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.