Liverpool Supporters Unlawfully Killed: Hillsborough Justice Delayed Is Justice Demeaned

I wrote about the Hillsborough inquest at the start of the year (in my review of 2015).  I had a feeling at the time that the families might finally see justice .  I have updated my original article here.

I cried today when I heard the news, I cried for the lives so needlessly lost because senior police officers, engineers, football officials and ambulance service staff did not do their jobs.  I cried for the parents, brothers, sisters and other family members who not only lost their loved ones but were then told it was their loved ones own fault.  I cried for the decision finally delivered 27 years too late.  I cried for the honest public servants, (off duty police officers, GPs, nurses and other medics) who came out of the crowd on to the pitch to give assistance where they could and who sought desperately to save lives with the other Liverpool supports.  I cried for the police officers who stood on the halfway line with arms locked senselessly stuck in riot control mode (even though their was no riot) and waiting for orders to  move into rescue mode.  I cried for the families who had to, year after 27 year, take their fight for justice to the heart of the rotten establishment that is Westminster.  I cried for my youthful football loving self who all those years ago turned the television on to watch a sporting event and, instead, watched a disaster unfold.  And, I cried for justice delayed  which was ultimately justice demeaned.

The whole English justice system is demeaned by the 27 year process that allowed corrupt police officers to persist in trying to blame the people of Liverpool for a disaster cased by criminal negligence.  Even once the truth began to finally emerge in 2012 and right up until the verdict today, the lawyers acting for the police officers sought to blame supporters for events on that day.

From 2001 I worked in Liverpool on various projects with The Liverpool bureau For Children and Young People and still have strong connections with the people I met there.  My personal experience is that Liverpudlians are incredibly supportive, generous and warm people – the opposite of the stigmatising stereotype that the police,  football authorities, media and politicians sought to employ when they concocted a set of lies about events on that extremely distressing and chaotic day.

It is possible to connect the Hillsborough case to the experiences of black people in America.  I wrote about this last year (see the article here) when writing on the issue of intersectionality and  considering various cases where the police had misused power, where groups of people felt their existence was dismissed and where cultures of dismissal sought to silence a specific group of people and ignore their human rights –  the very tactics the police, media and politicians utilised against the people of Liverpool.

The 1990 Taylor Report ruled that police procedures had been flawed but never revealed the full extent of the cover up.  It also failed to establish accurate times of death and, as a result, ignored the possibility that more lives could have been saved.  For example, if greater numbers of emergency services had gained quicker access to the pitch.  Today’s apologies from police and ambulance services come 27 years too late and therefor have a very hollow tone.

When I worked in Liverpool, I visited Anfield’s Hillsborough memorial. I went to pay my respect to the supporters who had set out to watch a football match and never returned home.  They simply went to watch a football match, an event that should have been full of excitement, hope and joy.

They went to watch their team play the beautiful game but instead they encountered incompetent event management that had caused problems four times 9we here in the news today) previously at the ground.  This time the incompetence would be fatal.

Police incompetence took the lives of 96 Liverpool supporters, then the authorities and the media colluded to take away the dignity of ‘the 96’ by blaming the supporters for their own deaths.

‘The 96’ were real people with names and ages.  People with real names, whose ages would remain forever stilled, in an unfair and unreal way,  by the sorry events of that day.  As years passed, the 96 were not forgotten. Their families and friends constantly campaigned for justice.  Their loved ones were supported in their search for justice by local politicians, all the people of Liverpool (Evertonians had also lost kith and kin at Hillsborough) and many in the wider football world.

I still remember the electric atmosphere of a close autumn evening in 1997 when both Celtic and Liverpool fans sung ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ at a UEFA Cup match at Celtic park. The hairs rose on the back of my neck as I looked over, up and round at all the fans standing united in song in a post-Hillsborough (all-seater) stadium.

They sang these words:

When you walk through a storm Hold your head up high And don’t be afraid of the dark.

At the end of the storm There’s a golden sky And the sweet, silver song of a lark.

Walk on, through the wind, Walk on, through the rain, Though your dreams be tossed and blown.

Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart, And you’ll never walk alone, You’ll never walk alone

Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart, And you’ll never walk alone, You’ll never walk alone

The words, ‘walk on, walk on – with hope in your heart’, echoed around Parkhead until the emotion combined in the air, over the stadium, into one voice. And then, you knew why they called the place ‘Paradise’.

We were united in our grief, spirit and expectation. Grief: at the injustice that people just like us, standing in Sheffield waiting to watch a football match, should lose their lives.  Spirit: drawn from the joint-certainty, the collective belief, that they should never be forgotten. Expectation: that the journey to justice would, one day, be realized.  That journey began to end today, it is testimony to the solidarity of the Liverpudlian people that this day has finally come, that justice has finally been achieved for the 96.  We were united in our belief that the truth should will out for those that had been crushed, those that had been injured and those that had fallen, never to rise again.

1997 at Celtic Park, the whistle blew and the game exploded into action as if the players had felt what we had felt. They recognized their duty to give all their breath, energy, movement, flair and passion to the moment because those were the very things that had been so cruelly stolen from the overcome bodies of the fallen at Hillsborough.

In 1997, we thought a new Labour government might bring justice and reveal the truth that the Tories had covered up – this was not to be the last Labour let down.

In October 1997 a partial inquiry was carried out but only of ‘new’ evidence that had arisen since the 1990 Taylor Report. This meant that altered statements that were originally submitted as evidence went unexamined.  The inquiry in 1998 wrongly concluded that there was not any justification for setting up any further inquiry.

The disappointment of the 1997 review had been felt hard in Liverpool. I was also at Celtic park for the 2003 UEFA match where the Celtic and Liverpool supporters again came together to sing their support for those who lost their lives at Hillsborough.  I was better prepared for the emotion of that night but you still knew in your heart that the truth of what had taken place at Hillsborough had yet to be revealed.

In 1997 the players treated us to a beautiful roller-coaster of a match that ended appropriately with honours even, two goals a-piece. Contrast the players honest endeavours with the dishonour of David Duckenfield and the officers who re-wrote statements about the day and who for 26 years, until 2015, callously sought to prevent the friends and families of the Hillsborough fallen from learning the truth about their loved ones deaths.

The 1989 Hillsborough cover up taught us to question the relationship between the main stream media, Whitehall public servants and Westminster politicians.

The 2014 #indyref renewed our cynicism concerning this maleficent relationship.  Those of the non-party aligned Yes movement promoted a new kind of politics, given the name Common Weal, which suggested public servants and politicians should work for the people and not in their own interests.

The jury decided today that the actions of supporters in no way led to the deaths of the 96 fans and that the 96 fans were unlawfully killed.  In so doing, the jury demonstrated today that every day people can take on the establishment and find justice.

At the heart of the 27 years of deceit experienced by the people of Liverpool lies a snobbery, that certain people don’t deserve access to justice.  Its a snobbery that we have to challenge with every fibre of our existence.  It is a snobbery that was rejected by the jury today.