In April 1989, 96 football fans from Liverpool - many of them children - were crushed to death at a cup semi final match at Hillsborough in Sheffield. In the immediate aftermath, and for years afterwards, the official line from politicians, police and the media was that the fault for the disaster lay with the fans themselves, whose drunken hooliganism was blamed.
After the tragedy, the Sun newspaper reported quotes from police sources claiming that drunken Liverpool fans had hindered police efforts to help the injured, urinated on the dead and dying, and stolen from them. The official inquest concluded that all of the victims had died within minutes of the crush, and that no efforts by emergency services would have saved them.
After more than two decades of campaigning by the families of the Hillsborough victims, today an independent report was released that took in account thousands of documents that had previously been unreleased.
The report details the efforts made by the police immediately after the disaster to cover up their own failings, including passing on false information to news agencies, deflecting the blame to the victims themselves. 116 of 164 statements from police on the scene were amended so that comments that put the police in an unfavourable light were removed. Police carried out blood alcohol tests on the victims - including the children - to “impugn their reputations.” Those without alcohol in their bloodstream were checked for criminal records.
Most shocking of all is the fact that the original inquest’s conclusion that all 96 people died immediately is false. As many as 41 victims “had the potential to survive” if emergency services had been adequate.
There isn’t a community in Liverpool that wasn’t affected by the Hillsborough tragedy. My high school has a rose garden dedicated to Kevin Williams, a 15-year-old student at the school who was crushed to death. The building opposite my house has a plaque dedicated to the people from our town who died that day. There are similar commemorations all over the area for the sons and daughters whose life ended.
Now, 23 years on, the families of the victims who suffered both the tragedy of loss and the insult of a horrendous cover up are a step closer to justice.