“I swear to tell … anything but the truth.”

I was in Court this week, in the dock – the same day that the report on the Hillsborough disaster was made public. The traffic officer was determined to have me well and truly ‘done’, and I was.  I realised it was pragmatic to plead guilty, as my solicitor explained that I couldn’t prove that the officer’s statement bore little resemblance to what happened on the road that day and I would be punished further for disagreeing with his version regardless of the truth because the Law is heavily weighted in favour of its own, and that there is no point in fighting a battle you can’t win. It gave me the tiniest glimpse, a fleeting shadow, the merest hint, of what the relatives of the dead at Hillsborough have had to move through for 23 years.

Institutional power seeking to defend itself and coldly crushing any opposition. Police ready to lie, bully, doctor statements, threaten its own honest officers – yes, there are some out there somewhere – and shifting the blame to the defenceless and the dead. Senior police officers. Beat policemen. Civic leaders. Lawyers. Politicians. And even a judge it seems. Corrupt. (And now ‘wholeheartedly’ apologising on television, hoping to curry our favour and forgiveness.)

I am in awe of the Hillsborough people as they have taken on this corruption. I wish I had their courage and strength, but I don’t. They have shown that sometimes truth can be made to prevail in dark places, but it has to be fought for tooth and nail, against seemingly overwhelming odds. They have shown awesome courage, awesome determination, awesome dignity, and have each paid a massive personal price to fight that overwhelming destructive power so that truth can prevail.

They have shown me an example I want to follow, and I’m right behind their concern that those who have so blatantly attempted (and succeeded for 23 years) to pervert the course of justice are now brought to trial and thoroughly punished. I so badly hope they are. I’m under no delusion that my sense of personal injustice is more than dust on the scales compared to that of those across the world who are in prison for life, shot, wounded, deprived, robbed, persecuted and abused because of corruption in high and not so high places.

The thought that our institutions are regarded as ‘the best in the world’ sends a shudder down my spine as I find how low they have sunk, and leaves me with a couple of disturbing questions:  1) “What can I do about it?” and 2) … “Am I prepared to pay the price?”

The first answer is that I’m not sure I want to know.

The second answer… well, I’m working on it, but right now, to say yes would be ‘anything but the truth.’          

Max Winchester Visits Bethlehem

Max hadn’t intended to visit Bethlehem. The truth is, geography never has been his strong point, and satellite technology isn’t either. When the word ‘Stable’ had come up on his TomTom, he’s assumed that it meant something completely different. He’d hit the ‘Go’ button – with a degree of his normal trepidation – and driven off into the night. Mrs Winchester, knowing the limits of her beloved husband’s technological skills, and aware that he’d left his trusty AA map at home, went to bed a little worried. In the morning, when his side of the bed had remained unslept in, she phoned the police.

No, they hadn’t had any reports of accidents, but thanked her for leaving her details. She heard the Community Support Officer on the other end of the phone snigger as she mentioned his satnav skills. As Mrs W. returned the old phone to its rest, she noticed his mobile on the chair. The battery was flat. Her faith in angelic beings looking after her beloved husband of forty years would be tested over the next few days – and it was. She slept not a wink that night, lying in bed imagining the worst. Or even worse.

If she had only checked with his credit card company in the ensuing week she would have found a series of petrol purchases across Germany, Austria, Croatia and Greece. (Greece was worrying.) And a huge cash withdrawal at Athens. Little did she know that as she lay in bed on the fourth night, their little Ford Fiesta was on board a ferry in the Med, headed for Haifa.

Max Winchester arrived at Haifa and continued to follow TomTom diligently. The man at the border had asked him for his passport, and he was relieved to realise he had on the same jacket he’d been wearing when they’d done their last international trip – Newhaven to Dieppe in the summer. The passport was in his inside pocket. What a stroke of luck! He still remained a little confused about how he had managed to travel so far when he’d only planned to go Christmas shopping at Bluewater. The Med had indeed appeared to be the only blue water he had been in close contact with since he’d left home. However, during his drive through Albania he had noticed a particularly bright star in the night sky. He’d found it strangely comforting – not least in the absence of Mrs W’s reassuring night-time warmth that he had snuggled up to for so many years. This shopping trip had not been quite what he’d imagined, and he knew there was no way he could do anything other than follow the satnav. He’d be lost without it.

He drove out of Haifa with his spirits high, and it was one in the morning when, having had a bit of a kip in the back seat, he checked the satnav again. Only ten miles to go!

The next city looked very unattractive. “Unemployment high here” he told himself as he surveyed the unkempt streets with their high walls covered with graffiti. Very down market. Poor. Not a very safe place to stay. He kept an eye open for a place where he could get a room for what was left of the night – with secure parking. Mrs W. would be very disappointed if he came home without the car.

So it was that a few minutes later a little inn attracted his attention, and he pulled over. This place really was the pits. The gum-chewing girl on reception was chatting up a bunch of locals who smelt of, well, the countryside, and through a doorway he could see there was clearly a lot of activity going on under the light in an old stable. He could hear a girl crying in distress. What on earth…

Max never forgot that out-of-this-world moment. It wasn’t the teenager giving birth, or the scruffiness of it all. It was as if a shaft of burning light like lightning pierced his heart on that December night.

And back in her warm bed, Mrs W. switched off the light, closed her eyes and slept like a baby.

Part 2 … Coming Home.

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