Most people in Liverpool can tell you what they were doing on 15th April 1989. At 3.00 I was listening to local radio following Everton FC’s FA Cup semi-final with Norwich City. I knew that Liverpool FC were just getting started at Hillsborough in the other semi against Nottingham Forest. Within 10 minutes everything changed and football games became irrelevant.
I can still remember the news coming over the radio that there was ‘trouble’ at Hillsborough. The initial reports also said that the trouble seemed to have been caused by Liverpool fans. That has been a factor in the perception of the tragedy ever since. Particularly with the Sun Newspaper’s disgraceful headline – ‘The Truth’ – which laid the blame firmly with the fans.
The families of the 96 who died and all those who were physically and mentally injured have fought for 23 years to get to the real truth. Their concerns were summed up by Rogan Taylor from Liverpool University speaking to the BBC – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19570810:
‘All those people responsible for staging that match, from the Football Association… to the police policing it, the emergency services who attended it… The simple answer for everybody was: blame the fans. They killed themselves. Well I’m afraid that doesn’t work, it doesn’t ride, it’s not true. I think what we want is the truth.’
It seems that we are now much closer to the truth following the release yesterday of the devastating report from the team led by the Bishop of Liverpool who have reviewed all available documents including many which had not previously been disclosed. This is not an inquiry which can apportion responsibility. It is simply a report on the documents which, frankly, tell their own story.
Following the disaster there was an inquest in Sheffield. The Coroner found that all of those who died had lost their lives by 3.15pm. That finding has underpinned all subsequent discussions and reports. It has now been shown to have been completely wrong. There is evidence from the documents disclosed showing that a significant number of victims were still alive after 3.15 and could possible have survived if there had been a quicker and more efficient response. In fact the number could have been as high as 41. This takes the investigations to a different level.
In a statement to the House of Commons, the Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged the ‘double injustice’ suffered by the relatives of victims.
He talked of ‘a failure of the state to protect their loved ones and the indefensible wait to get to the truth’, and in the efforts to denigrate the deceased and suggest that they were ‘somehow at fault for their own deaths’. He offered an unconditional apology to the families on behalf of the nation. Most significantly he emphasised that the fans were not in any way responsible.
So the way is now cleared to enable us to get to the truth. There must surely be a fresh inquest. The report will be reviewed by the Attorney General who will need to apply to have the original inquest quashed. There will then be a fresh hearing hopefully before a senior judge sitting as a coroner. This is an essential first step. We can then finally get to the bottom of why it has taken 23 years to get where we are today and why it has taken the resilience of the families to fight and fight to get to the truth.
Only then will we see true justice for the 96.
Steve Cornforth is senior partner of EAD Solicitors in Liverpool and Huddersfield. Steve is the current vice president of Liverpool Law Society and will become President in December 2011. He has established its Access to Justice Committee to focus on the impact of current and proposed cutbacks in legal aid.