It’s been 27 years and 12 days since the Hillsborough disaster. A tragedy which claimed the lives of 96 people, including 37 teenagers and 26 parents, when a lethal crush ensued at the FA Cup semi-final between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool.
1,410 weeks and four days during which families have been pushed and pulled from one inquiry to another.
9,874 days that loved ones have had to wait for answers.
Just after 11am this morning the jury in the latest inquests delivered their verdicts on whether 96 people had been killed unlawfully after the longest case in British legal history. 14 questions had been asked and 14 unanimous verdicts were returned.
12 of the questions were answered with a “yes” – the most crucial one being “Are you satisfied, so that you are sure, that those who died in the disaster were unlawfully killed?”. While having no immediate legal implications solicitors for the families of the 96 believe it will make a gross negligence manslaughter charge more likely. This may specifically be against former South Yorkshire Police chief superintendent and match commander David Duckenfield.
The first question of which a “no” was returned – “Was there any behaviour on the part of football supporters which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles?” – now absolves Liverpool fans of any responsibility for the events on that day. Crucial as for so many years numerous accusations and smears have been levelled at them – all of which have been repeatedly furiously denied.
The jury also failed to find Sheffield Wednesday and its staff responsible for anything “which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that developed at the Leppings Lane turnstiles and in the west terrace” but did stipulate they “may” have been.
With the Crown Prosecution Service now considering whether to begin criminal charges 27 years of uncertainty may now be finally coming to a resolution.
But can this really be any sort of closure for the families of the victims?
While jubilant scenes with renditions of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and chants of “Justice for the 96!” ensued outside the court, it may be unlikely that the psychological scars from this torrid period in history will ever fully heal for many.
Furthermore, it has left a stain on both the press and the police which may never be washed away. But the question has to be asked – should it be?
The Sun’s has since apologised for its despicable actions in the aftermath of the tragedy when it made baseless allegations against Liverpool fans in what appeared to be a concerted smear campaign.
However has the paper really learnt anything? Subsequent albeit less horrific scandals blight the paper to this very day. Note that infamous columnist Katie Hopkins was only last year chastised by the UN for referring to refugees as “cockroaches” and “feral humans” and the paper itself using the phrase “swarm” when headlining about “illegals”.
What of South Yorkshire Police, whose coercive and corrupt actions at the time have being described as having a “mind-set… all about public disorder and not safety” and whose former Chief may now stand trial for manslaughter on the grounds of gross negligence.
It would appear that history may have taught them very little as it was only announced last month that three officers are to be criminally investigated over the Rotherham child sexual abuse scandal. An independent review cited “serious failings of policing in Rotherham in the early 2000s” and victims are still complaining of being ignored by police to this day.
Both The Sun and South Yorkshire police appear to have taken nothing from the tragic events of April 15th 1989 and that well-worn phrase “lessons will be learned” seems not to feature on their agendas.
But what can the friends and relatives of the 96 victims take from today’s verdicts?
After more than 27 years marked by the initial Taylor Inquiry, the subsequent Stuart-Smith investigation and the present inquests there will probably never be any satisfactory resolution to the worst sporting disaster in British history. To say that the path to reaching today’s verdicts was an unnecessarily drawn-out and traumatic one may well be an understatement.
However, in beginning to put the legal matters to bed today what we can all only hope for is that the victim’s loved ones can now be left with what is most important.
Their memories of 96 people who went to a football match 27 years ago and never came home.
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