Update (October 2013): the article seems to have reappeared on The Spectator website.
On October 16th 2004 The Spectator published an unsigned editorial by Boris Johnson (aparently with a little help from Simon Heffer) in which he stated that Liverpool fans were wallowing in self pity when they themselves were responsible for the Hillsborough disaster. This article has since gone missing from The Spectator online archive. In an attempt to prevent it being airbrushed from history, here are the pertinent paragraphs:
The soccer international between England and Wales last Saturday managed to display in an instant two of the most unsavoury aspects of life in modern Britain. A request by the authorities for a minute’s silence in memory of Mr Ken Bigley, the news of whose murder by terrorists in Iraq had broken the previous day, was largely and ostentatiously ignored. Yet the fact that such a tribute was demanded in the first place emphasised the mawkish sentimentality of a society that has become hooked on grief and likes to wallow in a sense of vicarious victimhood. There had been a two-minute silence for Mr Bigley that same morning in Liverpool, according him the same respect offered annually to the million-and-a-half British servicemen who have died for their country since 1914.
No one can make light of the appalling fate suffered by the hostage. His imprisonment, his witnessing of the shocking murders of his two fellow hostages and his own hideous decapitation by the psychopathic criminals who kidnapped him provide an object lesson in human depravity and barbarity. But we have lost our sense of proportion about such things. There have, as a correspondent to the Daily Telegraph pointed out this week, been no such outbreaks of national mourning whenever one of our brave soldiers is killed serving his country in Iraq.
The extreme reaction to Mr Bigley’s murder is fed by the fact that he was a Liverpudlian. Liverpool is a handsome city with a tribal sense of community. A combination of economic misfortune — its docks were, fundamentally, on the wrong side of England when Britain entered what is now the European Union — and an excessive predilection for welfarism have created a peculiar, and deeply unattractive, psyche among many Liverpudlians. They see themselves whenever possible as victims, and resent their victim status; yet at the same time they wallow in it. Part of this flawed psychological state is that they cannot accept that they might have made any contribution to their misfortunes, but seek rather to blame someone else for it, thereby deepening their sense of shared tribal grievance against the rest of society. The deaths of more than 50 Liverpool football supporters at Hillsborough in 1989 was undeniably a greater tragedy than the single death, however horrible, of Mr Bigley; but that is no excuse for Liverpool’s failure to acknowledge, even to this day, the part played in the disaster by drunken fans at the back of the crowd who mindlessly tried to fight their way into the ground that Saturday afternoon. The police became a convenient scapegoat, and the Sun newspaper a whipping-boy for daring, albeit in a tasteless fashion, to hint at the wider causes of the incident.
In 2004 Johnson was sent, by the leader of the Conservative Party Michael Howard, to apologise to the people of Liverpool. Howard had run unsuccessfully in two general elections as the Conservative Party candidate for the Liverpool Edge Hill constituency. Johnson again apologised in September 2012 following the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report.
I was very, very sorry in 2004 that the Spectator did carry an editorial that partially repeated those allegations, I apologised then and I apologise now
His apology was rejected by Margaret Aspinall, chairwoman of Hillsborough Families Support Group:
What he has got to understand is that we were speaking the truth for 23 years and apologies have only started to come today from them because of yesterday.