Hillsborough: 25 Years On(April 15, 2014)
Today really matters.
It marks 25 years since 96 innocent men, women and children were killed at the Hillsborough football stadium in Sheffield.
It marks 25 years since the orchestrated campaign to denigrate the memory of the deceased began.
And it marks 25 years of totally preventable pain, anguish and heartache for the families of the victims and the survivors of that fateful crush.
September 12th 2012 was a landmark day for Britain as the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel was published. It exposed one of the greatest injustices in British peacetime history and revealed for the first time since that fateful day, the undeniable truth about Hillsborough.
The investigations that emanated from that report and which are focusing on the circumstances preceding, during and succeeding the events of the day are still ongoing. The potential consequences for each of the organisations and individuals involved have yet to be determined.
The inquests, which began on 31 March 2014 in Warrington, have already proven to be a remarkably powerful reminder of just how enormous a human tragedy Hillsborough was.
The pen portraits of the victims, which have been read to the Jury by the victims’ families, reveal an array of talented individuals. The depictions are far from the image of the victims that certain sections of the establishment used as a smokescreen to deflect blame away from themselves immediately after the disaster.
One group of people that knew the truth all along were the peoples of a City which, for a quarter of a century, stood as a lone voice in a sea of apathy, wronged by those with the ability to flex the might of their financial, judicial and political muscle.
The consequence for the City of Liverpool is that it is now synonymous with a unique kind of solidarity. Put simply; Liverpool is the city that dared to fight back.
That matters too.
Because as we gather at Anfield this afternoon for the 25th anniversary of the deaths of 96 of our own, we do so, for the first time, under the umbrella of a collective hope.
In 2009, Andy Burnham stood before the Kop and was shouted down by the crowd who made one simple plea; justice for the 96.
Andy went back to Westminster and told the Cabinet and Prime Minister Gordon Brown that this needed to be looked at again.
No one could have imagined that five years later, we would have made the progress in the campaign that we have.
In 1989 when the Hillsborough campaigners and the people of Liverpool made allegations of suspected collusions between the police, senior politicians and the press, we were ridiculed.
In today’s Britain, when we consider events such as the phone hacking of a murdered schoolgirl’s telephone; the chief spin doctor at Downing Street arrested on phone hacking charges, the seemingly endless number of girls abused by Jimmy Saville at the BBC for decades and the surveillance of the family of Stephen Lawrence, we should recognise the claims of a quarter of a century ago and ponder why it took so long to uncover the real story of the Hillsborough disaster.
In fact, as we gather for the commemorative service for the 25th year, it is both interesting as well as encouraging, to now hear some of the conversations on tube trains in London, on buses in Leeds or in bars and restaurants in Leicester.
It’s no longer the faint, lonely cries of Liverpudlians of alleged malpractice on the part of organs of the state and British establishment. It is now the majority of the country that knows about it, accepts what really happened and who are appalled by the injustice of it all.
It feels for the first time, that Liverpool is isolated no more.
No one (including people like me who were present in the Leppings lane end that day) could fail to be shocked by what we have learnt about the tragedy and the decades that followed; the amendment of more than 200 police statements, the fans safety compromised according to the report at “every level” and the harrowing truth that more than half of the victims could, according to new medical evidence examined by the HIP Panel and Attorney General, have been saved had a proper emergency plan been deployed.
This anniversary is symbolic in what it demonstrates about the British criminal justice system.
Hillsborough has uncovered a dark underbelly within the mainstream of British society. Despite a general harbouring for a more equal and democratic existence, for many years there has been an unquestionable imbalance in the pursuit of truth with one version peddled by those in authority who have time, money and resource behind them, versus the authenticity of ordinary people fighting to expose wrongdoing and corruption.
For too long the wrong version of the truth has been allowed to win on the basis of the wealth of the proponents of a particular account of events rather than on the merits of their story. I say this with confidence because in the case of Hillsborough, absolutely nothing which was revealed in the HIP report in 2012 was new evidence. It had existed for more than two decades but was never published or used in a criminal court.
I hope that its eventual publication will be a ‘line in the sand’ kind of a moment; where the thirst for real truth is promoted instead of the favouritism that is often shown by the British judicial system to cases which are well-connected, well-funded and well-resourced.
My belief 25 years on, is that as a result of what these remarkable families - ordinary women and men doing an extraordinary thing on behalf of their lost loved ones - have undertaken, never again should a police officer, journalist or politician underestimate the unyielding bond of a parent’s love for their lost child, or the fortitude of a city wronged.
The heroines and heroes of the Hillsborough campaign have shaken the very foundations of our political and judicial establishments, forever.
The legacy of the 96 is, in many ways, still to be fully appreciated. I believe history will judge it positively. It is one of police reform, political modernisation and ultimately a more meaningful concept of justice. This is a legacy that will outlive the families and campaigners but one which has positively changed this country forever.
That’s why today matters.
Gerry Marsden’s anthem of Anfield, calls on us to “Walk on, with hope in your heart”, and that is exactly what we will continue to do, until at long last, we finally achieve justice for the 96.