The English bulldog is the symbol of tenacity. That’s why the Russians called Winston Churchill "the British bulldog." Unlike other breeds, the English bulldog has no love of walks in the park. Your stick it will not fetch.
I was reminded of this supposedly classic English trait on Wednesday, the conclusion of a 23-year battle by families of the Hillsborough disaster. Ninety-six people died in a human crush during a football match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield in 1989. A police smear blamed ticketless, drunken and violent Liverpool fans for hampering rescue operations.
The families never believed the police and launched a gutsy campaign to clear the names of their loved ones. The official inquiry in 1990 blamed "failure of police control" and an inquest the following year returned a verdict of "accidental death."
Ignoring repeated advice to 'move on' and 'get over it,' the families campaigned for the release of all relevant documents, and on the 20th anniversary forced the government to set up an independent inquiry panel. It trawled through 450,000 pages of evidence, gathered from 80 organisations, for a 359-page report published Wednesday.
It said the lives of 41 victims could have been saved, prompting PM David Cameron to offer an immediate apology to a shocked nation. It also details how South Yorkshire Police smeared Liverpool fans and tampered with evidence that was critical of the emergency response.
Twenty-three years ago, the Sun headline ran, 'The Truth: some fans picked pockets of victims, some fans urinated on the brave cops, some fans beat up PC giving kiss of life.' This week, it backtracked with the headline, 'The Real Truth: cops smeared Liverpool fans to deflect blame, 41 lives could have been saved, we are profoundly sorry for false reports, families of 96 victims call for prosecution.'
The 'bulldog spirit' is a rousing call, often invoked by British politicians dealing with Europe. The Hillsborough Family Support Group has shown a gentler side to this overegged symbol.