Sunday, November 18, 2012
The Hillsborough disaster
I have been meaning to write about Hillsborough - the disaster, many years ago, when 96 football fans died and the police tried to lie and blame the catastrophe on the victims.
Unfortunately, it makes me so sad, so angry that I have been unable to do so.
This account, from a survivor of that day, says everything I could possibly say - and then some:
(from the Guardian, September 14th., 2012)
"First of all, apologies are due to Our Lady, for the language. When the Hillsborough Independent Panel filed in to the press conference in the chapel of Our Lady in Liverpool's majestic Anglican cathedral, just before midday on Wednesday, the mood was sombre. Within half an hour, the air was a shade of blue; 100 journalists gathered in the chapel swearing in disbelief at the revelations contained in this landmark report.
As a survivor of the disaster, I had a rare perspective among the media. I survived the crush in pen 3; many of the 96 died in front of me. Unable to move for over half an hour, I was condemned to watch them cry for help, throw up, plead for their lives and die. When the police finally opened the gate in the fence and the crush abated, around a dozen of them simply keeled over and hit the concrete. A heap of corpses piled up in front of me. One police officer said the scene "was like Belsen".
The noise will never leave me. Yesterday, there were periods of profound silence between the many questions directed first towards the panel and then the family groups. I almost broke that with my own tears when it was revealed that 41 of the dead might have been saved.
A shocking number – so large that, had those 41 been saved, Hillsborough would not stand today as the biggest disaster in British sport. That claim to notoriety would belong to the Ibrox disaster of 1971, which claimed 66 lives.
The fact that the outrageous lies of the South Yorkshire police, accepted by Kelvin MacKenzie, were chiselled away, slowly, carefully and forensically over 23 years, lent this process a weight in the public mind that a judicial review, convened perhaps over a few short months, could not have achieved.
This, however, should not be time for a celebration of the peculiarly evolutionary nature of British justice: this was driven by grief left to fester for 23 years. People can accept that terrible things happen if accountability and truth follow. "We will always be the losers in this," Margaret Aspinall said. But as one reporter replied: "Yes, but Margaret, this is the first time I think I've ever seen you smile."
Survivors and families have lived with very different nightmares since 1989: the bereaved suffered intense grief; survivors bore the trauma.
They are different conditions, and require different treatments. Justice and truth are perhaps the only remedy that can heal us both.
What did I realistically hope for this week? I hoped that the lies peddled by the police and the Sun would be exposed. They were detonated. I hoped that people would recognise the families as we know them, ordinary people who retained their dignity amid extraordinary grief. They were magnificent. I could not possibly have hoped that the panel would do such a fine job, and it must take enormous credit, propelled by the remarkable Phil Scraton. And while I expected some form of vindication, I did not expect to find myself at the heart of a historic event. When the Daily Mirror's Brian Reade asked if we had seen the biggest cover-up in British history, Michael Mansfield QC simply answered: "Yes."
I felt a sense for the first time that this tragedy was no longer mine, or other survivors', or the families' – it belongs now to the nation, both as a wake-up call, a warning of how systemically justice can be corrupted, and as a reminder that right can still triumph over might. Liverpool and Liverpool fans have done the nation a great service here. We never gave up: we had to take on not one police force but two (one curious omission for me was the role of the West Midlands police), the rightwing media, the legal system and successive governments. And we won.
There is no bitterness on my part that the public took 23 years to wake up to our nightmare. Their ignorance was their faith in the media and in the police. This has suffered a huge blow and the fact surely cannot go unnoticed by Lord Justice Leveson. I also hope, as a southerner, that the people of Liverpool will no longer be subjected to the lazy, callous stereotypes peddled off the back of the Sun's lies.
As the rain fell outside the chapel, the panel began proceedings with its distinctly 21st-century language (it would offer no "value judgments"). But last night, in the Ship and Mitre pub in Liverpool city centre, an 80s revival was in full swing. Fleet Street's finest sunk beers and sang songs with Labour MPs Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham, with the families, survivors and other campaigners. And through a night when the streets of Liverpool appeared to be paved with springs, there was still magnanimity: I heard not one note of scepticism about David Cameron's speech. He was universally applauded for setting the tone of a historic day with a compassionate and unequivocal response in the Commons. Credit where it's due. Now let's have justice where it's due."
Posted by John Selwyn Gilbert at 3:26 AM