Hillsborough disaster: 'Lies and shameful smears'

Mark Austin

Former ITV News presenter

Jurors at the inquest delivered their findings on Tuesday Credit: PA

When, as a young ITN reporter, I arrived at Hillsborough on that fateful spring day the victims were laid out in a makeshift morgue.

Bodies, dozens of them, at a football match in Britain. How could it come to this?

Well, now, 27 years on, we have as near to the truth as we're likely to get.

It was not an accident, it was not just "one of those things", it was not -above all - the fault of the fans.

No, it was a catastrophic failure of policing and, to a lesser degree of the ambulance service, the football authorities and Sheffield Wednesday football club itself.

The 96 fans who died at Hillsborough in 1989 Credit: PA

One narrative already doing the rounds at Hillsborough when I arrived that evening in 1989 was of fans - many of them who had been drinking - arriving en masse just before kick-off, causing a crush at the turnstiles and turning aggressively on the police.

It gained some traction in the days after the disaster and was clearly a concerted attempt by the police to put the blame on drunken, ticket-less Liverpool fans.

But it was not a version of events the families would countenance.

Their grief gave way very quickly to anger and a collective determination to get to the truth .

We know what followed: Years of lies, doctored reports, cover-ups and shameful smears.

Families of the victims react to the inquest's findings Credit: PA

In the face of such concealment, duplicity and prevarication by the police and the "establishment", the families could have been forgiven for giving up.

But they didn't.

On the ten-year anniversary, I remember asking one bereaved mother whether she was disillusioned with the progress being made.

"I will not stop, ever. While I can breathe, I will fight for justice". Well, Margaret Aspinall was true to her word.

The conclusion today is testament to the families' tenacity and dignity.

The story of Hillsborough is a story of tragedy, denial and disgrace. But it is also a story of extraordinary resilience.

Hillsborough has brought change to football and football grounds. It brought change to the policing of football matches and other public events. It may also have brought some change to a culture of defensiveness within the police, though clearly there is some way to go on that.

But that it took nearly three decades to get to where we are today is a disgrace and simply piles scandal upon tragedy.