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Working your power: Using your voice #2

The purpose of this blog is to acknowledge how it is possible for people to be silenced – be it at work or in any situation where there is a power differential. I make specific reference to the Hillsborough disaster of 1989. This blog is not intended to be an indepth exploration of the events on the day but it has been inspired by Hillsborough  and the justice that has been achieved for the victims and their families this year.

People whom are powerless traditionally include the poor, minority groups, women, disabled, etc. Powerful include the rich, white races, men and people that don’t have disabilities.

However, the perpetrators in this case, were the police and the victims were local people who had come to enjoy a game of football – they were not celebrities, or people with ‘influence’. Most of them were white people – both perpetrators and victims. What transpired was a disgraceful abuse of power on the part of the police; they chose to blame the football fans for the deaths of 96 fellow fans (men, women and children) – deaths that were as a direct result of the polices’ mismanagement.

The football fans and their families fought for 23 years to get justice for their loved ones and to ensure the truth came out. Every step of the way the police continued to justify their actions (lying all the while).


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The disturbing truth at work

The most disturbing part is that the police were able to successfully uphold a lie, despite camera footage, and testimonies of thousands of people to the contrary. So how was this possible? Simply put: those in power colluded to protect each other and hide the truth. All resources were used to uphold the lie:

  • Media domination and
  • intentional misinformation,

‘Lord Justice Taylor expressed [further] concern that the police had initiated a vilification campaign directed towards Liverpool fans. Widely published allegations had included drunken fans urinating on police officers and on the bodies of the dead and stealing from the dead.’

  • manipulating of witnesses,
  • Dismissing/ misrepresentation of evidence (the investigation received 3,776 statements & 1550 statements which refuted the polices’ allegations that the fans were unruly)
  • Collusion of police officers (South Yorkshire Police) and their management: Chief Constables. Some officers retired early on ‘medical grounds’ and so avoided prosecution this way.
  • Collusion of Internal Inquiry systems (Wain Inquiry), Director of Public Prosecutions, South West Yorkshire District Coroner. The independent Inquiry states: ‘The DPP’s decision not to prosecute any individual or corporate body was taken in late August 1990.’

And all this was possible because the police are the police – in the highest possible position of power; supposedly guardians of the law. So they could abuse this power. With no safeguards to ensure that they were acting responsibly.

But what drives such behaviour? Some factors include:

  • Fear – of repercussions of telling the truth, of taking responsibility
  • Lack of integrity- sometimes we care called to take responsibility for our actions – for the greater good of all
  • Poorly enforced codes of ethics and behaviour
  • Deep rooted Corruption

Shame on us

And all of this is a shame on humanity; that we can treat eachother this way.

And get away with it for so long.

And seek to defend such disgraceful behaviour – despite the pain and absolute anguish it causes.
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The greatest shame of it all is that amongst those that were lying, some would not have wanted to – but they would have conformed; feeling powerless to ‘go against the grain’; to ‘blow the whistle’ (– for this takes courage). And with this would have come pain and anguish – for to watch 96 people die – leaves it’s mark on you. A mark that ALL present have lived with for 23 years. Indeed many police officers sought compensation for trauma in so far as they were secondary victims to the events on the day.


So why, out of all the police that were present – and were witness to all that happened on that fateful day- did not one of the guilty stand up and say: ‘it’s all a lie, the police were responsible, and I for one, am sorry’. Read more about standing up above the parapet in this blog: ‘Using your Voice #1’.

An excerpt from the Hillsborough Independent Panel:

‘It was soon realised that many people were injured, some fatally. A tragedy was unfolding, witnessed by over 54,000 people inside the stadium, television and radio broadcasters, numerous journalists and press photographers, and recorded on CCTV.’

The fact is that in situations like this; people collude. The same is true for managers that were found guilty of abusing their power in the case of the Mid – staffordshire enquiry into mis-management in the NHS.

And this gets me thinking about all the other situations and scenarios where it has been the word of the lay public against another person of power and influence – and how the truth could have been manipulated in those situations too. And the pain this causes to innocent people. And not just them – their families too. In both medical and psychological ways. Needless pain. In addition to the 96 people who lost their lives on that fateful day, the Independent Inquiry states:

‘…162 were treated at hospitals in Sheffield and Barnsley, many more were traumatised and the families of those who died and survived were changed forever. Others have died prematurely, their deaths probably hastened by the physical injuries or psychological suffering endured at Hillsborough and its aftermath.’

And with each corrupt act on the part of the police, each act that went un-investigated or without application of sufficient disciplinary processes, it made the events at Hillsborough all the more possible.

It is of course worthy of note, and sad to realise that the police officers involved were also local people. Some are likely to have known the people affected by the events of Hillsborough. And one would wish therefore that they would have been similarly invested in seeing justice be served rather than, as has been reported; being adversarial in the process.

‘Sixty-five police officers gave evidence to the Inquiry and LJ Taylor considered the ‘quality of their evidence’ was ‘in inverse proportion to their rank’. Some junior officers were ‘alert, intelligent and open’ witnesses and as the disaster was happening ‘many… strove heroically in ghastly circumstances’. Most senior officers, however, ‘were defensive and evasive witnesses … neither their handling of problems on the day nor their account of it in evidence’ demonstrated the ‘qualities of leadership expected of their rank’.

Our power

hillsb steering grpThe reason that justice was achieved for the Hillsborough victims and their families, is because of the persistence, dedication and commitment of the Hillsborough Family Support Group and the Hillsborough Steering Committee. They brought private prosecutions, they campaigned relentlessly – to their MPs, to the Home Secretary and much more.

Our power lies in us using our voices for good. Our voices can be used to cause hurt and can be used to heal. It is up to us how we choose to use our voices. And when the opportunity arises, may we be courageous and use our voices for the greater good. The truth will always come out, but may our actions enable the process to be expedient.

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Do you see these patterns alive in your workplace?

So How about you? What ways to stand up (in situations when others would not) have you experienced? I would love to hear your thoughts.


Awele is an experienced trainer who has worked nationally and delivered training for over 300 delegates – working successfully with over 30 companies and organisations. See here for more information on the range of CPD accredited training services Awele provides.

From goal setting, and planning skills to resilience and stress management, Awele has experience designing and delivering a range of programmes. If you have particular training needs, then do enquire to see how Awele can be of support to you. Workplace stress is not something you have to live with, contact Awele and make stress at work a thing of the past.

Call Awele on 07985 440014 or 0845 054 2781 or


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