Steve's orginal letter to Alan Davies which was leaked to The Times...
Reaction to Alan Davies' piece in The Times:
In a week which saw the true spirit of Merseyside with an emotional and impeccably observed one minutes silence from both Everton and Liverpool FC fans at Wembley, it was perhaps the most inappropriate time for a comedian to dig his heels in over a subject he may believe he understands, but which he shows very little evidence of so doing.
The original podcast which made reference to the Hillsborough Disaster by Alan Davies on his Tuesday Club, and the furore that followed, has caused both parties great distress. Representatives from the victim support groups unanimously condemned the insensitivity of the ill-informed comments about Liverpool FC being “forced” to play a football fixture of the anniversary of Britain’s worst ever sporting disaster.
It is also true that Mr Davies and his family came in for some totally unjustifiable and disgraceful comments - and were even subjected to threats to their lives and safety by some, possibly caught up in the passion of events, but who do not speak for the dignified majority who have campaigned for justice for the 96.
On one issue, Mr Davies is right. The abusers don’t speak for the families of the bereaved, but they don’t need to. The families have been forthright in their condemnation of Mr Davies’ comments.
Indeed, I would claim that unnecessarily forceful comments actually do a disservice as they are quickly seized upon by those that wish to discredit our campaign, and pander to the ‘self pity City’ brigade – and to those that would like to portray ALL Liverpudlians as anything from; moaning scousers, to homicidal maniacs.
This whole calamity however, was fuelled by both the inconsiderate nature of the original comments made during the podcast by Mr Davies and by the dismissive responses to legitimate questions directed at him immediately after his comments were blogged and then tweeted to millions. His only contrition to date is that he now admits that he needed to “change gear and take a more considered tone”. Oh.......... and he dressed as a funny scouse stereotype character to show he hadn’t lost his sense of fun. Brilliant!
Let me make it absolutely clear so nobody can claim that I am excusing the over-the-top responses that he received (which some already have attempted to do), I do not condone the vitriolic content of tweets to Mr Davies and his family when I argue that he got things disastrously wrong. I unequivocally condemn any threats of violence. Mr Davies has the right to free speech and to express his beliefs, however misguided they may be.
However, the families of the victims of Hillsborough have an absolute right to decide what is in the best interests of their loved ones lost in a tragedy that generates feelings which for many, go far beyond the normal grief associated with the loss of someone dear. There exists a palpable sense of injustice 23 years on. Very few individuals have had their grief played out on the national stage like that of the 96 families. They need no lessons on how to mourn their dead.
If Mr Davies decided he did not wish to play a gig on the anniversary of his mother’s death, then I (for one) would respect that, just as he should respect other people’s wishes. Like him, I too have felt the pain of the death of my beloved mum, but neither she, nor Mrs Davies, was blamed for killing herself and 95 other people. Neither were the victims of a cover up and conspiracy that pervaded senior layers of the British establishment. None were the subject of banner front page headlines that claimed that their friends, and bystanders who had tried to save them, picked the pockets of dead people or urinated on Police offices. And we who are left, did not have to fight for over 2 decades to try to ensure that the cause of their deaths was correctly recorded and that those responsible for the negligence that caused their demise were held accountable.
That is why Mr Davies and many, many others, simply just don’t get it.
They may now know the timeline of events due to the superb campaign mounted by families and supporters to fight for the truth and full disclosure, but they do not fully appreciate what it has taken to get to where we are today. They do not understand the fortitude and steadfastness of fighting, what at times have seemed immovable political and legalistical barriers to the truth, but which have been assailed one by one until there is, at long last, hope that the Hillsborough Independent Panel report will soon be published.
We have never claimed there is a hierarchy of pain associated with any tragedy. Every loss of life is most painful to those closest to bereavement; family, friends and relatives. It doesn’t mean that others cannot empathise with such loss, but they cannot either fully expect to feel the same physical pain as those directly affected.
And nobody is claiming that because it was a sporting disaster on an unimaginable scale, that this by itself magnifies that sense of loss. But that collective grief is real. It is manifested in the way in which our City commemorates Hillsborough. And in that respect, it is up to other Clubs, their supporters and especially the grieving relatives of those that perished at Ibrox, Valley Parade, Heysel or Munich, to decide how they best remember their own particular tragedy, in their own particular way.
