Truth and Justice: the Hillsborough Inquest

Image: Donald Judge

An era of courage, determination and bravery has resulted in the truth being prevailed and justice being served. Families and friends of victims sang “You’ll never walk alone” and “Justice for the 96” outside the court in Warrington in celebration of a day that they had been waiting 27 years for. A city united that never gave up finally received the justice they had been tirelessly aiming to achieve. The verdict from the longest inquest in British Legal History declared that the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster were unlawfully killed. Jurors found that it was in no way the fault of the fans and the tragedy was due to police error, lack of efficiency in response and the substandard safety of the stadium itself.

The evening following the end of the two year inquest saw the city of Liverpool light up in rememberance of those that lost their lives and the justice that them and their families now have. The Radio City Tower overlooking the city dimmed the rest of their lights to illuminate the number “96”, at St George’s Hall there was a banner emblazoned with the words “Truth and Justice” above a row of lanterns, one for each of the fans that lost their lives, and the clocks of the Liver building were lit-up red. The Liverpool Echo newspaper released a special late night edition of their paper on the Tuesday of the verdict with the headine “At the end of the storm is a golden sky”. Thousands of people attended a vigil for the 96 outside St George’s Hall the following day. Tributes have come from Liverpool Football Club and current and former players and managers among many others. Everton Football Club have said “Theirs is the greatest victory in the history of football. RIP, the 96. Good night, God Bless. From us across the park.”

On 15 April 1989, the FA cup semi final between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool Football Club kicked off just like any other football match. However the difference with this game was that at the Leppings Lane terrace there were crowds building and the pens were overwhelmed by people. Then came the fateful decision by match commander, Chief Superintendant David Duckenfield, at 14:52pm to open Gate C of the tunnel resulting in 2000 fans entering the pens. The overcrowding in the pens became so intense that supporters started pouring onto the pitch, some injured, some dying, some already dead. All but three of the 96 deaths were caused by compression asphyxia where the chest is compressed to the point of the body having a severely deficient supply of oxygen.

The Sun notoriously published a number of accusations against fans in a story headlined “The Truth” on 19th April 1989. Kelvin MacKenzie was the editor of The Sun at the time and was responsible for the headline and the publishing of allegations from police that fans pickpocketed the dead, urinated on police and beat up police officers who were trying to help. The Sun newspaper is still currently boycotted in Liverpool and by Liverpool supporters elsewhere.

South Yorkshire Police (SYP) and Yorkshire Ambulance Service (YAS) said that they fully accepted the jury’s conclusion. Chief Constable David Crompton of South Yorkshire police said: “I want to apologise unreservedly to the families and all those affected.” Crompton has since been suspended, but the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, which is made up of 22 of the bereaved families, has called for Crompton’s complete resignation. The current head of Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, Rod Barnes, has also said that he was “truly sorry” and admitted lives could have been saved if the response had been different.

The jury was told that match commander, Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, did not attend the pre match briefing on 22 March 1989 and apparently did not know the police were in charge of controlling the number of people who were going into the stadium. Duckenfield told representatives of Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday on the day of the disaster that fans had forced gate C into the ground, for it to later to be found that he had authorised the opening of the gate. The Crown Prosecution service can now consider a prosecution against Duckenfield.

Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham was seen crying and hugging families outside the court. He said that the police had put the families of the victims through “sheer hell” and he “didn’t make much” of their apology. He added: “we’ve had truth, we’ve had justice, there now must be accountability.” Burnhall has called for Crompton’s resignation in the House of Commons. Theresa May also spoke in the Commons saying for the past 27 years the families and survivors “fought for justice, from the authorities that should have been trusted, and have laid blame and tried to protect themselves.”

Trevor Hicks and Margaret Aspinall, the leading campaigners were seen hugging outside the court following the verdict. Hicks lost his daughters Sarah,19, and, Vicki, 15, and Margaret’s 18 year old son James was also killed at the match. Both have been campaigning since then among many other families to gain justice, and despite this verdict the fight is not over as the battle now begins for prosecutions.

The final memorial for the 96 has happened this year but today there still stands the memories, devotedness, and now the justice. The people of Liverpool, the supporters of the club and those who never gave up fighting can be at peace that after the long fight came the most deserved triumph.

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