That was a common response in Liverpool today to the monumental decision by the jury – in the inquests into the Hillsborough disaster on 15 April 1989 – that the 96 Liverpool FC fans who died were “unlawfully killed” and that the match police chief, Detective Superintendent David Duckenfield, is “responsible for manslaughter through gross negligence.”
Families of the 96 took the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the Kop to the court room in Warrington where the outcome of the two-year-long inquests was announced. One of them shouted “God bless the jury” as they announced they’d voted 7:2 that fans who left home to enjoy the FA Cup semi-final on a sunny Saturday were “unlawfully killed”.
On top of that decision, the jury were unanimous in other conclusions: that the fans were entirely blameless for the tragedy; the Sheffield Wednesday ground did not have a legitimate Health & Safety Certificate; the police had triggered the crush that killed the 96 by opening the Leppings Lane gate (instead of delaying the kick-off) and then directing thousands down the tunnel into the overcrowded middle terraces whilst the side terraces were half empty; police and ambulance chiefs caused people to die by failing to promptly declare a major incident; they then systematically doctored statements of rank and file police and ambulance crews criticising the operations, as part of a disgraceful burial of the facts – a smear campaign against the dead victims, their families and Liverpool fans.
“WE NEVER, EVER GAVE UP DESPITE ALL THE KNOCKBACKS"
Those women and men who’ve fought for Justice for the 96 for an incredible 27 years wept, sang, hugged and spoke with a devastating mixture of sadness, relief, sense of vindication and anger at the inquests’ revelations and outcome.
On top of the devastation of losing family members – 71 of whom were aged 27 or under (the length of time it’s taken to publicly prove the truth) – many lost their livelihoods, others were taken into care as children through loss of their mother, and all suffered the stigma of the smears issued by the authorities against the fans for all those years.
These indescribably brave campaigners have been forced to fight for justice for the loved ones they’d lost after the 1991 Coroner’s Report concluded “accidental death”. For 25 years the smear that it was drunken, ticketless, riotous fans that had caused the disaster hung over the memory of the 96 and the entire city, their families especially. Their efforts were rewarded when the verdict of accidental deaths was quashed in 2012 by the Independent Inquiry Panel, which insisted on the recent inquests.
What incredible courage it took to fight on! As one of them said today, “We never, ever gave up despite all the knockbacks.”
ESTABLISHMENT LIES TO THE BITTER END
Families had lost sons, daughters, husbands, wives, siblings. One daughter today wept at how her father had been thrown in a gym covered by a black bin bag.
Relatives had to relive the grief over two years of inquests, because right to the bitter end, police authorities persistently lied and blamed the fans, dragging out the inquests by an extra year or more. Just last year, Duckenfield eventually admitted his blunders and apologized. Bereaved women did a TV video declaring they would never accept his apology, “after he made us live a lie for 26 years, which is beyond cruel.”
At last, the truth is confirmed. Amidst many other crimes against working class people, evidence proved how the police chief called for police dogs before requesting ambulances, treating fans like thugs when in fact they were desperately trying to escape the crush or rescue others. Whilst some police officers tried to help, the majority were lined up across the pitch as if to stop a riot, when the fans were literally fighting for their lives. The ambulance service was lied to about the situation being a crowd riot – only three ambulances ever entered the ground – one of them an hour after the fatal mayhem started – whilst others were parked outside.
Having herded fans into the overcrowded middle terraces of a venue that was unfit in the first place, police chiefs added to the death toll by massive delays in acting to save lives. And then they lied, accusing the fans of having broken down the gate into the Leppings Lane end that the same police chief had ordered open. Rupert Murdoch’s Sun then vilified the dead, other football fans, and the entire city of Liverpool, and Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher colluded in this monstrous frame-up of the dead.
The judiciary played their part in trying to hide the truth. The 1991 inquiry that decided ‘accidental deaths’ refused to take or consider any evidence after 3.15pm, making the false claim that all the victims had died by then. In fact, the current inquests proved some didn’t die until as a late as 5pm, underlining the cruel fact that prompt actions by the police and ambulance chiefs could have saved a majority of the 96!
NOT YET JUSTICE
At last, the names of the 96 have been cleared. At last, some degree of closure for relatives. But not yet justice. As most of the Justice for the 96 campaigners today said, criminal prosecution needs to follow on from the jury’s verdict. The current South Yorkshire Police chief admitted his predecessor “got it catastrophically wrong.” Families of the 96 have called for criminal prosecutions.
But it shouldn’t just be Duckenfield who is charged. What about the owners of Sheffield Wednesday who refused to repair a clapped out stadium despite warnings that fans reported crushing at Liverpool v Nottingham Forest the previous year? That doctors at the match confirmed there wasn’t a single defibrillator in the stadium?
What about the Sun – a dirty rag – and Kelvin Mackenzie, its editor who ran monstrous headlines about LFC fans robbing and defiling corpses?
Or the West Midlands Police who held a fake inquiry into their South Yorkshire force?
Or Thatcher, who of course is no longer available to answer for her role in collusion at a callous, calculated cover-up, when she met with the police chiefs the next day?
Or the cynical manoeuvres by subsequent Labour Home Secretary, Jack Straw, to stitch up a bogus Inquiry, whilst promising justice to the families?
At last, the truth is out, the fans and the family campaigns totally vindicated – but justice must be done. And nobody – including people too young to fully grasp what all this signifies, because they weren’t around or conscious of the heartbreaking disaster of 1989 – nobody should fail to register how monumental the jury’s decision is. As one woman who lost her son at Hillsborough said today, with angry tears:
“This is a defining moment in the history of social justice, when the Establishment was taken on by ordinary people and the Establishment lost!”