I wouldn’t dream of commenting, advising or criticising them. To do so would be insensitive and ignorant.
I do not know, nor have I ever met Alan Davies, but it is obvious that he is a very different animal to the persona portrayed on TV that we all recognise, and which some of us previously loved him for. To try to justify comments that you know to be wrong and hurtful, awkwardly contrasts with the carefully cultivated image of a cuddly cockney comedian with curly hair. A lovable fool?
His decision to simply apologise for the ‘tone’ of his comments rather than, as he should have done, the actuality of the words, or to even accept that he was not the person best placed to comment on such matters (despite his philosophical critique of the reality of the grief and bereavement process’), suggests only a limited degree of remorse for the offence he caused.
To “tough it out”, didn’t show strength, but misguided bravado that “Alan knows best”. I’m sorry Mr Davies, on this one; you are wrong and have only compounded your mistakes.
When the story first broke (which was several days after the podcast was first broadcast), I decided not to tweet on this issue as others had done, but to write to Mr Davies in person. I did so privately. I have now been forced to publish the full content of my letter to him, as he made reference to extracts and named me specifically in the press (in the Murdoch newspaper, The Times), without first informing me of his intentions and without me seeing his response to me in advance.
In my original correspondence I included a copy of Hansard from the Parliamentary debate on October 17th 2012 and a video link to the debate. I had hoped that this would give him the opportunity to read (or watch) what had been said that evening in the House of Commons, so that he could fully understand the magnitude of the Hillsborough disaster and its aftermath. I truly wonder whether he even took the time for a cursory glance at either.
It is true that in his five-page response to me, he makes reference to certain aspects of the disaster. What he has seemingly failed to understand is that, by just listing things that I had previously highlighted doesn’t mean he has understood their implications.
In my letter I tried to strike a balanced note, which I am not sure he fully appreciated. I was in no way aiming to be patronising to Mr Davies about his understanding of Hillsborough, but hoped that he might read up on it to ensure that he was availed of the full facts. I hoped my intervention might have acted as a would-be olive branch to help dampen heightened feelings on both sides. I even thought that Mr Davies may have wished to meet with representatives of the families given the volume of evidence and the complexity of the myriad of inter-related events.
Perhaps a career in the Foreign Office is beyond me now, as it appears that my attempts at diplomatic conciliation have been thrown back in my face and that Mr Davies is determined to continue his adopted position, based on such spurious claims as: more than 400 people out of 90,000 that had listened to the clip on YouTube clicked on the icon to say they liked it, whilst only 80 disliked it! Eat your hearts out Ipsos Mori!
Because of the ongoing fight for justice and after more than two decades, 140,000 people signed the Hillsborough e-petition to get a Parliamentary debate on the release of all documentation relating to the disaster (in just under three weeks). People of all football clubs; political persuasions and from right across all four corners of the country signed the petition.
As straw polls go, that is a big enough representative sample to determine huge support for the Hillsborough families – and I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of them would support the families right to commemorate the 96 on the 15th April each year in any way they deemed appropriate.
Incredibly, Mr Davies’ solution to this year’s clash of FA Cup semi final and 23rd anniversary service...... was to suggest they both be held at Wembley (despite only a few weeks’ notice), where “90,000 Liverpudlians could have gathered together”.
This would have been a logistical nightmare for the FA which Mr Davies (without any authority) was speaking on behalf of, but he forgets to mention this inconvenient fact. Would this suggested solution result in preferential treatment for all those associated with the annual service (on the 20th anniversary, 35,000 attended the service at Anfield)? He doesn’t say. But all the tickets are sold through agreed allocation policies anyway – and some family members no longer attend football matches. And yet Mr Davies complains about a ‘loss of perspective’!
He doesn’t really provide any other guidance, so it is unknown whether his suggestion would result in there being an hour long service, or a curtailed event? One can only speculate. Would it even be possible to the stage a memorial service during the managed spectacular that Wembley puts on? Would the 96 names be read (this takes several minutes in itself)?
