Si Steers pens his reaction to the findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel.
After 23 years of pain – the truth of the Hillsborough disaster has been told. The orchestrated cover up to divert blame to innocent supporters has finally been uncovered. After 23 years, the apologies have started to come. The power of collective spirit has overcome the power of the state.
The events of the 12th September 2012 are a significant moment in the timeline of Liverpool Football Club; but also of the country. In those dark days following Hillsborough, when the Police, backed by the state, attempted to shift the blame for catastrophic errors onto the innocent, there was little realisation that 23 years later, those unfounded lies would unravel in spectacular fashion.
It has been proven, beyond any doubt, that South Yorkshire Police, aided and abated by local authorities, orchestrated a smear campaign against Liverpool supporters in an attempt to cover up the negligence of senior officers whose decisions contributed to the avoidable tragedy that cost the lives of 96 innocent football fans.
The implications of the findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel are unprecedented. They found that the very people entrusted with the safety of the 96 were not only culpable for the circumstances in which they died; but also attempted to place the blame for the tragedy on those that were the easiest target. The innocent were let down and persecuted by those that were meant to protect.
Hillsborough has always been a stain on this country. It has always been a stain on the game of football. The City of Liverpool has always been a working class city. It is a socialist city where the community comes together as one in times of difficulty. It is unique. In the 1980’s England was a very conservative country – it was a country led by Thatcher and dominated by a right wing media. Liverpool never conformed to the national stereotype; it has always stood out as different.
In the aftermath of Hillsborough Liverpool was an easy target. It was an easy target for those in the establishment that wanted to shift blame, and it was an easy target for those in the media that wanted to cast stereotype to suit a political agenda. What they failed to recognise is that Liverpool has a strength and unity that never gives up.
In the days following the tragedy the City united. Reds and blues came together. It is important to remember that not all of the 96 were from Liverpool. The wider Liverpool community came together as one. A Scotsman made sure nobody walked alone. The role of Kenny Dalglish in the aftermath of Hillsborough was immense. He carried a football club and a grieving city.
So much has been written about the villains of Hillsborough – rightly so. There are many – Duckenfield, MacKenzie, Thatcher are all culpable in some way. The revelations from the HIP have given names to the faceless cowards that instead of stepping forward and admitting mistakes – attempted to lay the blame at the doors of the innocent.
But there is another story to Hillsborough – one where the real heroes stepped forward. The heroes on that dark day were the Liverpool fans. As the scenes unfolded – they were the ones that were attempting to save the lives of the fellow supporters. Whilst many charged with a duty of care sat back and panicked – it was the fans that stepped forward. It is important to remember that not every policeman on that dark day was culpable – there were a few that were heroes that day.
It has been proven beyond any doubt that those accountable for the disaster were South Yorkshire Police. It was the catastrophic decision making of inexperienced senior officers – and a lack of organisation and communication that led to the fateful events of the 15th April 1989.
But there are two important periods that are as significant as the event itself that need to be considered. Before the game even took place – the Football Association – led by Graham Kelly knew that Hillsborough was unsafe – they knew because they had been told the previous year. Rather than heeding those warnings, and checking the ground had up to date safety certificates and was fit for purpose for a showpiece game – they ignored them – with catastrophic consequences.
The failure by the Football Association to apologise for the role they played in the disaster is typical of a governing body that is completely out of touch.
The second period is in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. The shocking revelations that blood samples were taken from the dead to try and identify alcohol as a cause of the tragedy. It is truly disgusting that senior police officers were so desperate to avoid accountability that they began to orchestrate a narrative to blame the fans. That people at the top of the Police force were so lacking in moral compass to engage in such behaviour is utterly sickening.
The co-conspirators of the cover up were the local authorities – emergency services – and a local MP who were all desperate to avoid the finger of blame. They were aided and abated by an over zealous, right wing media desperate to put the boot into a City that stood on the periphery of a conservative England.
The role of government in the cover up remains unclear. But at best, the acceptance of South Yorkshire Police’s version of events as fact failed on any level to execute the responsibility of the state in the immediate aftermath. At the time Thatcher was trying to drive through ID cards for football fans – and blaming the fans for Hillsborough perhaps suited the political agenda of the day.
Ultimately many people are responsible for Hillsborough. There are many that will have to live with the role they played in attacking the defenceless: those that had a duty to protect and to investigate – but instead attacked and fabricated lies.
Apologies from the Government are welcome and long overdue. Apologies from organisations involved can contribute to closure. Apologies from the protagonists ring hollow – there will never be full closure on Hillsborough until those directly involved see justice.
The legendary Bill Shankly once said “Football isn’t a matter of life and death, it is more important than that” – whilst in context his observations ring true to Liverpool supporters – the tragedy of Hillsborough is a stark reminder that life is far more important than football. Another Shankly quote embodies the campaign for justice “”The socialism I believe in is everybody working for the same goal and everybody having a share in the rewards. That’s how I see football, that’s how I see life.”
Hillsborough will forever be part of the club’s DNA – it is part of what makes Liverpool more than a football club. The club is Scouse – fans from across the world are all in it together – those that were not born in the City are Scouse in heart and soul. Nobody embodies that more than Kenny Dalglish – the club’s greatest ever player – the managerial architect of possibly the club’s greatest side – and a man that saw the club through its darkest hour. ‘Surprisingly’ ignored by the establishment – but to us Liverpool fans will always be Sir Kenny Dalglish. In my view, his contribution to Liverpool Football Club is equal to the great Bill Shankly.
There will still be an ignorant minority of opposing fans that see Hillsborough as a tribal weak spot. But hopefully; now the real story has been told, it will make people think again before they sing about 96 innocent football fans. It could have been any club. It could have been any family. Hillsborough was a footballing tragedy; and subsequent events have improved the game for every fan.
Hopefully the events of the 12th September 2012 will be the start of the end for the Hillsborough families. The wheels of justice can now be set in motion – and those that were responsible for the tragic events and subsequent lies can now be held to account. The inquests can be re-opened – so that families can find comfort in the true stories of each of the 96 on that day.
Whatever the future holds for the ramifications of the explosive findings of the HIP – one thing is clear. The spirit of the families, the spirit of Liverpool has dared to stand up in a search for the truth. With each year that has passed – resolve has grown stronger. The world finally knows the Truth – and why the City of Liverpool is such a special place.