A Sheffield-based news agency has expressed its shock at how The Sun handled a story it filed in the aftermath of the Hillsborough tragedy.
Yesterday’s report by an independent panel on the 1989 disaster identified Whites Press Agency as the source of the story blaming drunken Liverpool fans for the crush that resulted in 96 deaths.
The story, which appeared in the Murdoch-owned tabloid under the infamous headline ‘The Truth,’ had been based on interviews with South Yorkshire police officers and the then Conservative MP for Sheffield Hallam, Irvine Patnick.
The report found that the story was part of a concerted police effort “to develop and publicise a version of events that focused on…allegations of drunkenness, ticketlessness and violence.”
The agency issued a statement yesterday stressing that the story it filed was reporting allegations as opposed to the’ truth’ and that it was “shocked” at how the Sun had handled it.
It said: “Several reporters from this agency had some involvement in covering the Hillsborough tragedy and the aftermath.
“In common with many other journalists, reporters from this agency spoke to the then Sheffield Hallam MP Irvine Patnick. A senior reporter, who has since died, and with long standing police connections, also spoke to senior officers.
“As result, as a responsible and reputable agency, we did report the allegations to all the national newspapers and media outlets.
“The agency had no control over how the allegations were presented and were shocked by the way the story was presented by the Sun. Other newspapers reported the allegations in a different way.
“We welcome the publication of all documents relating to the Hillsborough tragedy and hope it brings some measure of closure for those affected. We have no further comment to make.”
Speaking in the Commons, Prime Minister David Cameron said the reports were “clearly wrong and caused huge offence, distress and hurt.”
The Sun’s then editor Kelvin Mackenzie has now offered a “profuse apology” for the headline, which he said would have been more accurate had it read “The Lies.”
Said Kelvin: “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.”
The paper itself apologised in an editorial published in today’s edition which carried the front page headline: ‘The Real Truth.’
It said: “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.”