It was William Ewart Gladstone, one of Queen Victoria’s prime ministers who said “Justice delayed is justice denied” , but I doubt if even he could imagine a wait of 27 years to see justice done. I’ll do my best not to get too angry about this, but I make no promises. Let me start at the beginning.
On April 15, 1989, some 54,000 football fans were at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillborough stadium to see Liverpool and Nottingham Forest play in the F.A. Cup semi final. By the end of the afternoon, 96 were dead. LET ME REPEAT THAT. 96 people attended what should have been a glorious, exciting sporting event and went home dead. You would imagine that such an event would result in a thorough investigation in order to find and punish those responsible, but you’d be wrong.
In fact, the victim blaming began before the bodies were cold. David Duckenfield of the South Yorkshire police, and the officer in charge that day , claimed that “Drunken fans had stormed the gates” and rushed through the tunnels leading to the terraces. Four days later, a statement repeated far and wide by the media. Indeed, just four days later, “The Sun”, a semi-pornographic comic for the educationally subnormal masquerading as a newspaper printed a headline in 200 point font “The Truth” following which it claimed that fans had robbed the dead, assaulted ambulance workers and urinated on police tending the victims. The only “Truth” on the front page were the date and the price. Needless to say, no one was surprised when piles of the publication were burned in the streets of Liverpool, newsagents refused to carry it and sales in the city plummeted and have never recovered.
Where was the public outrage? I hear you ask. well, bear in mind that this was the 1980s. Margaret Thatcher ( may she burn forever in the fires of eternal damnation) was still Prime Minister. Her contempt, which knew no bounds reached stratospheric heights for three groups, namely: football fans, the working class and the people of Liverpool. Combining all three produced a perfect storm which she and her cronies exploited to the full. Bear in mind that Thatcher had proposed national identity cards for football fans, and for football fans alone, and had wanted all crimes within a mile of a football ground on match days to be considered a football related crime. If the 9/11 attacks had happened in London within a mile of a football ground on a Saturday, the deaths would have been blamed on football.
Now that you’ve had a couple of minutes to let that sink in, I’ll continue. The resulting Taylor Report was a whitewash, with the authorities cherry picking the conclusions. This led to the abolition of standing at football grounds which then led to the massive hike in ticket prices and the start of the campaign to turn football into a middle class day out and ostracise the true fan base.
Of course, the people of Liverpool rallied around the victim’s families, and there were precious few who didn’t know someone who had lost a loved one or someone who had been at the game. Support groups emerged to continue the fight for justice – a long, thankless task that took a full quarter of a century to succeed. A little over a year ago, the current Prime Minister, the oily creep David Cameron admitted in parliament what we had all known: that the Police had destroyed evidence, altered statements and suppressed facts. Cold comfort, but finally we had confirmation of what we all knew in our hearts.
On April 26 this year, the two year coroner’s inquest into the deaths returned a verdict : all 96 victims were unlawfully killed. Duckenfield was found guilty of gross negligence and my only hope is that he will be prosecuted. I won’t go into the details, as you can read them for yourself. I would, however like to point out two things. Trevor Hicks has been at the forefront of the Justice Campaign since the start. By now he should have been playing with his grandchildren and living life to the full. Instead he was in a coroner’s court to hear that his 16 and 18 year old daughters had died as a result of police incompetence. Jon-Paul Gilhooley was just 10 years old and the youngest victim that day. Had he lived, he would have seen his cousin Steven Gerrard captain the team he loved.
I can’t imagine what the families went through for so long. I just can’t. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. No one should have to put up with the stonewalling, denial, vilification and outright lying that went on over the course of so many years. Only the knowledge that they were right and the support of the community kept them going. Liverpool is a tight knit city, even more so when threatened and attacked by outsiders and if any good has come out of this it is a strengthening of the city’s sense of self.
I have no quip with which to end this post, no upbeat comment to wrap things up neatly, so I’ll just end by saying:
(finally) Justice for the 96. They will never walk alone.