After just over a quarter of a century, the families of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster heard a jury say that the deaths were unlawful killings – that the football supporters’ behaviour did not contribute to their deaths, but the actions of the police and ambulance service did.
For some, the news came too late. Anne Williams campaigned tirelessly, through the lies and cover-ups, to get to the truth about why her son went to a football match as a happy and healthy 15 year old but came back lifeless. Injured by the crush, and with brain damage, his body lived on for months until Anne won her first court battle – the right for her son to die with dignity. Anne herself died a couple of years ago, almost to the day the truth about her son’s death finally came out.
Initially – and, it seems, with the tacit backing of the police – the newspapers blamed the supporters themselves for the disaster, claiming that they were drunk and badly behaved. As long ago as the Taylor Report, which came out of the 1990 inquiry into what happened, the causes of the crush were put down to failures on the part of the police rather than crowd behaviour – and the Sun has apologised for its lurid front page coverage. Sadly, it has taken another 25 years to get the verdict which, today, has exonerated fans and confirmed the extent of police failings.
This truly is a landmark verdict.
•Hillsborough was immense: not only did 96 people die, but over 700 were injured. That shows what can happen if and when you abandon the health and safety culture.
•Hillsborough made the public realise that football supporters were not mindless criminal thugs (as they had been painted at the time) but included ordinary people, young and mature, family members, men and women. The demonisation of football supporters was not so easy after Hillsborough.
•Hillsborough has also revealed that the police and the press had a murky relationship and that far from being law-abiding law enforcers, the police arrogantly dealt in stereotypes and tried to get away with reckless behaviour.
Above all, Hillsborough is a tremendous victory for ordinary people of all walks of life and whatever their relationship with sport. The tenacious campaigning of the relatives, backed by directly elected MPs, saw the matter re-opened, and the jury system confirmed those campaigners were in the right – and the establishment were in the wrong.
In September 2012, the Hillsborough Independent Panel – set up to review the disaster, with access to emergency services documents not previously made public – concluded that not only had those emergency services failed the supporters but they had also covered up their own failings. Now that today’s verdict has been announced, we wait to hear whether any of those responsible for these deaths will be held to account for their failings and misdeeds.
Hillsborough: background articles in East London News