Hillsborough: The Truth… A quarter of a century late

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Liverpool fans trying to escape severe overcrowding during the FA Cup semi-final football match against Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough.
Liverpool fans trying to escape severe overcrowding during the FA Cup semi-final football match against Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough. Photo: David Giles/PA Wire

Well they thought it would be bad, but never in the darkest of many dark hours for the families of the Hillsborough tragedy could they have imagined it would be quite as bad as this.

The 23-year-old secrets contained in thousands of documents are simply shocking.

The truth was there. Oh, yes, it was there alright. It‘s been there all the time.

It’s just that it was concealed in redacted documents and doctored statements and in the minds of those who made decisions that day that should never have been made .

The truth was “there”. Mercifully for the people of Liverpool it is now "out there".

A Liverpool fan at Hillsborough
A Liverpool fan at Hillsborough after their FA Cup semi-final football match. Credit: A Liverpool fan at Hillsborough after their FA Cup semi-final football match

I was a sports correspondent at the time.

But there I was hurtling up the M1 on a warm,sunny, Spring weekend listening to, but not believing, what I was hearing on the car radio .

Football commentators became purveyors of horror that afternoon.

Radio voices we associated with Saturday afternoon near misses, bad tackles and wonderfully struck goals, were now conveying a terrible story of tragedy.

Even so, when I arrived I was not prepared for what I encountered. Weeping relatives outside a gym that had become a temporary mortuary.

They told me they were being shown photographs of bodies from which they had to identify their sons, daughters, sisters and brothers.

Once identified, the numbered body bag was brought to them.

They had to confirm it was their loved one, then they were asked all sorts of questions about what happened before the game, including how many pubs they had been to.

Fans on the pitch receiving attention after severe crushing at Hillsborough
Fans on the pitch receiving attention after severe crushing at Hillsborough Credit: David and John Giles/PA Wire

Already, just a few hours after the tragedy, the anger was there.

But while many relatives and friends of the dead were blaming the police, those very police were already pointing fingers at the fans .

A medic I saw leaving Hillsborough that day told me they weren’t allowed on the pitch because of the fighting.

The police won the propaganda battle.Theirs was to become the widely accepted narrative.

Drunken, ticketless, violent Liverpool fans were responsible for the disaster and that was that.

Only, that wasn’t that. The families of the dead would not let it rest.

Fan pays tribute at the Hillsborough Memorial in Liverpool.
Fan pays tribute at the Hillsborough Memorial in Liverpool. Credit: Press Association

And today, almost a quarter of a century on, they have their victory, their vindication.

We now know the game was at a hopelessly inadequate ground. We now know Liverpool fans were not to blame. We now know there was a complete failure of crowd control.

We now know there was a woeful response by police and rescue services. We now know that, perhaps, 41 lives could have been saved that day.

And worst of all we now know there was a cover-up sanctioned and organised by senior police officers that brings shame to the force.

A copy of the report delivered by the Hillsborough Independent Panel
A copy of the report delivered by the Hillsborough Independent Panel Credit: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

I’ve heard it said many times that Hillsborough changed football for ever. And of course it is true.

In the eighties, hooliganism meant fans were treated like caged animals. Seldom has tar and brush been used so unthinkingly.

Everybody was to blame. Everybody had to suffer .

Now fans are treated like human beings. It’s a family game.

But at what cost? Ninety-six dead, hundreds injured and many,many bearing the mental scars forever.

Hillsborough Family Support Group members Jenny Hicks (2nd left), Margaret Aspinall, and Trevor Hicks  during a press conference.
Hillsborough Family Support Group members Jenny Hicks (2nd left), Margaret Aspinall, and Trevor Hicks during a press conference. Credit: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Today, the Hillsborough families have finally got the truth. They have finally got an apology and who knows, they may eventually get justice.

But it is an appalling story of betrayal. And perhaps the biggest scandal of all is that it has taken 23 years to get here .