Hillsborough: Twenty-seven years on . . . justice?

Verdict of inquest finally unveils the truth

 

The claims, after the final vindications of the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four, that British justice had prevailed after all and that, despite massive cover-ups, the truth would out, always rang hollow. No less, last week’s verdict of the Hillsborough inquest jury after two years of hearings, 27 years after the tragedy.

Yes, the families have at last got the long-sought official acknowledgment that 96 Liverpool fans were “unlawfully killed” and official repudiation of the calumnies – the Sun’s “Truth” – that fans were drunk, stole from the bodies, and urinated on and impeded police officers. The debunking of the lie that the 96 who died at the Liverpool-Nottingham Forest match were responsible for their own deaths. Thirty-seven teenagers, three pairs of brothers, one pair of sisters, and one father and son, died together; 26 parents.

As importantly was the jury’s clear determination and attribution of guilt both in respect of incompetence at the time, amounting to manslaughter, by the police, ambulance service, Sheffield Wednesday football club, and the local authority, and of the police cover-up, a systematic attempt for years to justify a narrative of blame against fans. “The story of Hillsborough,” the families of victims said, “is a story of human tragedy but it is also a story of deceit and lies, of institutional defensiveness defeating truth and justice.” It is no understatement.

Matters must not rest here. The Crown Prosecution Service is considering charges, not least against David Duckenfield, the police officer in charge of security at the game and who ordered the opening of the gate that funnelled fans to their deaths and whose conduct, the jury said, was a clear breach of his duty of care so gross as to amount to unlawful killing.

Two other inquiries are still under way, one by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, its biggest investigation ever. Among issues it is examining is the fact that 260 accounts of the disaster from South Yorkshire police officers appear to have been amended in some way, possible conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, perjury, and misconduct in public office. The other inquiry is a police investigation, Operation Resolve, into allegations of criminal behaviour. It is vital that both complete their work soon and that the system moves to hold individuals accountable before the courts.

This inquest jury’s verdict, however, was no triumph of this slow moving British justice system. The very slowness is, on the contrary, an indictment of a system clearly unable to right wrongs, particularly involving institutional misbehaviour by the police or the state itself. The Hillsborough families have every right to feel overjoyed at their vindication, extracted like blood from a stone. The British public should be deeply perturbed at what they had to go through to get it.

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