Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Hillsborough: The Truth at Last

15th April 1989 is one of those dates that stands in the memory of football fans across the UK; one of those 'What were you doing at the time?' days.

The tragic events of that day changed the game forever. Smart safe grounds, the influx of television money, the profile of the game across the class structure of the nation.

Today we learned the truth.

Actually most of us knew the truth on that Saturday evening. The inadequacies of the police leadership, the failure to identify the packed nature of the pens, the shocking state of the stadium which had seen similar, if smaller scale crushes at semi-finals in previous years. Surely nobody believed that the city of Sheffield only had one ambulance.

The memories of that day are indelably etched. I am used to an era of live football only being on the radio- Radio 2 it was in those days- and I clearly remember the great Jimmy Armfield describing the atmosphere 5 minutes before kick off, including a seemingly throw away comment that the pens seemed very full. Eleven minutes later the game stopped, and I switched the television on to see the horror unfold.

The manner of the deaths and injuries, the instantaneous cover up begun by the police, the story that The Sun ran; having just delivered an incredible Olympic and Paralympic summer, in is difficult to believe that within living memory sports fans had been treated so poorly.

The story ran of fans urinating on each other. In being crushed, bladder control is going to be lost. As for pilfering the bodies; had nobody heard of looking to identify people.

We are all indebted to the families for the campaign for the truth. Trevor Hicks, who lost both daughters and his marriage as a result, has been an eloquent spokesman. Anne Williams, whose son Kevin may have been alive well after 3.15, equally strong.

Names and ages of some of the victims are inscribed on the Hillsborough memorial at Anfield Stadium, the home of Liverpool Football Club

Today we have more questions to be answered. How can 164 witness statements have been changed and nobody notice? How is it that 41 people could have been saved? What did the politicians of the time really know?

This afternoon and evening, Liverpool has shown the great dignity it has always had. Steve Rotherham  has told us firmly that the fans were not to blame. Alison McGovern was clearly emotional in her response, and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Andy Burnham for his part in the campaign.

Now the truth is out, only one thing remains to be asked for. Justice.

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