By Saf Hossain
When 96 football supporters did not return from a match in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, on a terrible afternoon in April of 1989, an entire city was united in grief. Liverpool is a place where a father can be blue, but his son a red. For a while, all of football rallied in solidarity. 96 Liverpool supporters, among them Steven Gerrard’s young cousin and two teenage sisters, died as a result of a crush in an overcrowded section of Hillsborough stadium.
Imagine the horror, then, as a major newspaper began a smear campaign against the dead and friends of theirs lucky enough to have survived the disaster, deceitfully printing the slander under the headline ‘The Truth’.
The wildly offensive claims – that Liverpool supporters had attacked ‘heroic’ coppers, even urinated on them, and stolen the pockets of their own dead – have haunted the memory of Hillsborough in the 23 years since the disaster. An investigation found that each claim was a spurious lie. The myth remained in some quarters, however, that Liverpool fans had somehow killed their own, because that was their reputation after the Heysel stadium disaster of 1985. Moreover, it was the fact that a widely circulated, widely read and dare I say trusted tabloid newspaper had printed these allegations that Liverpudlians, the working class, even simple football supporters were prejudiced with being society’s underclass for two decades.
The families of the 96, ordinary people thrust into an extraordinary scenario, have diligently campaigned against what was, for the past 22 years, the official version of the Hillsborough disaster. Yesterday, 13th September 2012, after an independent panel revealed the findings of its investigation, the shocking truth became clear.
It is very important to emphasise the following points from the independent report were either omitted from or are completely contradictory to original findings:
41 of the 96 fans that died could potentially have survived after the 3:15pm point by which the original coroner’s report claimed the injuries sustained were fatal. This implies that at 3:15 some injuries may have been recoverable and that the victims’ subsequent deaths were potentially a result of treatment they received (or lack thereof) after this point.
Out of 164 inaccurate police accounts, 116 contained heavy annotations by South Yorkshire Police officers that removed comments unfavourable toward the police response to the event.
Liverpool fans’ innocence in causing the disaster was reinforced; excessive alcohol consumption was ruled out as a cause. The independent report makes a point that blood samples were actually taken from the dead – including young children – to try and prove that alcohol had been a factor.
The facts are clear: the aftermath of Hillsborough was a police cover up. 96 football supporters, who in another life could’ve been you or me and on another day could’ve been at a different match supporting a different team, were killed in tragic circumstances due to a systematic failure by the authorities on that day. The police had a duty of care to the people under its responsibility, and they failed in the basic task of ensuring the safety of the public. What’s more, South Yorkshire Police falsified their statements and smeared the victims of this tragedy to mask their own horrendous shortcomings. They were corrupted to a perverse extreme.
23 years later, football has moved on. Fans are safe in all-seater stadia as a consequence of the tragedy. Sometimes in the stands at Ibrox, at Parkhead and yes, even Goodison, a spontaneous chant of ‘justice for the 96, justice for the 96’ rings out. The Hillsborough families have finally been vindicated in their pursuit of the truth, but they will not be happy with their lot, and nor should anybody expect them to. The evidence of police interference clearly infers criminality and perverting the course of justice.
And that – justice – is what remains unfulfilled for the families of football’s darkest day. I invite every football supporter to lend their support to the campaign. If you’re ever asked to sign an online petition or retweet something, remember what they’ve lost and what they’re still fighting for.
This article is by Saf Hossain, a passionate Liverpool fan and regular writer for AFR. You can follow him on Twitter @SafayetH. Comments below please
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