I don’t know how other people see me, but I like to think that I’m a reasonably laid-back sort of person; slow to anger, quick to forgive … that sort of thing.
3 years and 100 or so days ago, I wrote this piece about my experiences at Hillsborough on 15th April 1989.
2 days ago the Hillsborough Independent Panel published their report. They stressed that it wasn’t an inquiry – they hadn’t had witnesses or any powers – they had just been given access to ALL the evidence relating to the events of that day.
I was at a meeting in the morning, an important meeting about how the United Reformed Church (my employer) might most effectively meet the training needs of Ministers and lay people, but I couldn’t really concentrate. I was refreshing my twitter feed every few moments as new facts dribbled out as the panel, quite rightly, first reported to the families of those who had lost loved ones.
- 164 Police statements had been altered to ensure that South Yorkshire Police Service wasn’t shown in a bad light and that officers were put under immense pressure to amend their statements. If they wouldn’t, it was done for them.
- The ambulance service had changed statements, too.
- Every victim (even a 10 year old) had their blood alcohol level checked and, for some, then had their names checked against the Police National Computer to see if there was a criminal record which could be used to ‘offset’ their innocence.
- Potentially, 41 lives could have been saved if medical attention had been forthcoming on the pitch.
The facts kept coming and coming. I wasn’t sure how I was feeling – I had to pull over and stop the car to listen to the Prime Minister give his response. He sounded, on the radio, as shocked and genuinely appalled as anyone else.
My blood was beginning to boil … but I didn’t know what I wanted to happen next. Having been blamed for the events 23 years ago I, my fellow fans, my football club and my city had been completely exonerated. It was a weight off my shoulders… but, as my original post had said “where there’s blame, there’s a claim”… the blame for the disastrous events had been laid firmly at the door of the FA, Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and South Yorkshire Police. What did I want to happen? I couldn’t really think about that… I was happy, delirious in fact, that at last, 23 years on, the truth had finally seen the light of day.
Apology after apology started rolling in, starting with David Cameron and Ed Milliband. Quickly followed by SWFC, South Yorkshire Police, it took the FA a further 24 hours to apologise but even they made it eventually. The S*n and Kelvin MacKenzie apologised, too, but theirs was worthless and self-serving and, consequently, ignored by just about everybody.
David Duckenfield, the police officer supposedly in charge that day, had been allowed to retire on a full pension at the age of 46 as a result of ‘Ill health’. Ill health is better than dying, eh, Duckenfield?
Then Kenny Dalglish who did so much for the families, club and city in the immediate aftermath of the disaster tweeted: “Very positive outcome. 23 years waiting for the truth. Next step justice”. And I thought, “yeah; justice!”
And then I started wondering what Justice might actually mean in this context, what shape, form or action it might take. And I realised that I didn’t know. I certainly wouldn’t presume to speak for those who have lost in a far more tangible way than I, I can only speak for myself. What do *I* want?
Well, I would like to know that those who were responsible for all that happened that day, who caused the problem and then failed to react effectively to the problem they had caused had been censured. I would like to know that some particular individuals (David Duckenfield) had paid a practical price – although I’ve no idea whether he even feels in any way culpable for what he caused.
I would like to know that those who took deliberate actions to place the blame, knowing that the information they were giving out was completely incorrect, on the shoulders of Liverpool fans, both fully understand and accept their guilt and, I would hope are prosecuted to the fullest extent the law allows.
I would like to know that those in the ‘establishment’ who caused this whole thing to be unresolved for 23 long years understand the immense pain and hurt they caused to so many people, not just the bereaved although, God knows, their pain has been more than most.
Most importantly, I want the original verdicts of ‘accidental death’ to be overturned and new inquests held so that people like Anne Williams can get the answers she needs.
Having not been able to define what I mean ‘justice’ to be in this context, I am quite clear what it isn’t: it isn’t vindictive retribution. So long as people feel genuine remorse and are sincere in their apologies (although, as stated, those who broke the law should be prosecuted irrespective of how sincerely they regret their actions).
Except, maybe to Kelvin MacKenzie, the editor of The S*n at the time, who I hope burns in hell for eternity for what he knowingly did to besmirch the characters of the dead, of my fellow fans, of the football club, of the city, and of me.
My elder brother, an Evertonian, sent me a text on the evening the panel’s report was published saying that he hoped I felt vindicated. At the time I replied saying that I didn’t, but I did feel less guilty for having survived and being made to feel that I was, in some way responsible.
2 days later, having thought about little else, I realise that he was right – I do feel vindicated. My blog of 3 years ago was wrong – Liverpool fans were in NO WAY to blame, late arriving or not. The actions of so many brave, respectful people, from those who lost loved ones in the disaster, from people like Andy Burnham MP, Steve Rotherham MP and Maria Eagle MP who wouldn’t let the House of Commons have a moment’s peace until something was done and the actions and voices of people, many many thousands of people just like me in refusing to accept that what happened that day was an ‘accident’ and have fought for 23 years to get someone to listen and investigate has been vindicated.
People say that the most shocking revelation of the panel is that 41 of those who died could have been saved.
I would remind you that, if people had done their jobs properly in the first place, in selecting a ground which had a valid safety certificate, in allocating tickets sensibly, in stewarding the ground effectively, in postponing kick off to allow those who had been delayed by traffic to access the ground … if these people had done their jobs properly then 96 people would not have died in the first place.
Justice for the 96 … and for all those still affected by the events in Sheffield on the 15th April 1989.