Hillsborough - Footprints to Truth and Justice

29/04/2016 09:32

On the evening of 15 April 1989, like so many Liverpool fans, I learnt of the Hillsborough disaster with dismay. Sitting in a packed pub on Merseyside, the scale and depth of the tragedy unfolded. These were the days before instant communication, so families and friends waited in the pub for their loved ones to return, hearing first-hand about the devastation and chaos.

It was also a time before 24-hour information, so hundreds of us fell silent to watch the evening news. The tension broke with an eruption of anger as Margaret Thatcher appeared on the screen with platitudes and murmurs about more violence from football fans from an outcast city. That instant response to a distant power was for me an expression of collective injustice and a resolve to come together in solidarity.

I didn't know anyone who went to Hillsborough that day, but it has abiding memories which leaves me with a deep sense of sadness. That's shared by all scousers, red and blue, 27 years later.

Even for me it was emotional to hear this week's verdicts from the Inquest and so many powerful speeches at the rally outside St George's Hall, but that isn't anywhere in touching distance to what families and friends must have been feeling. Even, surely, the most intransigent defenders of South Yorkshire police and infamous Sun can't go untouched by those testimonies. That doesn't seem to be the case though, as the suspended Chief Constable of South Yorkshire apparently has a 'different perception'.

Built on the lies of David Duckenfield and other officials, The Sun blamed Liverpool supporters for the horror at Hillsborough. Claims of fans pick pocketing and urinating on the fallen was shocking and wholly unfounded. Now with The Sun and Times failing to cover the inquest's decision on their front pages shows they have learnt nothing and have no shame.

Whilst supporters screamed for gates to be opened to alleviate crushing against fences, police failed to take action. Instead of relieving the pressure and administering first aid, police linked arms to hold back fans from escaping death, injury or helping their mates. Rather than administering first aid, the police called for more dogs. It was a woeful dereliction of duty.

Later that night families received heart-breaking confirmation of their losses, often in a way that beggars belief. The parents of Sarah and Vicky Hicks, for example, weren't able to see their daughters because police said they had become 'the property of the coroner'. Families and friends treated as criminals and not given the dignity they deserved.

The ranks of the establishment quickly closed, covering up both systemic incompetence and individual failures. Lies were set out and statements amended to fit an institutional narrative that resulted in The Taylor Inquiry being seriously flawed. In turn this led to findings of accidental deaths. That was erroneous, personified by Ann Williams refusing to pick up her son's Death Certificate. Now she and those campaigning alongside have been proven right, that these 96 premature deaths were unlawful.

Despite much provocation the families acted with humility, campaigning to establish The Hillsborough Independent Panel. It revealed new evidence and resulted in the original inquest verdicts being quashed. In his ruling on 19 December 2012 The Lord Chief Justice said:
"The interests of justice must be served. Within the limits of the coronial system, the facts must be investigated and reanalysed in a fresh inquest when, however distressing or unpalatable, the truth will be brought to light. In this way the families of those who died in this disaster will be vindicated and the memory of each victim will be properly respected."

The two year inquest conducted by Sir John Goldring has got to the truth, exposing a system rotten to the core. Hillsborough is surely the greatest miscarriage of justice in British history. Yet there are many other examples of the established order closing ranks: for example: institutional racism in The Metropolitan Police found by The McPherson Inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence, police and press corruption surrounding the murder of Daniel Morgan and inaction by the BBC to address Jimmy Saville's despicable predatory behaviour. That's why changes are needed to head off more conspiracies by the powerful. Public institutions and their leaders need to be held accountable in law, to stop them from covering up and persisting in undermining truth and subverting justice.

Britain claims to be proud of its justice system. That simply isn't credible, as evidence time and again challenges the credibility of such standing. It isn't good enough to get there at last and in the face of adversity. Public confidence has been seriously eroded and must be addressed by reforming the police and press.