As the Merseyside derby was designated as an early kick-off, would the service be conducted directly before the kick off, or at the end of the game? An early KO would mean that there wouldn’t be a minutes silence at 3:06? (But perhaps the significance of this particular time was lost on him?)
Would the teams be on the pitch, or preparing for one of the most important derby games for years in the changing rooms? Would Everton even agree to such a request? (Let’s face it they have been unbelievably supportive – but would this be a bridge too far?). What would happen if it was Liverpool v Manchester United (or Chelsea after the disrespect they showed on Sunday) in the future? Should the game still be played if it falls on an anniversary?
Either way, why is any of this the concern of Alan Davies? That is a question I have been asking myself all week. The 23rd anniversary of the disaster was supposed to be a year when we came together and built on the momentum of the last six months. Instead, Mr Davies himself has become the media story. That is desperately disappointing for some, for other, simply unforgiveable.
In any case, this hypothesis was only offered as an afterthought to try to demonstrate the feasibility after the realisation of what he had said and wasn’t suggested during the original podcast or in the immediate period afterwards as a reason to move the date. What Mr Davies said was; 'Liverpool and the 15th - that gets on my tits that s***. What are you talking about "We won’t play on the day"? Why can’t they?'
By his own admission Mr Davies’ podcast is not scripted, nor is it planned. Therefore, these comments are a genuine response to the subject being discussed – a comedic stream of consciousness. This must be how he genuinely feels about Hillsborough, Liverpool FC and the way in which the tragedy is commemorated. That is deeply disturbing.
It wasn’t Liverpool FC (or Everton) that decided to play on Saturday 14th April, (forcing the other semi-final to be played the next day) it was the FA. Both games could have been played on the same day with staggered Kick offs to allow TV coverage. The Merseyside semi could and should have been played at Old Trafford and the date in question wouldn’t have even been an issue. It would also have been easier for fans to travel to Manchester rather than London thus avoiding the associated additional costs and transport horrors to the Capital.
In his letter to me, which he leaked to The Times, Mr Davies states; ‘rather than write to me as if I’m entirely ignorant of the events of Hillsborough and need educating, perhaps you should write to those people, possibly your own constituents, who want me to contract cancer so my children will never enjoy Christmas, who want to urinate on my mother’s grave, who would take pleasure in seeing my wife sexually assaulted, and suggest that it is they who have truly caused offence’.
As I said in the opening of this piece, I absolutely condemn any threats against Mr Davies and his family and of course will write to any constituents from Liverpool Walton if he provides details of who they are and what they said. I can also guarantee that all of the Liverpool MPs will do likewise. I will also reply to Mr Davies’ letter personally. It will be up to him decide whether or not to respect the privacy of its content.
What is still striking, however, is Mr Davies’ automatic assertion that the people who sent death threats and messages of abuse were seemingly from Liverpool? Liverpool FC has a very wide supporter base and there is no evidence to conclude that every tweet originated from the Merseyside area, but of course if it has a negative connotation associated with it, it is easier to infer that it must be someone from my City. And Mr Davies wonders why we have to keep challenging some people’s misperceptions.
In Parliament I have been leading on a piece of work that is looking specifically at problems of abuse on social media sites, Facebook and Twitter (trolling). I know all too well the issues surrounding messages sent through the anonymity of a computer, which can have a devastating impact on the individuals they target. That is why I have continued to meet with the Police, Home Office Ministers, online verification experts and Facebook’s community standards teams, to see if there is the potential to introduce a Bill that will tighten the law in this area. Not every tweet to Mr Davies was nasty – and not everyone who was nasty was from Liverpool.
However, all of this is academic and really misses the point. Alan Davies, undoubtedly said something stupid and grossly offensive. Yet he either doesn’t comprehend the magnitude of Hillsborough and its aftermath to this very day in the daily lives of those having to correct stupid, offensive, and often throw-away comments by people like him, or he actually believes some of the pseudo psycho-babble of, at best, the amateur bereavement counsellor he unfortunately imagines himself to be. Either way, it is sad that his ego has gotten the better of him on this occasion, when to genuinely apologise would have been the right and proper thing to do.