This post is different. This post isn’t about travel, at least not directly. It’s about a city – the city where I was born. It’s about a tragedy, a cover-up and one of the longest quests for justice in the history of Britain.
On 15 April 1989, 25 years ago today, 96 Liverpool football fans were crushed to death and 766 more injured during the FA Cup semi-final at the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield, England.
I was a teenager at the time and remember watching the tragedy unfold on TV. I can’t convey the facts as well as somebody who was there so I’d strongly recommend taking the time to read this eyewitness account from a Liverpool fan.
In the days, weeks, months and years after the tragedy, I watched as the entire city of Liverpool engaged in a quest for truth and justice in the face of a police force who refused to accept responsibility for the deaths.
The first enquiry into the tragedy (the Taylor Report, 1990) found the police predominantly to blame, but also levelled some responsibility at the fans – aggravating, secondary factors according to the report, but blame nonetheless in the eyes of the family and friends.
By the time I got to law school, the first negligence cases had been heard and I studied in depth the new laws that were formed around nervous shock from those who had witnessed but not been directly injured by the event.
A quarter of a century (and a change of career for me) later, how can it be that justice has still not been served?
In the aftermath of the Hillsborough tragedy, a police cover-up of the grandest scale occurred. The Taylor Report went some way in peeling back the truth, but it didn’t go far enough. In fact, it wasn’t until the 20th anniversary of the tragedy that the Hillsborough Independent Panel was formed to properly investigate the facts, make the relevant documents public and finally seek out the truth of what happened on 15 April 1989.
Football is a subject that unites people the world over and to be able to reply that I was born in Liverpool, one of the most famous footballing cities on the planet, is a conversation starter in every country I go. Yet I often feel like a fraud as I engage in small-talk on the topic. I’m no ardent football fan. In fact, ask me to name a Liverpool player and I’ll likely drop in a name I last heard in the 80’s. In football terms, I’m a disgrace to my city.
But football fan or not, I am a fan of justice, which is why I’ve taken a slight topic side-step with this post. While many people around the world are aware of the city’s fame for its sport, not so many are aware of the strength, determination and courage of those who have pursued justice for the 96 fans who died on 15 April 1989.
Today, at 3.06pm (the time when the whistle was blown to halt the match at Hillsborough 25 years ago) I stood in Liverpool’s centre and watched as the entire city paused to observe a minute’s silence. With Liverpool flags flying in the wind against a bright blue sky, the flag holders blew whistles to mark the start of the silence. For the longest 60 seconds we stood, collectively, tears in eyes as we thought about the past and the tragedy that happened oh so long ago.
Justice for the 96
It’s been an incredibly long road to justice for the 96 who died.
In September 2012 the Hillsborough Independent Panel finally concluded that no Liverpool fans were responsible in any way for the disaster. The panel also found that 116 out of 164 witness statements had been tampered with to remove negative comments about the police during the incident. Most sickening, the panel concluded that 41 of the 96 deaths could have been avoided had there been a proper response by the emergency services.
25 years on and only now is proper action being taken. Fresh inquests have been asked for by the Hillsborough Families Support Group and the Independent Police Commission continues to investigate the police cover-up.
Although justice has not yet been fully served, it has never seemed closer for the 96 victims who will never be forgotten, and who will never walk alone.
More details about Liverpool FC and Hillsborough can be found here.