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The cruel injustice behind the Hillsborough disaster

An article for justice week by press team member Ben Farrelly.
The cruel injustice behind the Hillsborough disaster

The Cruel Injustice Behind The Hillsborough Disaster

April 15th, 1989. Say that date to any Liverpool fan, football fan or scouser, and you’re likely to send a shiver down their spine. This was a day where Liverpool FC and Nottingham Forest were scheduled to battle it out for a place in English footballs biggest game, the FA Cup Final. The game was to be played at Hillsborough, a neutral venue in Sheffield that had an estimated capacity of 53,000. At 2:24pm that day, Liverpool fans made their way from the train station and into Hillsborough, with tickets sold out for the highly anticipated encounter. Despite being a far larger club, Liverpool supporters were allocated the smaller end of the stadium, Leppings Lane, so that their route would not bring them into contact with Forest fans arriving from the south. Football crowds at the time had a reputation for hooliganism and strict segregation was enforced.

Nowadays, a vast majority of football stadiums are all seater stadiums, with each ticket holder reserving the right to one particular seat in the stadium. This practice only became common in the 90’s as a direct result of the Hillsborough Disaster, with most grounds adopting mostly standing sections during this period. Due to poor police control, more fans were let in than there should have been, and the troubles began. The turnstiles outside Leppings Lane were tightly packed, with one boy being removed from the crowd in fear of his safety. Superintendent Roger Marshall who was left in charge of crowd safety was visibly worried, and later said that he feared fatalities could occur. There was no system on the day to ensure that fans were equally distributed around parts of the ground. As a result, the centre pen of Leppings Lane was already overcrowded before kick-off, with much discomfort being a problem for fans. Very quickly, this became a serious problem.

With crowd congestion becoming a bigger issue, Marshall told match commander David Duckenfield to open ‘Gate C’, being quoted as saying “Somebody’s gonna get killed here”. Duckenfield was new to the job and was not used to policing football matches. Gate C led to the already congested middle pen, with many fans frantically rushing into the pen in fear of being crushed. This fear grew when they entered the stadium, with well over the 2,200 person capacity inside the area. Immediately after the 2:59pm kick-off, the inevitable began to take place.

Fans began to lose consciousness due to the crush of bodies, and commotion could be seen and heard on the television broadcast. Policeman Roger Greenwood ran on to the pitch at 3:06pm and ordered the referee to abandon the match. He complied, and everyone’s focus was switched to saving the dying fans. Well, so you would hope. The authorities response to the disaster was slow and badly co-ordinated. Police delayed declaring a major incident and staff from South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service at the ground also failed to recognise and call a major incident. Firefighters with cutting gear had difficulty getting into the ground, and although dozens of ambulances were dispatched, access to the pitch was delayed because police were reporting "crowd trouble".

Those who weren’t crushed against the fence were either trampled on by others or crushed by those around them. Due to a shortage of stretchers, advertising boards were stripped from the pitch-side to carry away the injured and deceased. Supporters from the stand above attempted to pull the struggling supporters from the scene and into safety, but only some were successful. Two ambulances reached the Leppings Lane end of the pitch, but it was too late for 96 helpless Liverpool fans. 96 were killed in the Hillsborough Disaster that day, with 766 injured. Amazingly, only 14 out of the 96 killed were admitted to hospital on the day, proving how the emergency services and police on duty failed to handle such a fatal accident. It is to this day, the biggest sporting disaster in Britain.

Blame Placed on Liverpool Fans

The reason for this terrible disaster was Gate C being opened. This let thousands of people into the pen which, as we know, killed 96 people. The main men responsible for this were match commander David Duckenfield and superintendent Roger Marshall, with both of being in favour of opening Gate C at the time. Despite this, English news publication ‘The Sun’ made several sensational claims just days after the Hillsborough Disaster. In a scathing (and completely falsified ) attack on Liverpool supporters entitled ‘The Truth’, they accused them of “picking pockets of victims, urinating on policemen attempting to resuscitate the dead, beating up officers performing mouth to mouth and committing sexual assault on some of the female victims”. Nearly every point made by the publication has been proven false, and it is still a mystery how the outrageous article made shelves across the country. The Sun released an incredibly belated apology for the report in 2012, with Kelvin McKenzie, the man who wrote the article, saying “he wishes he could go back in time and not write it”. The Sun is still boycotted in many parts of Liverpool, and many famous names in sport have condemned the paper.

While the Court of Law had much less extreme views on the matter, they still did not give justice for the 96 dead and their families. It was decided that there was “not enough evidence to justify criminal proceedings against anybody from any organisation for any offence arising out of the deaths.” This enraged the families of the victims, who kept fighting for justice. In 1991 the inquest jury returned a majority verdict of “accidental death”. In the same year, David Duckenfield retired from his post on medical grounds, was diagnosed with depression and was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

20 years after the disaster, government ministers Andy Burnham and Maria Eagle called for all documents relating to the disaster to be published. This was announced at Liverpool’s home stadium, Anfield, with thousands in attendance. When Burnham got up to address the crowd, his speech was interrupted by the chanting of the phrase ‘Justice for the 96’. This continued for several minutes. It was a spine tingling moment, and undoubtedly a turning point in getting justice for the victims. Less than 4 years later, the new inquest began, making it the longest case ever heard by a jury in British legal history. Finally, on the 26th of April 2016, over 27 years after Hillsborough, the inquest jury delivered its verdict. Among the 14 questions it is asked to decide upon, it concludes that the 96 people who died in the disaster were unlawfully killed, overturning the verdict of accidental death at the original inquest.

The inquest adds that no behaviour on the part of Liverpool fans contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles. This, at last, clears the supporters who were blamed for causing the disaster or any wrongdoing and outlines whom the blame shall be placed upon. It not only served justice to those close to the victims, but also provides them with some closure on the matter. After 27 years of tireless campaigning, they brought home justice for the 96. They will never see their loved ones again, but they can rest easy knowing that they have done them proud. It was a long and drawn out process, but this story does have something that resembles a happy ending.

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