London Letter: Police gesture for 96 dead fans comes 27 years late

For those affected by Hillsborough, including Irish man Tony Goggins, closure is elusive

Liverpool fans hold up a banner   at Anfield: After nearly three decades of lies, smears and evasion on the part of the police and their allies in the press and politics, federation chairman Steve White said it was time to “draw a line” under Hillsborough. Photograph: Nigel French/PA Wire

Liverpool fans hold up a banner at Anfield: After nearly three decades of lies, smears and evasion on the part of the police and their allies in the press and politics, federation chairman Steve White said it was time to “draw a line” under Hillsborough. Photograph: Nigel French/PA Wire

 

At their annual conference in Bournemouth this week, Britain’s police federation held a minute’s silence for the 96 Liverpool fans who died at Hillsborough 27 years ago.

A month after an inquest found that the police shared responsibility for the deaths and that the fans were blameless, it was the first time since the tragedy that the federation had made such a gesture.

But after nearly three decades of lies, smears and evasion on the part of the police and their allies in the press and politics, federation chairman Steve White said it was time to “draw a line” under Hillsborough.

Tony Goggins can’t draw a line under the tragedy so easily and his lip trembles and his eyes well up when he recalls the death of his cousin Joe McCarthy at Hillsborough at the age of 21. Now in his early 50s, a slight figure with greying hair and pale blue eyes, Tony was just 17 when he came from west Cork to Ealing and moved in with his aunt Anne, Joe’s mother, who was also from Skibbereen. Joe was two years younger and the two teenagers became close friends, going to clubs together and sharing a devotion to Liverpool FC.

Gifted academically

Joe was gifted academically, winning a place at Cardinal Vaughan school, one of the leading Catholic schools in London, and going on to Sheffield University to study business. Fond of clothes and popular with girls, he had a steady girlfriend by the time he went to the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

Lost consciousness

Joe died of compression asphyxia and a police officer later testified that when he saw him lying on the pitch, he didn’t check to see if he was dead or attempt to resuscitate him.

“They laid him on the pitch, just to the left of the penalty spot and a policeman stood over him and he did nothing to help him,” Tony said.

Four days after the tragedy the Sun newspaper ran a front page story based on police information, which claimed wrongly that the Liverpool fans had been drunk and that some of them had urinated on the corpses of victims.

“I worked on a building site and I remember going to breakfast at 10 o’clock in the morning and going to a Portakabin and one of the blokes standing and saying, look what you f**kers have done,” Tony said.

“The Sun made a mess of us. Anything to do with Liverpool, you were all thieving Scouse bastards. That did take a lot out of us. And the blokes on the site took great pleasure in it.”

Grim toll

Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, Tony was offered counselling, but the treatment ended after just six sessions when funding dried up.

Bit of a joke

“We’ve literally spent 27 years defending not just Joe but all of them. People seem to think it’s all a bit of a joke. I think people don’t realise just how difficult it’s been,” she said.

“If it had happened at Ascot, or Windsor, or Wimbledon, it would have been a different story. If it happened at a place like that, there’d be uproar. But because it happened at a football match and it’s just normal working class people, it seems that maybe it’s acceptable. But it’s not acceptable. It’s still human life, isn’t it?”

After last month’s inquest established the truth about Hillsborough, Tony is waiting for the Crown Prosecution Service to decide if some of those responsible should face charges. He says he thinks about Joe every day and pictures what he would be like if he was alive now.

“I know what he’d have turned out like. He’d have had a bloody expensive wardrobe, he’d have a top job in the City. He was going places,” he said.

“He would have been brilliant these days. He would have been brilliant.”

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