GUARDIAN – Hillsborough: MacKenzie offers ‘profuse apologies’ for Sun front page

Former editor of tabloid says story headlined ‘The Truth’, pinning some blame on fans, was published ‘in good faith’Kelvin MacKenzie, editor of the Sun at the time of the Hillsborough disaster, has offered the people of Liverpool his “profuse apologies” for his front page story, headlined “The Truth”, which falsely alleged that drunken fans had urinated on police and pickpocketed the dead.MacKenzie said after the publication of the Hillsborough independent panel report on Wednesday about the 1989 disaster, in which 96 Liverpool fans died, that he had discovered to his horror that it would have been “far more accurate had I written the headline The Lies rather than The Truth”.His first unequivocal apology in the 23 years since the notorious front page, which led to a mass boycott of the paper in Merseyside, came after the Hillborough report concluded that the evidence showed conclusively that the allegations against Liverpool fans on which the Sun splash was based were unfounded.Earlier on Wednesday following the publication of the Hillsborough report, speaking in parliament, David Cameron referred to the “despicable untruths” in the Sun’s 1989 story and called on the News International paper to make a “heartfelt apology” and for MacKenzie to “stand up to his responsibilities” after pinning some of the blame for the disaster on the fans.In a statement MacKenzie offered his “profuse apologies to the people of Liverpool for that headline”. “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.”MacKenzie added: “I too was totally misled. Twenty-three years 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.”Hillsborough campaigner Trevor Hicks, who lost two daughters in the disaster, branded MacKenzie’s apology “too little, too late”, calling him “lowlife, clever lowlife, but lowlife”.The damning report detailed attempts to shift the blame for Hillsborough on to Liverpool supporters, including how police witness statements submitted to Lord Taylor’s earlier inquiry were doctored.It also for the first time identifies a Tory MP, Irvine Patnick, and high ranking South Yorkshire police officers as the sources for the allegations that led to the Sun’s notorious front page.The April 1989 splash claimed in three subheadlines that “Some fans picked pockets of victims; Some fans urinated on the brave cops; Some fans beat up PC giving kiss of life”. Other papers carried the story but qualified it by saying there were reports that fans had been abusive.Documents released to the Hillsborough independent panel showed that Sheffield Hallam MP Patnick, alongside the South Yorkshire police federation, were responsible for feeding the false allegetions to Whites News Agency in Sheffield that led to the Sun story.In the past MacKenzie has said a Tory MP had made the allegations, protesting that his only “mistake was I believed what an MP said”.The prime minister told parliament that the families “were right” to have “long believed that some of the authorities attempted to create a completely unjust account of events that sought to blame the fans for what happened”.In an opening address on the report, Cameron said: “Several newspapers reported false allegations that fans were drunk and violent and stole from the dead.”The Sun’s report sensationalised these allegations under a banner headline ‘The Truth’. This was clearly wrong and caused huge offence, distress and hurt.”Cameron also revealed that News International had cooperated with the Hillsborough panel. “For the first time, today’s report reveals that the source for these despicable untruths was a Sheffield news agency reporting conversations with South Yorkshire police and Irvine Patnick, the then MP for Sheffield Hallam,” said Cameron.During questions about MacKenzie’s legacy in relation to Hillsborough, he said he “hopes he stands up to his responsibilities”.Asked by Labour MP Chris Bryant whether the Sun should apologise, Cameron said he understood that the paper had done so in the past.However he added what the paper had written was “appalling” and “my view is that Kelvin MacKenzie needs to take responsibility for that”. He added: “Now is the time for proper heartfelt apologies, not only ‘I’m sorry’ but here’s what went wrong.”In July 2004, the Sun said it was “truly sorry” and that its falseallegations were “the most terrible mistake in its history”. It madethe statement after Wayne Rooney, who then played for Everton, was criticised for a series of exclusive interviews.Less than a year later, in February 2005, the Sun’s managing editor Graham Dudman, admitted in a BBC documentary that the Hillsborough coverage was “the worst mistake in our history”.However a year later, old wounds were re-opened after MacKenzie was quoted as saying at a private business lunch with a Newcastle law firm: “All I did wrong was tell the truth … I was not sorry then and I’m not sorry now because we told the truth.”• To contact the MediaGuardian news desk email editor@mediaguardian.co.uk or phone 020 3353 3857. For all other inquiries please call the main Guardian switchboard on 020 3353 2000. If you are writing a comment for publication, please mark clearly “for publication”.• To get the latest media news to your desktop or mobile, follow MediaGuardian on Twitter and Facebook Kelvin MacKenzieThe SunNewspapers & magazinesNational newspapersNewspapersHillsborough disasterLiverpoolLisa O’Carrollguardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds