There is a recurring pattern when policing fails. It is evident in a number of cases: the Stephen Lawrence murder; the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes; the fatal assault on Ian Tomlinson; the notorious miscarriages of justice from the 1980s and 1990s, and now Hillsborough.
The pattern unfolds like this. First, there is the moment where things go wrong. The initial emergency situation is misinterpreted, causing police intervention to amplify the harm. Then comes an official definition of reality that seeks to suppress acknowledgement of any problems or failings. When this is challenged by a narrative “from below,” police and their allies engage in a collective denial of the credibility and plausibility of this account and its proponents. A long period of campaigning ensues featuring repeated attempts to overturn the official account. At some point, political will cedes ground and a public inquiry is established, affording the power to revise the official history and rewrite the past. The process concludes with contrition and the promise that lessons have been or will be learned.