I remember the 15th of April 1989 quite vividly. It was a Saturday and I was working in my weekend job as a delivery driver until 1pm. I then went into Glasgow city centre, met my pal and we hired a car to drive to St. Andrews for a school pals 21st. We left just after 3pm and the car radio said that there had been ‘an incident’ at a football ground in Sheffield.
Reports were sketchy but it was thought that a ‘small number of fans’ had been ‘injured’.
However bizarre and archaic it may seem to the readers of this today, car radios were about the extent of our instant news back then – no internet, no smartphones, no Twitter or indeed any form of social media.
Nothing could possibly have prepared us to awaken on the Sunday and discover 95 fans ( later 96) had died. It was unpalatable news. I remember everyone in a local bar where we had gathered for breakfast huddled round a TV and watching with disbelief at the news that almost 100 football fans had gone to see their team play a match and had never returned. It was achingly sad. Nobody was speaking – everyone was watching in disbelief and utter horror as images of body bags and twisted terracing metal were right in front of us. Many were openly crying.
I was at Law School back then – albeit in my first year. I remember discussing the event as law students but in the weeks immediately after the disaster the stories, predominantly emanating from the Police, had nothing to do with culpability ( and most certainly not on behalf of the Police) – rather the behaviour of Liverpool fans was the root cause and, in particular, hooliganism and excessive drinking. I also remember that The Sun newspaper, with a certain Kelvin McKenzie at the helm printed certain stories so lurid I would not even propose to repeat them here. But their conduct was utterly shameful. Some of you may also recall Bernard Ingham, former Press Secretary to the then PM, Margaret Thatcher. In a letter to a victim’s parent in 1996, he stated that the events of that day were caused by “tanked-up yobs”.
This is the sort of unbelievably disgusting behaviour that has gone on for far far too long in this country.
Almost 30 years later, with ‘the truth’ finally out and the wrongdoers rightfully having been exposed, the whole episode will surely go down in history as one of the blackest and most shameful episodes in Britain’s history.
Collusion took place at the highest level – altering of police statements, total fabrication of individual incidents that simply never occurred , senior Police Officers ‘ordering’ junior colleagues to lie. A black day indeed. And at the end of it all 95 fans ( 96 eventually) were dead and their families just wanted answers and justice.
The Taylor report in 1990 found that the predominant cause of the disaster was the failure by South Yorkshire Police to adequately control the crowd but the misinformation continued as a deflection-tactic. Even more galling for the families was that, following the Taylor Report the DPP ( Director of Public Prosecutions – the English equivalent of the Lord Advocate in Scotland), decided that there was insufficient evidence for criminal charges to be brought.
There was a ‘coroner’s inquest’ in 1991. The verdict was one of ‘accidental death’. The families were outraged and much lobbying took place. It all fell on deaf ears. The ‘establishment’ was closing all doors. But the families did not give up and surely, in years to come, we must all applaud these people for the sheer tenacity they have shown in the face of overt prejudice and shameful behaviour from people at the very top.
It was not until 2009, remarkably, that an independent Hillsborough Review Panel was formed and all previous evidence was to be reviewed. New details were released indicating the extent of Police efforts to shift the blame from themselves to the Liverpool fans, the failings of the other emergency services ( in particular the ambulance service) and to effectively rule that the first coroner’s verdict was simply wrong.
All the previous findings of ‘accidental death’ were quashed and arrangements put in place for a second inquest as well as a thorough and robust Police investigation by the IPCC.
The second inquest, however, did not happen anytime soon. In fact it was another 7 years before it got underway in April 2016. Amid some heart-rendering emotional scenes, a verdict on all 96 supporters was delivered – they had all been unlawfully killed as a result of gross negligence by the Police and ambulance services who had failed in their ‘duty of care’ towards the victims.
( For those of us that remember the tragic events of that day, images like above will forever be etched on our minds)
Had the emergency services been better prepared, acted quicker, more competently and in better concert with others, perhaps some of the victims that died could have been saved.
Crucially, at the second inquest every single fan was exonerated of any blame for having had anything to do with this tragedy. It took 27 years – but it happened.
In June 2017, six people were charged with various offences including manslaughter by gross negligence ( an English legal term), misconduct in public office and perverting the course of justice for their actions during and after the disaster. They included, perhaps most significantly, David Duckenfield, the match commander on the day and who was responsible for ordering another gate to be opened which ultimately led to the crush. In a sinister twist,Peter Metcalf, the solicitor for the South Yorkshire Police during the original inquiry and first inquests. He is accused of perverting the course of justice; one can only assume by encouraging the falsifying of evidence.
( David Duckenfield, recently on the left and as he was in 1989)
It is not that long until it will be the disaster’s 30th anniversary. Justice has to be done or at least seen to have been done. I suspect that jail terms are likely as a result but are likely to be fairly nominal and any family hoping for ‘life’ will be disappointed.
Principally, in addition of course to natural justice, hopefully this will see the beginning of an end to it all for the tortured loved ones of the victims who ranged in age from 10 to 67. Some relatives have not and will not live to see it all – but at least one of the largest cover-ups in British legal history has been exposed and , rightly, criminal charges resulting from severe culpability will be put to the test in a court of law.
Thanks for stopping by, folks.