In 2003, Detective Constable Stephen Oake was stabbed to death as he carried out an immigration raid in Manchester. His killer was arrested at the scene and subsequently locked up for life. One of the remarkable aspects of this tragedy was the incredibly dignified way his father dealt with the loss of his only son.
When ex Isle of Man Chief Constable Robin Oake faced journalists at the press conference following the murder, he was asked what he felt about the man who killed his son. His reply took everyone by surprise: “I don’t know the man or the circumstances but from my heart I forgive him.” Mr Oake later went on to write a book called Father Forgive: The Forgotten ‘F’ Word
I knew nothing of this until I heard Mr Oake being interviewed on the Radio last week in connection with the killing of two police officers in Manchester the previous day. I was struck by his measured tone and dignity as he empathised with the families of the two murdered women. He spoke of the difficult journey ahead and the importance of forgiveness as part of the healing process.
In stark contrast, a week earlier the Hillsborough report was published and our newspapers and TV screens were dominated by stories of cover-up, culpability and injustice. One recurring sentiment expressed by friends and families of some of the 96 people who lost their lives 23 years ago was the need for justice.
They wanted those they considered responsible for the deaths of their loved ones to be brought to book. Not a single word was uttered about forgiveness.
So how is it that a man can pray for the killer of his only son and forgive him even before he’s been convicted, while hundreds of grieving relatives almost a quarter of a century on cannot see past blame and retribution?
It’s because the relatives of the 96 were denied the opportunity for closure due to misinformation, cover-up and not being listened to. They have never had the opportunity to forgive because instead of embarking on a search for the truth, those in positions of high power sought to evade any sense of personal or collective responsibility.
The irony is I don’t believe justice will ever be done. What happened at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989 was the crashing together of a series of errors in human judgment that each in isolation would in all likelihood have been inconsequential. Decisions made by the FA, Sheffield United FC, stewards, police, the ambulance service and yes, dare I say it, some of the fans, all collided that day in a way that nobody could possibly have predicted.
There was nobody left holding a bloodstained knife. Nobody standing there with a smoking gun. No tangible killer to blame. The misinformation that followed and the desire by certain people to exonerate themselves rather than accept their contribution to the series of events that resulted in catastrophic loss of life is the real crime here.
I’m not sure if there is a communications lesson here or not.
There is most certainly evidence of the devastating damage to people’s lives that can be caused by those who we all rely on to act with honesty and integrity don’t.
And given the person being held up as the biggest villain of the piece is Kelvin MacKenzie, a lifelong professional communicator who was nowhere near Hillsborough that day, nor could he be held in any way responsible for the chain of events that led up to the tragedy, I think there probably is a communications lesson in here somewhere…
RIP Stephen Oake and the Liverpool 96.