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Why Hillsborough Still Matters

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Twenty three years after the event, the fact that the families of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster are still fighting for justice is an indictment of the justice system in this country and reflects an utter disregard for the plight and dignity of working class people on the part of the authorities, a section of the media, and the police.

Let's be clear, the 96 who died and 766 who were injured on that awful day were the victims of a monumental policing failure and an attempted cover up in the aftermath. They were not killed by fellow supporters, nor were their bodies desecrated, violated or in any way criminally interfered with by their fellow Liverpudlians. On the contrary, many of them lost their lives and many more were injured trying to save others. And many who survived only did so because of the selfless actions of others on that day, whose courage stood in start contrast to the actions of the police, who refused to open the gates in the fence in the face of the disaster that was unfolding before their eyes.

The scenes of thousands of fans pleading with stewards and the police to open those gates as people are being crushed to death remains among the most harrowing ever broadcast. Penned in like animals, their fate was considered less important than preventing a pitch invasion, reflective of the disdain in which football fans were held by the authorities and the police.

This criminal negligence was further emphasised by the fact that of the 44 ambulances that arrived at stadium in response to the disaster, only one was allowed access to the stadium, thus ensuring that many died who may have survived if they'd received medical attention at the scene.

The theory put forward in the aftermath by the police that many supporters were drunk and disorderly, that more fans had turned up outside the stadium than had tickets and were attempting to push their way in, was refuted by Lord Justice Taylor in his report into the tragedy, which was published in 1990. He laid the main responsibility at the door of South Yorkshire Police and laid out recommendations for improving safety at football grounds. This proved the one positive to come out of Hillsborough and is the reason why today people attending football matches are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve in state of the art facilities at which their safety is considered paramount.

To this day there has been no apology by the police for their actions on the day.

Compounding the suffering of the families of the victims and the people of Liverpool in the aftermath were the obscene allegations carried in the Sun newspaper a few days later, accusing Liverpool fans of urinating on the bodies of the dead and injured and rifling their pockets as they lay on the pitch. It marked a low point in British tabloid journalism and a low point even in the sordid history of the Murdoch Press. Yet in a shocking inversion of justice, Kelvin MacKenzie, the editor of the paper at the time and the man responsible for the smears that appeared on its front page, continues to enjoy a media career to this day. A boycott of The Sun has been in place in Liverpool ever since, illustrating the kind of solidarity that the Kelvin MacKenzies of this world could never understand.

By contrast the courage, dignity, and commitment to justice demonstrated by the families over the two decades since the tragedy took place, has ensured that the victims have never been forgotten.

They have never sought anything except justice. Hopefully the release of the Hillsborough Papers will go some way to achieving it. If not the struggle will continue - and rightly so.

Around the Web

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