Hillsborough 25 years on - Justice for the 96
It’s been 25 years since Liverpool played Forest in the FA Cup Semi Final at Hillsborough in a game that ended in tragedy. Those who saw the tv footage will never forget how horrific it was.
Since then, Liverpool fans (and the far wider communities of Liverpool) have campaigned to get “Justice for the 96”. It’s hard to watch a Liverpool match without seeing a sign in the crowd referencing the abbreviation “FT96”. But what is justice in this case? It’s a question I’ve often wondered, and even occasionally asked on social media, without ever getting a concrete response.
I posed the question on Twitter, and only one person - a Liverpool supporting friend - responded. He said: “Surely it is as simple as holding those responsible to account? Truth must out & be publicly acknowledged with appropriate sanctions. For me, that’s the required outcome. Sadly I think some responsible are ‘too high up’ and won’t ever face ‘justice’.”
Some used to say that justice would be seeing the police admit their errors - and their lies - that led to the death of so many people at the Sheffield Wednesday ground. I’m sure I recall Wednesday’s lack of a memorial at the ground being an issue in the early days too.
There is certainly umbrage that some police present on the day were able to receive compensation when supporters at the ground were not. Even more so when it’s considered that the police were paid to be there that day, and in their line of duty should have expected to see upsetting scenes (though arguably not that upsetting), and again it’s made worse still with the consideration that police negligence led to the tragedy.
Liverpool fans were initially blamed for the tragedy, with the Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield falsely claiming that the fans had rushed the gate. The truth is that the police opened an exit gate to ease congestion outside the ground. That gate led to two already crowded terraces, in a stadium that at the time had fencing around the perimeter of the pitch - a throwback to crowd control stemming from the not-too-distant hooligan problem that plagued English football in the two decades before.
The crush caused a barrier to break just six minutes into the match. Supporters piled forward, and the ensuing crush led to the deaths of 96 people.
In 2012, the Hillsborough Independent Panel ruled that no Liverpool fans had been responsible for the deaths and that attempts had been made to alter 116 police statements relating to the disaster. It also concluded that authorities attempted to disguise what had happened.
For context, of the 44 ambulances that arrived at the ground that day to attend to the injured and dying, the police only allowed one to actually enter the ground. The youngest victim was just ten, the eldest 67 though 79 people under the age of 30 died due to the tragedy. This figure doesn’t even touch on the lives changed forever as a result of the tragedy.
Duckenfield, who later admitted lying in certain statements regarding the cause of the disaster, eventually retired on health grounds. This meant that police disciplinary charges against him were dropped as he was unavailable, and he now receives a full police pension.
The tragedy courts controversy often. Comedian Alan Davies remarked on his podcast
Liverpool and the 15th, that gets on my tits that shit. What are you talking about, ‘We won’t play on the day’? Why can’t they?
My mum died on 22 August. I don’t stay in all day on 22 August. Do they play on the date of the Heysel Stadium disaster? How many dates do they not play on?
Do Man United play on the date of Munich? Do Rangers play on the date when all their fans died in that disaster whatever year that was – 1971?
He went on to say
Hillsborough is the most awful thing that’s happened in my life, in terms of football.
It’s one of the worst tragedies in English peacetime history. But it’s ridiculous that they refuse to play on that day any more.
It’s a controversial point, but one that I agree on. The dead deserve to be remembered and honoured. But a refusal to play on the anniversary is odd.
I’ve been reading up on the tragedy all morning, and the truth is that I’m no closer to defining what justice is, in this context. Reading the various reports, eyewitness accounts and the attempted cover-up has brought me close to tears.
We all know someone who goes to football matches on a regular basis. We can all agree that the tragedy could have happened anywhere, with anyone involved, and that’s what makes it such an emotionally charged point.
But whether justice is a continued refusal to play on the anniversary to highlight the tragedy, to see those in charge in 1989 tried in a court, or to get compensation for the victims - or something else entirely - one thing is certain. 96 people went to a football match and never returned. That must never happen again.