Families of the Hillsborough tragedy still seeking answers
They walked down Anfield Road, as they have done each year for the past two decades, family and friends, with quiet resolve and in silent anger, often together in groups, carrying flowers, scarves, handwritten messages and the burden of 23 years’ waiting for answers to questions nobody in power seems to want to answer.
The family and friends of those who died – the 96 men and women, football fans, Liverpool supporters, some as young as 14 years old, 96 ordinary people from very ordinary backgrounds who went out to see a football match one Saturday afternoon and never came back home again.
Sunday April 15th marked the 23rd anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy and with it an expectation that this year the families will finally get the answers they deserve.
The Independent Hillsborough Panel, which was set up in 2010, is charged with compiling a report based on all the information held by central and local government and other public agencies relating to the disaster and ensuring ‘maximum possible public disclosure’ of those documents. As a research project it has unlimited access to all the archived evidence and is expected to make them public by the end of the year along with their findings on ‘how the information disclosed adds to public understanding of the tragedy and its aftermath’.
And within this massive catalogue of government minutes, police statements and medical records is the answer to who was ultimately responsible for the deaths of the 96 football fans.
Leppings Lane end
Saturday April 15th 1989 was an FA cup tie between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough ground. Just before the 3pm kick-off the gates at one end of the stadium were opened by police to allow the backlog of Liverpool fans outside the ground to enter. This caused a massive crush as fans became trapped behind the steel fencing in an already overcrowded part of the stand. It took several crucial minutes before there was any police attempt to rescue the suffocating fans, and ever longer to administer help and first aid.
All dead by 3.15pm
There has been a recent parliamentary debate on the issue, where it was agreed ministers should release in full all government documents relating to the Hillsborough disaster, including confidential Cabinet minutes. There are also demands for a new inquest as the findings of the original are strongly disputed by the families and campaign groups.
What is undisputed is that the police were at fault in causing the tragedy but to date no-one has ever been properly held to account for what happened despite an official report concluding “the main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control”.
And it was the behaviour of the police during and after the events of April 15th that has caused the most controversy and suffering through a catalogue of lies, cover ups, misinformation, along with appalling acts of intimidation and intrusion by the authorities as they sought to blame the fans themselves for the tragedy.
Perhaps the most telling aspect was a young PC who was forced to change his testimony under instruction from a senior officer. In his original statement he wrote “I saw several officers wandering about in a dazed and confused state. Some were crying and some simply sat on the grass. Members of the public were running about with boarding ferrying people from the pitch to the far end of the ground”.
The officer was ordered to amend that passage as ‘This shows they were organised and we were not’. A line that rings out in stark admission and goes to the real truth behind the events of that day.
- Hillsborough Family Support Group, set up by the families of those who were killed
- Hillsborough Justice Campaign, a broader based group who are seeking justice for all those affected by the disaster
- Hope for Hillsborough, set up by Anne Williams who lost her son Kevin in the disaster and who became the focus of much attention as he was still alive after the coroners imposed cut-off time of 3.15pm.