By David Lynch
For 23 years they fought and were told to “let it go”. For 23 years they tolerated the lies about the day their loved ones had died. For 23 years the accusations of a cover-up were dismissed by those who knew so little. But on Wednesday, the truth was finally out.
The families of the 96 people who were crushed to death at Hillsborough Stadium on April 15 1989 gained the one thing they had long craved at Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral this morning, as the Hillsborough Independent Panel released the results of its two-year inquiry.
Those tasked with compiling the report perused over 400,000 pages of previously withheld documents from 80 different organisations present that day – for the first time, nothing was denied them.
Yet, while the truth they sought has at long last been delivered, it is an unpalatable one; a stark exposure of an insidious process aimed at ensuring that the victims – men, womean and children that they were – were blamed for their own deaths.
It is well known that this process began almost immediately, as chief superintendent David Duckenfield insisted that Gate C of the Leppings Lane end had been forced open by fans and not, as was later found, on his orders.
But Wednesday’s revelations provide harrowing evidence that this was just the tip of the iceberg; the officers present were already discussing the “animalistic behaviour” of “drunken marauding fans” in the immediate aftermath of 96 people dying. The tone, one of discrediting the dead, had been set.
This was not just callous disrespect for the deceased, but part of a wider plot aimed at shifting the blame, a ploy which had succeeded up until today. It gained further pace with the dissemination of false information to a leading Conservative MP, Irvine Patnick, who, rather than clarify whether these spurious accusations were true, took his concerns directly to the media, most notably the Sun newspaper.
The subsequent “The Truth” headline and the allegations that fans urinated on and picked the pockets of the dead have proved hard to shake, and played a large part in cementing the myths which those fighting for justice over Hillsborough have had to fight so hard to tear apart.
Meanwhile, as these lies were already being spread across the nation, the bodies of those who died were being tested for blood alcohol levels. When the results provided a negligible reading – one that didn’t suit the story – the police then tasked themselves with finding a criminal record for that person.
If the authorities could not prove that drunkenness had caused the disaster, or the presence of a hooligan mob, then the blame could lie nowhere else than at their feet, and this is the desperate truth they wished to avoid.
The families perhaps expected they would get the opportunity to air these grievances as the inquests were held but, yet again, they were wronged. Dr. Stefan Popper’s decision to impose a cut-off time of 3.15pm for all evidence (on the incorrect basis that all the victims had suffered irreversible injuries by that point) robbed the families of a true inquiry into the emergency services’ inadequate response.
The report has now proved that 41 of the 96 who died “potentially could have survived” beyond the cut-off point and that a staggering 31 of the victims had heart and lung function after that time had passed. Over half of the death toll dismissed as irrelevant to the original inquest, the truth that they could have been saved hidden for over 20 years.
Chillingly, even these sham inquests were originally deemed “unnecessary” by the man who eventually presided over them. Dr. Popper had argued that the cause of death for all of those who perished was already well known, seemingly ignoring the fact that to not hold them would be illegal.
The evidence provided by police has also now also come under scrutiny with the revelation – one which the families had long seen dismissed by observers – that 116 “negative comments” were removed from statements made by police present on the day.
Several of these did not point to any severe malpractice but rather highlighted the lack of planning and due care from the police which was undoubtedly the leading cause of the disaster.
All of these factors came together to deceive the public about what had happened that day but, unfortunately for those responsible, the people who had been present could not be fooled. Or silenced.
That it has taken 23 years to reach this epiphany should go down as a low point in British legal history, a miscarriage of justice which David Cameron has today hinted the Attorney General will right with a series of fresh inquests.
But there can be no joy devised from finding out such horrific truths.
Only the subsequent apologies, expected retributive action and an ability, 23 years long in the making, to finally lay the memory of those 96 innocent victims to rest, can provide a crumb of comfort.
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