It's been twenty-seven years since 96 people left homes, parents, spouses, siblings, children, to go to a football game.
They were smiling, excited, happy. Some travelled by minibus, some by car. Some lived in Liverpool. Some had travelled miles to see the game. They would have been thinking about how to find their seats in the stands, how to hold their children up so they could see the players, how perhaps they could go and get dinner afterwards, to celebrate or commiserate the outcome of the match. They'd be wondering if their team would be the one to make it into the final.
Those 96 people would never come home. They lost their lives. They were crushed, asphyxiated and suffocated. It is an unimaginably awful way to die.
For each of those 96 people, there was a family who had to comprehend how their brother, sister, parent, spouse or child had suffered in their last moments alive. They had to imagine those moments over and over again. And then they had to hear an inquest in '91 that recorded a verdict of accidental death-a verdict they all knew wasn't true. They had to hear smears and insinuations that their loved ones shared some of the responsibility for their own deaths. They had to sit through two years of a harrowing inquest, hearing horrifying details of how their loved ones had died.
Today, they got justice, after twenty-seven years of fighting.
I was born and grew up in Liverpool. It is a city of great community and always has been. In the great football rivalry that rages in the city, while I confess I don't follow football, I was born into a family of fierce Evertonians. But from a very young age, I was aware of the Hillsborough disaster. I remember each year on 15th April, no matter where we were, my mother would listen to the radio and at the moment the minute's silence was announced, would insist we stop and remain quiet, to remember what had happened. She was at the Everton semi-final on the day of the Hillsborough disaster. It was the luck of the draw that Everton did not play in Hillsborough. It could have been anyone in that stadium, on that day.
Hillsborough has always hung over Liverpool. My father has known people who were in the stadium- a friend knew a man who lost two of his children that day. And growing up, each year, we watched as the Hillsborough families toiled endlessly on to get justice for their loved ones, in the face of lies and smears and insults to their memories. I remember my dad saying "It will all come out one day."
It has indeed all come out one day.
Finally, the Hillsborough families have the truth. Their loved ones were unlawfully killed. The responsibility for those deaths was found to be shared by several organisations.
The responsibility did not lie-and had never lain-with the fans.
This had been known for so long in Liverpool, amongst Evertonians and Liverpudlians alike. Finally, it has been stated, confirmed, found as fact by a jury. The fans were not responsible for this tragedy.
This tragedy overtakes any football rivalry. Five weeks after the disaster, Everton and Liverpool supporters alike joined in a rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" at the FA cup final between the two teams. Today, watching the families, who had struggled for so long to get justice for their relatives, sing an emotional version of that song outside court, I think most Evertonians would have joined in. Certainly, everyone in Liverpool would have been happy to join in.
This is by no means the end. But today, we can look at the very best of human nature that prevailed from the families who have stuck together, consoled one another, and fought every day to get to this verdict, to find this justice for the victims. And not just the best of human nature that they have shown over the years, but that many fans showed on that day. The fans who tore down advertising hoardings to use as stretchers. The fans who lifted and pulled others to safety, risking their own lives. Those fans-those fans who were never responsible for this tragedy-who faced insults and smears and injustice for years-should be celebrated today.
At the inquest, Karen Staniford who lost her nineteen-year-old brother in the disaster, said one line that stuck with me:
Each day, I look out of my window, expecting Gary to come home.
Because in amongst all the statistics and facts and verdicts, we shouldn't ever forget this, the simple, terrible loss of what happened that day.
96 people left to go to a football match. 96 people never came home.