By David Lynch
On Wednesday, 23 years, four months and 28 days on from the Hillsborough Disaster, the families of those who died hope to hear the truth.
At Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, an independent panel led by the Bishop of Liverpool and put together with the purpose of examining evidence withheld for so long, will give its findings to a group of people who have been unable to rest since April 15 1989.
Ninety-six people were crushed to death at an FA Cup semi-final clash between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest that day, a figure which survivors have long contested could have been considerably less. And they hope that previously unseen documents released only recently to the panel will prove them right.
The initial inquests into the tragedy provided few answers to the bereaved and that they have had to fight so long for closure has only compounded their grief.
The 3.15pm cut-off time imposed by the coroner, on the false assumption that all those who died at Hillsborough had done so by that point, was the first in a long line of injustices in the case. Despite 15-year-old Kevin s clearly showing signs of life at 4.00pm, an hour after the start of the match which was abandoned at 3.06pm, no evidence beyond the allotted time was allowed.
The unjustness continued with a request that the blood alcohol levels of all victims be read to the court – even that of a 10-year-old boy – in an attempt to set the tone over how supporters needlessly died at a stadium without a valid safety certificate.
All of this helped ensure that a verdict of accidental death could be recorded, absolving the police, whose responsibility it had been to protect the crowd, from all blame. And, while the families do not seek to place culpability as a method of gaining revenge, or on some flawed ‘eye-for-an-eye’ logic, they still wish to hear the truth about how their loved ones died.
The truth about why just two of the 42 ambulances which arrived at the scene made it onto the pitch to help dying fans. Why Gate C of the Leppings Lane end was opened, effectively starting the crush which killed 96 people. Why in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, it was alleged by a senior police official that this gate had been forced open by Liverpool fans.
The families, led by the Hillsborough Family Support Group and Hillsborough Justice Campaign, have often seen their efforts undermined by such malicious untruths as this, peddled as early as the day of the disaster itself.
The infamous story from the Sun newspaper which falsely stated that Liverpool fans beat up policemen, picked pockets and urinated on the dead also entrenched an incorrect perception of events in the public consciousness. That these sickening claims came under the headline “The Truth” only strengthened their reach, despite not one of the several thousand people in attendance corroborating the story, and have led to a lengthy boycott of the tabloid on Merseyside which stands to this day.
Unfortunately, further myths regarding ticketless fans or drunken behaviour being contributory factors to the 96 deaths will be hard to fully dispel. They are deep-rooted, insidious claims which stem from the statements made by police and the media over 20 years ago, and they linger despite being dismissed by a number of subsequent reports.
However, whether these lies originated from as high up as the Tory government then in power will now finally be shared. It has been alleged by survivors that a cover-up was orchestrated from the very top, an argument they insist is supported by the two-decade gap between the initial inquest and this most recent inquiry by the Hillsborough Independent Panel.
But, while survivors and bereaved families still face a lifelong war against these lies, their battle for the facts, the one thing they have long craved, may finally be coming to an end.
If Wednesday’s evidence is as explosive as the families hope, then it will doubtless lead to further inquiries and possibly a fresh set of inquests with no cut-off time wrongly imposed. Should this happen then the lack of care shown towards the fans in attendance that day may well be revealed, and pertinent questions about why it has taken so long to expose it will be asked.
Of course evidence of a cover-up will provide no consolation for those who lost loved ones on that day, nothing could. But finally understanding how these avoidable deaths came about may be the first step in allowing them to bring a 20-year fight, one which they should never have had to start, to an end.