hillsborough, the story behind the sadness

* First published 26 April 2016. *

The pleas of millions were answered today as it was confirmed that the 96 were unlawfully killed, not an accident, someone was to blame. But this still may leave some people wondering why this was such a big deal, the longest running legal case in UK history, why was the City of Liverpool so determined to find Justice.

April 15 1989 has grown from a horrible day in the history of our city into a battle between our community and the establishment.

The FA Cup is a massive deal in this country. 30 years ago it was an even bigger event in our national calendar. Two of the country’s best supported teams, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, had made their way to this point in the competition. Millions wanted to be a part of the party, no matter the result, but their safety was never properly taken into consideration.

Credit: David Cannon/Allsport

Hillsborough, Sheffield Wednesday’s stadium, was seen as the ideal ground for the Semi-Final. Not far to travel for both sets of supporters, large capacity and most importantly neutral; but that was where the ideals ended. The stadium had failed to meet recommendations from the Green Guide that were put in place in order to ensure that fans were safe when spectating the sport, with the consequences expected to be ‘minor’.

The Popplewell Inquiry looked into the risk of having steel fences at football grounds after the Bradford City stadium fire of 1985, recommending that all exit gates should be able to be opened from the inside to prevent disaster. This was seen as especially important in Hillsborough’s case due to the 38 serious injuries in the 1981 semi-final due to crushing. This was ignored.

When asked if he thought there was a chance that fans could die in the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough, Sheffield Wednesday’s chairman replied with “Bollocks.” Liverpool lodged a formal complaint following the 1988 semi-final at the same venue saying they were “packed solid” wanting the stadium to be retested for safety after the 1981 injuries. The stadium at that point has no formal safety certificate. This was ignored.

“The police became a convenient scapegoat, and The Sun newspaper a whipping-boy for daring, albeit in a tasteless fashion, to hint at the wider causes of the incident” 

Boris Johnson, Prime Minister, when questioned about the disaster in 2004.

When deciding which part of the ground that each club would locate, the decision was made purely upon segregation and travel access. This is, of course, an important consideration when deciding these things but it left Liverpool fans with only one entrance. Liverpool argued that this circumstance, along with the fact that Liverpool were likely to bring more fans than Forest, meant that changes must be made in order to ensure the fans’ safety. This was ignored.

In the previous year’s fixture, 3 trains were put in place to carry Liverpool fans into Sheffield, taking pressure off the roads, but for some unknown reason only one was scheduled in 1989. This added to the traffic on the day which eventually led to a massive bottleneck of people outside the ground at around 2.40pm. The police trying to contain the frustrated supporters radioed match commander, David Duckenfield, in the hope of delaying kick off until the crush outside could be controlled. This was ignored.

In an attempt to stop any major injuries for the 5000 fans outside the stadium, the police decided to open Gate C, normally for those leaving the stadium but offering an alternative entrance for those struggling through the turnstiles. What then faced the fans was a narrow tunnel that gave them clear access to inside the stadium; a tunnel that led to the already overcrowded pens 3 and 4. There should have been some form of steward/police to close off that tunnel and divert the fans to the correct entrances but there wasn’t. This was the fatal mistake.

Fans, both dead and alive, spilled onto the pitch as they climbed to get away from the crush, the panic continuing long after the game had been called off only 6 minutes in. Chief Superintendent John Nesbit of South Yorkshire police has since admitted that it was a conscious decision to not help with the rescue of fans at first. With the fear that those in the ground would turn on the police, so they were left to their own devices.

The only obvious police response was a cordon created to stop Liverpool fans reaching the other side of the stadium via the pitch. In some cases, men carrying unconscious bodies towards the ambulances on the other side of the cordon were turned away. 44 ambulances arrived at the stadium in response to the disaster that day; only one was allowed onto the pitch for the Liverpool fans.  Only 14 of the 96 that died that day ever made it to a hospital.

The Aftermath

In the days that followed the disaster, anger at what had happened was incensed. The infamous S*N headline that dictated their version of “The Truth” painted Liverpool fans as murderers, drunks, and thieves, playing on existing stereotypes to take attention away from the authorities. The idea that many in the stadium would have been drinking is a certainty, but why shouldn’t they be? It was meant to be one of the biggest parties of the year and by no means can alcohol be blamed for what happened that day.

A letter from Bernard Ingham, Thatchers Press Secretary, following the disaster

I personally don’t know how anyone from that generation can read the S*N. The fact that this publication chose to blame friends and families for the deaths of dozens, whilst mocking them in their pursuit to find out who was accountable, makes me sick. How anyone can choose to put money into an institution that ignites such hatred when they are supposed to be in a position of authority.

It has since been revealed that many South Yorkshire police who were working on the day altered their statements when asked again. This was a time when Liverpool as a city was one of the driving forces in protest against Thatcher’s Conservative government. So for them to be seen as the victims of this disaster was unacceptable in the eyes of the authorities. It needed to be their fault.

There is evidence to suggest that a lack of a formal inquest at the time was Thatcher’s thank you to the regions police force for their part in controlling the miners strikes around the same time – but this we will never truly know. Whatever your political allegiances are, the truth is that pressure from the top down prevented the truth coming out for years, because they couldn’t allow Liverpool to be seen as victims to the establishment, adding fuel to their revolutionary fire.

The conclusions in the Hillsborough inquests brought to an end the longest jury case in British legal history

How I see it

I wasn’t around when the Hillsborough disaster occurred, it was 6 years before I was even born, but all of my life I have seen the direct consequences it has had on our city. For 27 years campaigners have fought against those in power to have a more thorough look at the evidence. Many private inquests were blocked and in the case of the Taylor inquiry their deaths were considered an ‘accident’.

I don’t think anyone can honestly say they wanted the people at that stadium to die that day but the idea that no one was at fault in the eyes of law is wrong. The fact that many who lied and cheated for the police have since gone on to have full careers and lucrative pensions just adds to the pain.

What I have given you here are the facts of the story, no more no less. This must be remembered when you hear someone criticise us for fighting back.

When you sit in a stadium of thousands of friends calling for justice it is impossible to not fight back. When you see your Grandad cry for the only time in your life it is impossible to not feel sadness. When you hear opposition fans, who claim they are behind your struggles, chanting “Always the victim it’s never your fault” it is impossible to not feel angry.

So if you are confused to why Hillsborough is such a big deal to Scousers remember this. This was not just a horrible and unnecessary disaster, it is an example of how many believe they are above the law. It was an example of how certain governments did not care about the worries of the common man. It was an example of how the media can organise negative stereotypes that will last for years to come. But now it is an example of how the underdog can always win if there is enough love behind their fight.

You’ll Never Walk Alone.

*Since the original time of writing, 6 people have been charged for their involvement in the unlawful killing. One had their charges dropped before trial, one received a fine of £6,500 on health and safety charges, 3 are still awaiting trial and one has been found not guilty for gross manslaughter. 31 years of fighting for the truth and the only sentence given out is £6500, the cost of 96 lives.*

YZ 🙂

Featured Cartoon by Dave Brown

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