The Social Business

Hillsborough – one day the truth must be told

My Hillsborough story is far less dramatic than that of thousands of other people who were affected by what happened twenty years ago.  But, like so many people, what happened that day has stayed with me ever since, and, probably more than any other event in my life, has shaped me for good and for bad.

I was 16 at the time, and the trip to the semi-final – my first – was welcome relief from the hard slog of GCSE revision.  I travelled to Sheffield with my friends John, Chris and Bernard.  Our other friend, Bob, had rung the night before to say that he wouldn't be coming, as his sister, who'd been ill for some time, had died earlier that day.  

On the way up we debated what to do with Bob's ticket.  He was due to be in the Main Stand with John, whilst the rest of us had tickets for the Leppings Lane end.  In the end we decided that I'd go in the Main Stand, and we'd sell my ticket outside the ground.  We arrived at around 2pm and had no trouble selling my ticket.

So much has been written elsewhere about what happened, so I won't write about it here.  But I remember that my brain seemed to respond to what was happening by blocking it out.  I think that was partly because I was with John, who was only 12, and I knew that his dad and uncle were in that pen.   As it happens, Chris and Bernard were both OK.  At 215 they realised that there wasn't much room, so moved towards the back of the pen where there was a bit less pressure.  

It's hard to know what to write about.  I suppose I just want to add my voice to the thousands of others who are saying that Hillsborough is still something that affects them to this day.  There are people outside of Liverpool who think that we should just all move on.  I think they fail to understand the enormity of what happened that day – and the impact that the subsequent lack of justice has on people whose relatives and friends died at a football match.

In terms of its impact on me, there are the primary impacts like never feeling comfortable in a crowd.  But the secondary impacts are more important.  As has been well documented elsewhere, I cannot begin to imagine how families must feel about the fact that no-one has been held truly responsible for what happened that day.  As so often happens in this country, the Establishment – in this case the Police and the Justice system – closed ranks in order to protect its own.   I learnt a lesson early on about the reality of life in Britain.

All is not lost.  You can bet that the families of those who died won't rest until some key questions are answered.  If you're interested in the detail, I'd encourage you to read this excellent piece by David Conn in yesterday's Guardian.  His piece ends with this list of questions, which one day surely must get answered:

1 What, in detail, happened after 3:15pm on the day of the disaster?

2 Could more people have been saved if the response to the disaster had been better co-ordinated?

3 Who removed two CCTV video tapes from the locked control room at Hillsborough on the night of the disaster?

4 Why was nobody identified to have removed them, and what investigation was mounted?

5 Which South Yorkshire police officers worked in the unit that vetted police statements before they went to Taylor and the inquest?

6 Who gave the orders for them to do so and what was the stated intention of those orders?

7 Are the documents lodged by order of the government in the House of Lords library a complete archive of South Yorkshire police's Hillsborough documents?

8 What was Det Supt Stanley Beechey, a former head of the West Midlands serious crime squad, doing on the Hillsborough investigation while he had been placed on "non-operational duties"?

As Margaret Aspinall, whose son, James, died at Hillsborough, said in David Conn's article, "I don't like to use the word justice.  I prefer to say that we want the full truth, and accountability. Even now, it would make a difference, alleviate some of the hurt and betrayal we have suffered for 20 years."

Categories: Football, Social Justice

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1 Comment

  1. Rob
    I remember listening to this unfold on world service as I was working in sub-saharan africa. Went from a wonderful vignette for an englishman abroad to a nightmare. I was in the same time zone which for some reason made it even stranger. I will never forget the changing tones of the commentators and the transition in their reporting from sport to tragedy.
    Best wishes,

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