard and painful work of the Panel, led by the Bishop of Liverpool the Right Reverend James Jones, we know the REAL truth.

The vast majority of current employees did not work for this newspaper in April 1989. Many were still at school. Some were not even born.

But we do not seek to use that to hide from the reality that a newspaper that prides itself on serving ordinary hard-working people betrayed their trust 23 years ago.

The people of Liverpool may never forgive us for the injustice we did them.

All we can do is offer them an unreserved and heartfelt apology that is profound, sincere and unambiguous.”




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Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette


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