The Blog

Never Walking Alone on the Road to Justice

Although today is undoubtedly a step forward in what, for more than 23 years, has been a largely fruitless pursuit of justice, it does not - and should not - mark the end of the process... I know of relatives of the Hillsborough victims whose lives have also ended without gaining resolution and justice. One man - from a family well-known to my own -committed suicide because of a sense of guilt that he had survived the crush while his brother had not. For him, his brother and many in similar circumstances, may today be a step towards their finally being able to rest in peace.

The release of official documents relating to the Hillsborough disaster bring only a comfort of sorts and certainly no closure.

For the families of the Liverpool fans killed by a crush at the FA Cup semi-final between their team and Nottingham Forest, there is the understanding that they were right all along.

Their loved ones were victims of what Prime Minister David Cameron has described as "one of the greatest peace-time tragedies in this country" and not the causes of it, as South Yorkshire Police had alleged at the time.

It would be understandable if the many thousands of pages of papers, reports and statements provoked great anger, given not only the extent to which the authorities had gone about a conspiracy to avoid blame for their own shortcomings but the number of years which families and fans have had to apply unrelenting pressure just to have first sight of the truth.

However, since sitting down to write this article, I have taken a number of calls from Liverpool fans who were at Hillsborough on the 15 of April 1989 and relatives of those who did not return home from the match.

Although today is undoubtedly a step forward in what, for more than 23 years, has been a largely fruitless pursuit of justice, it does not - and should not - mark the end of the process.

The evidence contained in the documents handed over to the Hillsborough Independent Panel, chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, is both shocking and shameful.

It is an acknowledgement of progress but not the full, impartial inquiry which has been demanded for so long.

Journalists should always maintain a sense of objectivity but I confess that I and many other colleagues find it difficult when reporting on anything to do with Hillsborough. I was born and raised in Liverpool and am a season ticket holder at Anfield.

I was, fortunately, not at Hillsborough on the fateful, fatal day in question but dashed into work at BBC Radio Merseyside when news of the disaster began to emerge.

Over the hours which followed, I saw and spoke to those traumatised supporters making their way back from Sheffield. The radio station, so long a firm fixture in the local community, became almost a grief counselling service as fans and families came in search of news - any news - about friends and relations who were still unaccounted for. We all watched as the death toll climbed higher and higher.

I was also one of the first reporters inside Anfield when the ground opened the following morning for a city to pay its respects. I was live on-air when a list of the 94 fans who had died at the ground (two more supporters would perish from the effects of their injuries in the days and years to come) was handed out by club officials to media.

Scanning the dense columns of names, I paused when I saw the names of two individuals whom I had known well. Like so many others who lived and worked in Merseyside and knew the dead, I bit my lip and carried on.

There have been occasions when emotions have broken through. The Liverpool anthem, You'll Never Walk Alone, has since taken on a special, defiant and tearful characteristic and become a lyrical expression of a bond not forged by football shirt colour alone but a shared just cause.

There have also been occasions when politicians, comedians and media colleagues alike have made off-the-cuff caustic remarks, suggesting either that Liverpudlians were happy to carry their collective grief like a badge of honour or that South Yorkshire Police might have had good reason to allege Scouse drunkenness and thieving from the corpses of those dragged from the terrace at Leppings Lane.

Maybe, following the release of the official papers, they will genuinely feel regret and might begin to understand why the distress of a disaster compounded by a conspiracy wounds a city so deeply.

As the documents make clear, what happened to Liverpool supporters could have happened to fans of any club.

Only a few weeks ago, I wrote on these pages about Winifred Johnson. Over the course of nearly five decades, she had refused to give up her efforts to recover Keith Bennett, one of the victims of Moors Murderers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.

Mrs Johnson died of cancer last month before achieving her objective.

I know of relatives of the Hillsborough victims whose lives have also ended without gaining resolution and justice. One man - from a family well-known to my own -committed suicide because of a sense of guilt that he had survived the crush while his brother had not.

For him, his brother and many in similar circumstances, may today be a step towards their finally being able to rest in peace.

There are many football fans who would like to regard "Justice for the 96" as an achievement and not a goal unfulfilled.