Justice finally for reputations besmirched
On an emotional day, the prime minister’s apology to Liverpool was gracefully accepted, writes MARK HENNESSY,London Editor
LABOUR MP Alison McGovern was just eight years old when 96 Liverpool fans died at Hillsborough. Yesterday, in the House of Commons, she shed tears for the dead, whose reputations had been besmirched.
“No words in the English language are good enough to describe the dignity, grace and courage shown by the families of the 96 loved ones we lost at Hillsborough,” said the Wirral South MP, emotions raw.
Prime minister David Cameron has handled such occasions before, most notably the Bloody Sunday report when he was cheered by nationalists inside and outside Derry’s Guildhall.
He followed the same course as he did then. He apologised to the bereaved and the city, paid tribute to police and emergency staff for their daily contribution to British life, and expressed astonishment at the mistakes made in Sheffield and the subsequent cover-up.
Liverpool is a Labour city, so Cameron was not cheered, but the apology was accepted with grace – on condition that the report is a springboard for a new inquest to replace the one that declared nothing could have been done for the victims after 3.15pm on April 15th, 1989.
Following an examination of 450,000 pages of documents by an independent inquiry led by the Bishop of Liverpool, Rt Rev James Jones, it is now clear that more could have been, since dozens were still alive at that time, even if badly injured.
Up to yesterday, those who were bereaved had blamed the police and an antiquated football ground for the disaster, caused when the stadium’s Leppings Lane terrace was “visibly overcrowded” with some of the 50,000 fans present that day.
However, the report outlines the culpability of the emergency services also: “Not only was there delay in recognising that there were mass casualties, the major incident plan was not correctly activated and only limited parts were then put into effect.” Despite all of the investigations up to now, the emergency service’s role had never been fully examined “because of the assumption that the outcome for those who died was irretrievably fixed long before they could have been helped”.
Instead, the postmortem reports show that some could have been saved: 28 did not have obstruction of blood circulation, and 31 had evidence of heart and lungs continuing to function after the crush.
“This means that individuals in those groups could have had potentially reversible asphyxia beyond 3.15pm, in contrast to the findings of the coroner and a subsequent Judicial Review,” the report said, vindicating a 23-year campaign.
Families had gathered in Liverpool from early morning for an advance sight of the report – three people fainted as they leafed through the 400 pages, said campaigner Trevor Hicks, who lost two daughters in the tragedy.
Now, the families want justice. The Sun’s allegations that fans were drunk and that survivors had stolen from, and urinated upon the dead and dying, had not just been manufactured by a tabloid press hungry for headlines. If anything it was worse. Sheffield police, in an attempt to deflect the blame and cover up their own flawed response to the disaster, repeatedly briefed a local news agency – and passed on sworn statements from officers at the scene – that Liverpool fans were “predominantly ticketless, drunk, aggressive and determined to force entry”.