The long search for truth by the Hillsborough campaigners has been vindicated but time will tell whether they now get the justice they deserve
By rob hughes
And so the wait is over. On September 12, some 23 years on, prev iously unseen government and police documents, in tandem with the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report into the tragedy, were f inally released to the public. The results were damning. As the families of the v ict ims had insisted all along, Liverpool fans were found to be blameless for what happened on that horrifying afternoon in April 1989. The report conf irmed the suspicions of the Hillsborough Family Support Group (HFSG) – that senior police off icers, off icials and those in the emergency services had not only altered testimony to absolve themselves of any culpability for the deaths, but had actively sought to implicate innocent Liverpool fans instead.
A key element of the report’s f indings was the fact that 41 of the 96 people who died in the crush “had the potential to survive”, had they only received treatment earlier. Which utterly undermined the verdicts of accidental death at the original inquests in 1990 and 1991. Speaking on BBC1’s Breakfast, Trevor Hicks of the HFSG, whose two daughters d ied that day, remarked that the f indings showed that the whole af fair was “much deeper and much dirtier than we ever thought possible”. HFSG chair Margaret Aspinall, who lost her son James at Hillsborough, declared: “I’m very grateful that the fans and the supporters have been exonerated as well as our dead. But most importantly we need accountability for the 96. We’ve got to demand that these verdicts are overturned.”
There were apologies from David Cameron, FA chairman David Bernstein and South Yorkshire Police Chief Constable
David Crompton, who conceded that “on that day South Yorkshire Police failed the victims and families” and that “disgraceful l ies were told which blamed the Liverpool fans for the disaster… These actions have caused untold pain and distress for over 23 years”. There was even a very belated one from Kelvin MacKenzie, the former Sun editor responsible for the appalling The Truth headline, which stated as fact that drunken Liverpool supporters had caused the disaster, pickpocketed the dead, assaulted police and urinated on bodies in the immediate aftermath. He fell some way short of admitt ing l iability, claming he was “totally misled” by copy handed to him by a reputable Sheff ield news agency. “I published in good faith,” he of fered, somewhat desperately, “and I am sorry that it was so wrong.”
The mood of vindication among friends, families and Liverpool fans was in marked contrast to that of a BBC documentary aired three days earlier. Hillsborough: Searching For