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Why Hillsborough hasn't been left to lie

Al Jazeera's Lee Wellings explains why Merseysiders will never forget the Hillsborough disaster of 1989.
Last modified: 12 Sep 2012 18:33

Hillsborough.

The word will forever take people back to the horror of 1989, when 96 fans died while attending a football match.

Those old enough to remember television pictures and newspaper images of Liverpool supporters dying on the overcrowded terraces in Sheffield are usually compassionate and may even acknowledge that it could have happened to them - their club, their loved ones, their children.

But not everyone sees the tragedy in this way,

Still, as I travelled to Liverpool from London on the day of an independent report into the tragedy, I am asked why the families are still bothering to fight for justice.

I wish these people had heard the story of Phil Hammond, whose 14 year-old son Philip Junior died in the tragedy.

He waved his excited son off to watch his beloved club in an FA Cup semi-final and settled down to watch snooker on television. The coverage was interrupted by news of a major problem at Hillsborough. And the nightmare began.

Imagine being Phil Hammond and Hilda Hammond, the parents. That pain, that grief.

To then read newspaper reports falsely blaming the behaviour of drunken Liverpool fans.

To then be denied the truth about what happened to your teenage son.

To see a coroners verdict of 'accidental death.' To understand that those who should have protected your son had instead covered up the truth and lied about it for years.

To spend 23 years being denied an apology, an explanation, a form of closure.

A Government commissioned report has finally revealed it's findings and given a damning assessment of the authorities.

Liverpool bishop James Jones is the report chairman whose team reassessed over 400,000 documents.

Within minutes Prime Minister David Cameron delivered an apology for the failures of his predecessors that was detailed, eye-opening and damning of the failures of a police force, the emergency services and the initial coroner's inquest. The scheming and cover-ups of South Yorkshire police as they attempted to deflect blame were called 'close to deceitful' in one of the only understatements of the shocking report.

Fatal crush

Britain's worst sporting disaster happened in April 1989 as Liverpool played Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final.

South Yorkshire Police opened an extra gate at the Leppings Lane end of the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield. But their redirection of fans resulted in a fatal crush on the overcrowded terrace.

This report details their 'strenuous' attempts to deflect blame on to Liverpool fans - 116 of 164 testimonies were altered as they plotted to make this the fault of supposedly drunken, badly behaved fans. They then investigated the deceased in an apparent attempt to smear characters.
 
The horror of Hillsborough was made significantly worse by the lack of a 'swifter and better equipped response'.
 
Only one of 42 ambulances sent to the stadium made it onto the pitch. Only 14 of the dead were taken to hospital.  It's now been admitted that 41 of the victims may have made it beyond the 3.15 cut off time, so controversially set by the coroner in the initial inquest. 

The crucial thing about this is it suggests some of the victims could and would have been saved with the appropriate medical care.

In his House of Commons statement, Cameron said it is 'black and white' that Liverpool fans are not to blame.

The people of this north west city remain so upset by the coverage in The Sun that accused the fans, they refuse to buy the UK's biggest selling newspaper to this very day. The Sun claimed drunken fans had turned up late, drunk, ticketless and behaved badly. Claims that mirror those of the police force who have been so discredited. 

So this is not closure for the people who waved family and friends off to a football match and never saw them return.

They want a new inquest - the coroner initially delivered a verdict of accidental death. This is set to be decided soon in the High Court.

Two decades ago Justice Taylor's report found police failures caused the tragedy and resulted in the elimination of standing terraces at major football stadiums in England. But no-one was held to account, no-one said sorry. Until now.

Nothing can really ease the pain of people like Phil Hammond, but the independent report really will help.

And perhaps it will lead a few more people who don't live on Merseyside to understand why the events of April 15 should not, would not, could not, have been left to lie.