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The Laz Word: On Jeremy Hunt and Hillsborough

Larry Neild's take on old wounds opened by the latest media furore

Published on June 29th 2010.

The Laz Word: On Jeremy Hunt and Hillsborough

MP Jeremy Hunt is the latest politician to fall into the quicksand that consumes anyone shaming the names of the 96 Liverpool fans who perished at Hillsborough.

Should some criticism be directed at the media who at once turned it into a storm. If the media were thinking (genuinely) of the families, would they have gone on the hunt for immediate responses?

Culture Secretary Hunt was commenting on the behaviour of England fans in South Africa – not a single arrest for unruly behaviour by the followers of Capello’s fallen heroes - and somehow managed to drag the Hillsborough word into the equation. He’s apologised, insisting he meant no harm.

That apology has been rejected by the families. Instead, they want a meeting with him, describing him as an "ignorant disgrace".

The problem is every time somebody utters anything with Hillsborough implications, these relatives of the victims are dragged into the debate. They are left with no alternative to defending the good names of the 96.

So who do you blame? Hunt, full name Jeremy Richard Streynsham Hunt, eldest son of a Royal Navy Admiral, is at the top of the pile. As Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, he should have known better and kept his brain in gear – not for fear of causing upset but because he should have made himself aware of the official reports clearing Liverpool fans of any unruly behaviour.

But should some criticism be directed at the media who at once turned it into a storm. If the media were thinking (genuinely) of the families, would they have gone on the hunt for immediate responses?

In the modern world of rolling news, Twitter and all manner of communication tools, there is a sort of glee if some unsuspecting celeb or politician drops a clanger – remember Gordon Brown and Gillian Duffy? For newspapers it’s a walk-on splash, for new media it’s a global talking point.

In the immediate aftermath of Hillsborough, I was one of the journalists with the grim task of knocking on doors to gather information on the dead; speaking with families so overcome with grief it was unbearable.

Young kids with no a bad bone in their bodies, decent young people whose lives were snuffed out in those few terrible minutes in Yorkshire. They weren’t misbehaving, or unruly or troublesome – just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Hunt was silly and stupid, even more so considering his privileged upbringing – head boy at Charterhouse School and a former public relations executive prior to turning to politics.

But there’s a vast difference between somebody choosing an unfortunate way of commenting on a contemporary situation and those who comment in a vindictive, ignorant way, specifically designed to cause great hurt.

It gives the television companies the opportunity to once again dust off that awful footage of events at Hillsborough in those critical six minutes of horror.

Just as the Hillsborough families are seemingly destined to be participants, whether they choose to be or otherwise, it’s been much the same for the families of the Moors Murders and of course the family of James Bulger.

Trying to re-build lives is a long and painful journey and I can well image people concerned with all such tragedies will groan at yet another gaffe, or unfortunate comment, knowing when the phone rings it is going to be somebody asking ..... “did you hear what’s just been said?” Those people have lost loved ones but I wonder whether it’s fair to impose that extra life-long duty upon their shoulders.

As for Mr Hunt, personal fortune estimated at more than £4m, he should wear his designer hair-shirt, head to Liverpool, speaking on the way to Andy Burnham, and tell the families he was so wrong. He should pay a significant “fine” for his crime – perhaps a six-figure donation to help kids on Merseyside so it will be a forever reminder that careless talk hurts lives.

Then we should all move on and forget the day a politician nobody had even heard of made worldwide news.

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Scouser09June 29th 2010.

When I first heard about this guy's clanger I thought leave the guy alone, he's said sorry. But when I heard a replay of the interview I changed my mind. He really is a plonker and should go. As a Cabinet Minister he ought to have known something about the history - and contemporary issues - surrounding his portfolio.

ADJune 29th 2010.

I agree with most of whats said but I cant see the relevence or point of bringing up Hunts privaliged background or personal wealth. Neither his background or money makes this any better or worse.

AnonymousJune 29th 2010.

Good point, well made. Yes every time some idiot makes a nasty comment on Hillsborough, the poor families are dragged into the spotlight. The media fan the flames. It must be awful for those who suffered to put up with this. What worries me is 'coaching' politicians to avoid making stupid comments hides from us what they really think. I think I prefer to know what and how these people actually think so we can then work on convincing them they are so wrong.

anonymous2June 29th 2010.

a good point made by anonymous, knowing what the politicians really think, if of course they actually do think and are not significantly led by the political goal for themselves. it is correct of course to raise the media role in the Hillsborough tragedy - we all remeber that 'rag' that used to be sold locally. as a true supporter who attended both the semi final games at Hillsborough, the real issue is that the tragedy could have been prevented and the lives saved if the authorities had heeded what the supporters and clubs said beforehand and that the families have not been compensated because of the potential for a wider financial obligation not because of the truth on who is responsible for the events

Soft JoeJune 29th 2010.

A bad and predictable mistake on the politician's part, but in my opinion a complete non-story, stirred up, as you say, by the utterly irresponsible and egregious mainstream media that we're cursed with today. Of course they were going to show footage of Hillsbrough, that's what these people do. It would never occur to them how upsetting those images could be, never in a million years. All that was missing was Mark Austin, ITN's vulture of doom, outside one of the bereaved family's houses. I tell you, if I ever see that perma-tanned b*****d in the street, I'm running a mile. He thrives on death and misery. Good column, Mr Neild, and some equally good responses.

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