The Robson Report: Hillsborough guilt and shame and glimmers of human compassion

Jeremy recalls that awful afternoon of 23 years ago and welcomes a belated form of justice

The Hillsborough report has shocked all who have an ounce of compassion and care about decency in public life. Some messengers – notably The Sun – also bear culpability and Kelvin MacKenzie’s ‘profuse apologies’ now do not wash. But always remember it was the public services, or champions of those working within them, that created the message and ensured it was disseminated, focusing blame for 96 deaths – nearly half of them, perhaps, avoidable in any case – on entirely the wrong people. Jeremy Robson has his say; it is a painful but necessary read …

Where were you at 3-00pm on Saturday April 15, 1989?

It’s extraordinarily difficult to remember where you were 23 years ago. Yet at times a particular day will be etched into the memory as if it were only yesterday.

I know exactly where I was on that particular afternoon. I was at Old Trafford watching Derby County beat Man Utd 3-0 in an unremarkable and end of season fixture. I remember where I was because of the tragic events that were taking place on the other side of the Pennines in Sheffield and more precisely at Hillsborough.

Writing now, even the passage of time fails to suppress those raw emotions we felt in those moments when we realised people had gone to an FA Cup Semi Final but would never go home.

There was an eerie and stunned silence on the railway platform after the game as people struggled to take in the sheer horror of what had unfolded in the Leppings Lane End at Hillsborough. Many of the fans we were mingling with had probably stood on those very terraces only a short time before.

Radios were held to ears, people were speaking in hushed tones. “My mate and his brother are in there,” I still hear one lad saying. “A lad from work and his Dad are there,” whispered another. Slowly I recalled that a close friend of mine was also likely to be in that end of the ground.

Slowly and surely the terrible and chilling facts began to emerge in the evening hours and the ensuing days, weeks and months: 96 people had died going to watch their team. Youngsters, parents and grandparents crushed in an instant with no hope of escape. Today, all those after the deadliest stadium disaster in British history, the government has eventually told the truth about what caused such a monumental human tragedy. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, told the House of Commons that crowd safety had been “compromised at every level” and highlighted three main areas in the report:

* Failures by the authorities in protecting those at the ground

* An attempt to blame the fans

* Doubts about the original coroner’s inquest

Given the stark nature of these disclosures, there are at least two burning questions. The first is why has it taken so long to tell the British public the truth? The second: how can those responsible be brought to justice (if this is even possible)?

The unfortunate thing about all of this is that because it has taken so long for the truth to be made public (even though most reasonable people worked out for themselves what went on) that some of the most senior figures, and those most culpable, may well be dead. Perhaps this explains the delay. For those responsible senior figures in the police force, those still living may well be too infirm, either in body or mind, or even both, to face criminal charges.

We become so accustomed to abuse of power in public office that somehow it almost becomes accepted as a part of life, if for no other reason than the perception that we are powerless to change it.

This is one of the worst examples where the lunatics have taken over the asylum. I sincerely hope that the families of the victims get some sort of comfort from the truth being finally exposed and that this helps them in some way. It doesn’t ever bring a loved one home of course but I hope they can get real and proper justice.

Faith is difficult to find in any system which has kept the dirty and chilling truth hidden for so long. The police force must be reminded in the bluntest terms possible that the reason for their existence is “to serve and protect” the public, not “serve and protect ourselves”.

My reflections on that April afternoon, like those of football supporters across the country and I dare say the world, are burnished to memory with remarkable clarity. For the families who lost loved ones, their recollections of that tragic day will be more vivid still. The rawness of grief will wound even more grievously today.

To all the brothers and sisters of the family of football who perished at Hillsborough, continue to slumber peacefully. We will not forget you, even after justice is finally served.

8 thoughts on “The Robson Report: Hillsborough guilt and shame and glimmers of human compassion”

  1. Anyone, including all the SAFC fans, who had experienced that tunnel knew it was a disaster waiting to happen. We never imaginedt the disaster would be on such a tragic scale. You never imagine anything like that.

    I had to stop the car yesterday when I heard that 164 documents had been changed, either by the police, lawyers acting on their behalf, or others acting under instructin from those lawyers. That is deceit beyond belief, and now that it has emerged that almost half of the victims could have survived had they received appropriate medical attention, is tantamount to protecting a murderer.

