What can be learnt from Hillsborough?

In a damning indictment the jury ruled yesterday that ninety-six fans were unlawfully killed in Hillsborough football stadium disaster twenty-seven years ago. Since that time evidence has been tampered with, lies have been told, pressure has been put on witnesses to change their stories and on campaigners to give up their cause.  Criminal proceedings will now begin against some of those responsible for both the cover-ups and the deaths at Hillsborough.

Those who suffered in this disaster have had the full weight of the establishment against them. They are, on the whole, people of limited means. They fought valiantly against all odds at great personal cost. Those who were held responsible have led lives of relative ease and have been protected and funded by the establishment for the last three decades. There seems to be no limit on the amount of time and money the establishment is willing to spend defending itself.

The media, most notoriously The Sun Newspaper, rushed to defame the fans, claiming that it was their own drunken, thieving behaviour that had contributed to the stadium deaths. The government followed suit. Sir Bernard Ingham, Mrs Thatcher’s press secretary, described the fans as ‘tanked up yobs’ soon after the disaster in 1989. Sir Ingham stood by his comments as late as 2013 and said the fans should ‘shut up’ about it. Mrs Thatcher backed her press secretary and even went on to reward him with honours. Should he now be stripped of his knighthood for making obnoxious, slanderous remarks that slowed the path to justice? Should the editor of The Sun resign for making slanderous comments about innocent people even while they were in the midst of mourning for the dead?

What difference would this really make twenty-seven years after the event? It seems impossible to find any way to hold Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, the police force, the ambulance service, the government and others, to account for the harm done to so many for so long? During the campaign for justice, lives have been changed, futures have been damaged and families have been broken. Nothing can ever come close to compensating for all this. Twenty-seven years is a very long time to wait for justice to be meted out. Many will by now have retired from their posts. Some will be deemed to be too aged or infirmed to stand trial. Some may have passed away. The institutions they worked for are now staffed with new employees.

It is likely that no one will ever be held personally accountable for these crimes and cover-ups. However, all will say, loudly, that lessons have been learned. These words sound hollow. They fall on stony ground. They bring little comfort. Trust in the authorities has grown very thin. When disaster struck the football fans themselves proved to be the heroes of the hour. Ordinary folk stood up for one another, for justice and for their own personal dignity. This is a great and moving victory for them, but it is a Pyrrhic Victory. There is little real justice in it.

Truth has won the day in Hillsborough at last, but the lesson to be learned is that the rights of ordinary people are all too easily undermined by those in authority. This is just the first step towards victory, and from this lead the people must walk on with hope in their hearts for greater change and greater social justice for all, not just in Hillsborough, but right across the nation.




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