Friday, September 14, 2012

23 years for the truth to be known

The latest investigation into the tragedy that occurred at Hillsborough, 15th April 1989 has now come to its conclusions. The occasion was the FA Cup semi final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest which ended with 96 of the Liverpool fans dying.

At the time I was teaching at Anfield, within sight of the ground. Many of my pupils had either been to the match or had friends and relatives at the game. For weeks and months there was an all pervading atmosphere of grief and suffering in the school and in Liverpool itself made worse by the Sun newspaper laying the blame firmly on the fans. To this day, many Liverpool fans will not buy that newspaper.  

An accident on the motorway between Liverpool and Sheffield had delayed fans who therefore arrived after the game had started. Naturally they were keen to get into the ground as quickly as possible and so a large crowd amassed outside the Leppings Lane end of the stadium.

In charge of policing was the inexperienced Chief Superintendent, David Duckenfield. Faced with 24,000 Liverpool fans all trying to get through 23 turnstiles, he decided that the large exit gate should be opened to allow the fans quick entrance. The result was that the, already crowded central area of the terrace quickly became vastly overcrowded and as fans tried to move forward, those already in the ground were crushed against the perimeter fence.

The result was that 96 fans died some crushed to death others asphyxiated. The youngest was only 10 years old. Of the 96, 41 were apparently still alive when they were moved to the pitch but again, the emergency services failed to help them. Their response was too slow to save their lives. In all it was a catalogue of disasters that conspired together but the main problem lay with inadequate policing – many of the officers didn’t even have radios that would have at least allowed them to alert their colleagues of what was happening.

At the time, the police tried to cover up their failure by blaming the fans saying that it was drunkenness and bad behaviour that caused the problems. They also claimed that there were many fans outside the ground without tickets. In the aftermath, they even went to the extent of having blood alcohol levels checked along with criminal records of the victims. Worst of all though, the police had 116 out of the 164 statements by police officers altered to take the blame away from their failure.

Along with the police, the Football Association must take some of the blame as well for choosing a ground that did not have a safety certificate. 

For 23 years, the Hillsborough Support Group has fought to seek justice. Now they have the truth, they will be seeking for criminal charges to be brought against those responsible.

1 comment:

Bill said...

Like many I accepted the official verdict about what happened. I should mention that I am completely uninterested in football so know very little about it. I confirmed from my diary, backed up by entry/exit stamps from an old passport, that I was in Jordan (as part of a lengthy Arabic course) for the whole of April 1989 so was not really aware of what had happened until after my return to London a few weeks later, and then only vaguely. I am sure that, like many others who knew little about the details (until now) that it was just another example of what had occurred a few years earlier in 1985 when another major football disaster involving Liverpool during a match in Brussels (the Heysel Stadium disaster); at that time I was working in Paris and when I came into the office the next morning, that incident was the topic of much debate amongst many of our French staff, specially amongst those who followed football - I think I had already heard about it on the radio before coming into the office. The prevailing attitude at that time was that it was just another example of English football hooliganism so I think that attitude about Liverpool fans probably carried over to the later accident in Sheffield. As I mentioned before, I know little about football (and care less), but it is certainly welcome for the truth about what happened in 1989 to be exposed at last.