  2. I had been in the Leppings Lane end a few months before the tragedy when I went to a match with some Spurs supporting friends. I remember the crush and being physically lifted off my feet as we went down the tunnel and the relief as we got onto the terraces. I can’t believe that someone hadn’t identified the potential disaster before it happened and don’t forget that this was at a time when supporters were caged in with metal fencing which made any easy escape impossible.

    The response by the authorities and the contemptible attitude demonstrated by those who backed the government of the day was no surprise and it is to this country’s shame that it has taken so long for the facts to be publicly acknowledged.

  3. The close friend that I mentioned in the original post has just mentioned elsewhere, something that I distinctly recall him talking about in the days after the disaster.

    This was an unsual weekend with us both watching football (when neither of the games involved Sunderland). He had been at the semi-final the previous year (1988), watching Liverpool when their fans were also in the Leppings Lane end, where the same sort of crushes occurred albeit without the same dire consequences. It now turns out that the stadium didn’t have a safety certificate. Quite how the FA could continue to use this stadium in those circumstances is hopefully a question which will not be aimed directly towards them.

    The emerging evidence that many people perished, when they could possibly have been saved is as shocking as anything else which has been revealed about Hillsborough this week, and that can only compound the grief which these recent revelations have rekindled. Given the scale and horrifying nature of the distortions of facts surrounding this terrible loss of human life, we can only hope that the revulsion caused, will lead to the justich which any decent person demands. Otherwise it is simply reopening wounds which are still very raw, when you consider the further hurt inflicted so cruelly upon the families of the victims, by lies and then more lies.

    1989 is a long time ago, and the face of football has changed beyond recognition (and some may say not for the better, either), but I can’t help feeling that the sentiments of those responsible for what is essentially a gross miscarriage of justice to the dead, felt that they could get away with it because football fans were some kind of lower life form. The police rarely treated members of the football going public with anything other than contempt in those days. It was post Heysel, and the fact that it was Liverpool fans involved in the Hillsborough disaster was used as grist to their particular mill of lies and deceit. Had the same events unfolded at Lords or Wimbledon, I am convinced that the response and subsequent enquiries would have drawn entirely different conclusions and that 23 years later we would not still be searching for answers which should have been forthcoming in the immediate aftermath of such an unnecessary loss of life. Back in the day, football fans were treated as second class citizens, if they were lucky, and the recent revelations demonstrate that claim to be true. Were that not the case then the truth could not possibly have been buried for long.

  4. Yes, very well said, Jeremy. The Sun, I think we can give up as a bad job. It’s never going to change and needs to be treat with the contempt it deserves. But I’ll be very interested to see if there is any genuine tangible comeback against the police.
    I have grave doubts, though. I think it’s taken so much time for the truth to come out because those in power, both in the government and the police, know that the longer something like this kept secret, the less there is of any meaningful repercussions.
    I second Jeremy’s hope for “real and proper justice” but I fear that it’s a faint one.

  5. Jeremy at his finest. Says everything that a real football fan would want to say and think.
    I was at Barrow, watching them play Merthyr Tydfil. I listened to the great Peter Jones describe the scene as I drove back to Hawkshead. I had to stop the car.
    Peter Jones never recovered from Hillsborough and many other fans never saw football in quite the same light again.
    The police and The Sun deserve all the criticism that is going to be thrown at them in the next few days.
    I would hope there is a dignified response at the SoL on Saturday to remember the 96 who needlessly died due to others incompetence and malice.

  6. This is unbearably sad but Jeremy’s thoughts are as powerful and dignified as any I have seen on this awful subject.

    If you find your comment held, it should be for only a short time. Apologies for any delay. The international community of spammers is the main cause.

  7. This is a first time post to Salut. Been lurking for a long time. This article sums up my disgust for the way that the victims were treated. Shameful and disgraceful. Time for some justice for the people who died that day. Long overdue though.

  8. The authorities thought that they would be able to bury the truth of their incompetence and negligence with the bodies of their victims. The most sickening part was the coppers trying to blame the people who had been killed. If they had any decency, at all, which they do not, they would never sleep no matter how tired.

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