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The Hillsborough Prosecutions Are A Victory For Our Grassroots Campaign

30/06/2017 09:22 | Updated 30 June 2017
PAUL ELLIS via Getty Images

It is times like today when you cherish what the great people from the HJC did for both families & survivors. I'm certain that without them, today wouldn't have happened, as they galvanised grassroots support behind the campaign for justice... Undoubtedly one of the most important institutions in Liverpool over the last three decades and an absolute credit to City and beyond.
Ian Byrne. LFC supporter

The decision was announced on Wednesday to prosecute six people in respect of the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989. Whilst forthcoming court cases prevent detailed comment nevertheless it is fair to say that although it was a welcome decision, many involved in the long campaign for justice are disappointed at some obvious omissions of individuals and organisations. Still the Hillsborough Justice Campaign (HJC) would assert that even those six prosecutions would not be occurring if it were not for the collective efforts of people at a grass roots level who refused to give up when all official agencies had long tried to kick the disaster into the long grass.

The ever increasing visibility of a campaign that highlighted the disaster as a major miscarriage of justice and the massive support (both nationally and internationally) was a key factor in the establishment of the Hillsborough Independent Panel (HIP) 2010. It reported in 2012 what many of us had been arguing for 23 years, that there had been lies and cover-up. This was a major step forward.

There followed fresh inquests into the disaster which concluded in April 2016 and resulted in unlawful killing verdicts being recorded against the 96 victims (the previous verdicts of accidental death being quashed in December 2012). These verdicts were part of the truth that the Hillsborough Justice Campaign had fought to establish over many years. With that truth formally established some felt the beginning of a sense of justice but still, there was no accountability.

This latest decision along the arduous, challenging road has opened the door for a measure of accountability. People are to be prosecuted. Not enough in the eyes of many campaigners and certainly there is disappointment that no organisations involved are to be prosecuted. Nevertheless this has to be viewed as major progress in any overall analysis of the disaster and its aftermath.

Twenty eight years is a long time to sustain a fight for justice. It is also extremely difficult when you have to endure the antagonism and hostility of the establishment and mainstream media. The entire Hillsborough experience to date has been one long learning curve for many in respect of developing strategies for navigating a path for truth. It is fair to say that some were better at it than others.

The HJC was the natural home to those families who saw value in a broad based campaign that included survivors of the disaster as they saw them as not only valuable witnesses but also victims. It was home to John Glover and Anne Williams, for example, who both had lost children in the disaster. Both these people had a healthy critical view of the establishment and both believed firmly that not only had lies been told but had also been covered up and, perhaps most crucially, both (together with other bereaved families in the campaign) were not afraid to speak truth to power and were uncompromising. Sadly, both died before the new inquests. Fighting for the truth to be established took its toll on many others who have died and will never see justice. These two fine people epitomise the struggle fought not only by families but also survivors of the HJC, yet their pivotal role in the fight for justice continues not only to be marginalised but largely written out of the history of Hillsborough in favour of a narrative that elevates individuals to near hero status.

The longevity of the campaign saw many dark years where there was little media or political interest. The publication of the HIP report in 2012 altered that and Hillsborough was once again not only news worthy but a political commodity. All the more of an irony therefore that this was the very stage of the struggle when individuals were co-opted both politically and socially, arguably in an attempt to depoliticise the campaign. The importance of this point is to highlight how history can be re-written by elevating the few at the expense of the many. Historically however, the HJC has always stayed one step ahead of the game. Over the years when the traditional media ignored our campaign we utilised the emerging social media to great effect.

Indeed in recent years, it was social media involvement that enabled us to achieve major progress. One such example being the first e-petition to be debated in Parliament. So it continues that whilst the outcomes of the work of the HJC are acknowledged in general terms, the role that the campaign has played is largely ignored and rarely named. When the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, yesterday applauded the work of the HJC during Prime Minister's Questions, it was a welcome exception.

There are many salutary lessons for Grenfell Tower families and survivors from the experience of the HJC. Lessons learnt over many years at huge cost to many people. We would hope that this latest disaster is not subject to the cruelty and lies of the state over so many years. They have to fight to keep in control of their lived experiences. They must fight for active participation in all judicial processes and inquiries. Perhaps most importantly, they must request the establishment of a small group of people of reputable status who can oversee these procedures. The establishment will balk at this suggestion yet without this oversight mistrust and the fear of a cover-up will remain. The HJC has pledged support.

There will probably be a lengthy period of time before the Hillsborough prosecutions reach a conclusion. Irrespective of outcomes it is hoped that the lessons of Hillsborough can become embedded in a future society based on equality and humanity. Let those lessons begin with Grenfell.

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