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Hillsborough families finally hope to get answers

Families and other Liverpool fans have fought for justice for 23 years. Photo: John Giles/PA Archive

Built into the wall outside Liverpool's stadium at Anfield there is a memorial marking the darkest day in the club's long history.

It is a simple but dignified structure, just two marble slabs bearing the names of the 96 fans who lost their lives that dreadful day at Hillsborough.

At its base there's a vase where bereaved relatives can leave flowers for their loved ones. Engraved onto its side are the words "Justice For The 96".

It's more than just a motto. It's a movement and in the 23 years since April 15th 1989 it has grown in strength and conviction.

It's not just the Hillsborough families who feel they've been betrayed. Not just the survivors of the disaster, or the football club either.

The Hillsborough Memorial at Anfield lists the 96 victims and their ages. Credit: Adam Davy/EMPICS Sport

The injustice of bungled investigations, blame shifting and - many claim - cover-ups can be felt right across the city of Liverpool and far beyond. And no wonder.

Almost a quarter of a century after the disaster so many questions remain unanswered:

  • Why was Hillsborough chosen to host an FA Cup semi-final when it didn't have a valid safety certificate?
  • Who stopped a fleet of ambulances from getting onto the pitch, leaving fans to help each other even an hour after the crush began?
  • Why was an exit gate opened, allowing thousands of fans to pour into terrace pens already overcrowded?
  • Who told police officers who witnessed the tragedy to alter their statements?
  • Why was the innuendo blaming fans for the crush never fully and officially recanted? And why did the fans never receive an apology from the Government?
  • And why has no-one ever been held to account?

Isn't it ridiculous that people who lost loved ones that day have never been given even those simple details? People like Jenni Hicks, who went to that game a mother of two happy daughters and left Hillsborough bereft, in every sense.

She told ITV News time has not brought distance from the disaster:

On Wednesday morning, she'll join other bereaved relatives in Liverpool Cathedral. They'll sit in rapt silence listening to the findings of a group of experts who've been working on their behalf.

For the past two years, the Hillsborough Independent Panel have been trawling through papers - 450,000 documents in all - in an effort to establish what really happened that day. Who made the decisions, and why.

It's a tangled web. A maelstrom of errors and incompetence that seem, with the benefit of hindsight at least, to be almost inexplicable. The panel's job is not to judge, just to deliver the facts. What happens from there will be for others to decide.

Tony Edwards, an ambulance driver who attended to the disaster, is among those desperate for answers:

There's talk of fresh inquests, different verdicts on the cause of death in many cases and ultimately, perhaps, prosecutions.

But it's also about removing the untruths as well - cleansing the club and its fans of the smear that was so cruelly thrown at them all those years ago. It's not just about establishing who was to blame for the Hillsborough disaster, it's about making clear, finally and beyond all doubt, who wasn't.

In that respect at least, the city may achieve some closure on Wednesday.

For the families that process may never be achieved. But at least after years of darkness and false dawns, they may now be about to take a significant step in the right direction.

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