Justice was served yesterday, up to a point, at least, with the inquiry into the Hillsborough Disaster delivering the verdict that 96 Liverpool supporters were unlawfully killed as a result of a series of events which took place at the club's FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest on 15 April 1989. It was, of course, good news for the families of those who died and a verdict which was long, long overdue.
The Hillsborough Disaster inquiry’s jury had been requested to fill in a fourteen-point questionnaire, and having done so, the results were made available to the general public. It was found that the actions of South Yorkshire police, the South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service, Sheffield Wednesday FC and Eastwood & Partners (Wednesday’s consultant engineers) on the day of, and in the days leading up to, the match, were found to have been instrumental in causing the tragedy.
The jury cleared Liverpool supporters of any and all blame for what happened at the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough football ground: they found that Liverpool supporters had not indulged in any behaviour which caused the crush at the Leppings Lane turnstiles. By a majority of seven to two, they also delivered the verdict that those who died had been unlawfully killed.
There will be those who will continue to attempt to equate Hillsborough with the Heyselstadion tragedy in May 1985; they were two completely different situations, with the only similarities (apart from supporters sadly, needlessly, tragically, dying) being Liverpool supporters being involved in both situations, decrepit facilities, incompetent police and the incompetent organisation surrounding both matches.
This said, a tiny minority of Liverpool supporters present at Heysel did charge at the supposedly “neutral” section adjacent to where they were housed causing 39 people – in the main, Juventus supporters – to die when a wall collapsed, but to call them, and all Liverpool fans, “murderers” is an overly simplistic, tribally narrow-minded view of the whole situation. This charge, and others like it, is normally made not out of solidarity with those who died in Brussels, but has generally more malicious overtones and is generally made by supporters of other football clubs, who have not been shy about linking both disasters.
The results of the investigation into the sad, shameful events at Heysel – no official inquiry has ever taken place - are available elsewhere, but, to summarise in brief, fourteen Liverpool supporters were found guilty of manslaughter, whilst three Juventus fans were also given custodial sentences.
Four years later, in 1989, the former head of the Belgian FA and two senior police officers in the Brussels police corps were given six-month suspended sentences, whilst the UEFA president at the time, Jacques Georges, received a conditional discharge. UEFA and the Belgian police were found culpable of, and severely criticised for, allowing a match to be held in a stadium which was, quite frankly, fit only for demolition. (What now for those named at the inquest as being the culprits for what happened at Hillsborough?)
In more recent times, both Liverpool and Juventus were rightly criticised for their lack or response to what happened at the Heyselstadion in May 1985, and for their lack of support for the relatives of those who died there, a contrast to what happened in the days following what became known as the Hillsborough Disaster when the Reds players and staff were solidly behind those affected by the tragedy.
Still, to equate wholly what happened at Hillsborough with the equally tragic events that unfolded at Heysel would not only be incorrect, it would be indecorous.
The same could be said of those who have continued to use both disasters as a brickbat to swing at Liverpool FC, Liverpool supporters and the good people of Liverpool: politicians, the media, supporters of other football clubs and so on. It is difficult to envisage many of them - and we all know who they are - issuing any genuine apologies to those affected by the tragedy and publicly recanting their opinions any time soon.
The families of the bereaved – who have campaigned for justice via two organised groupings and independently - deserve praise for not giving up the struggle to obtain justice for their lost loved ones. They have shown conviction, courage, immense dignity and no little amount of resilience in the face of much scorn and hostility. Their efforts have now been vindicated.
Liverpool FC, its supporters, everyone living on Merseyside and those outside the region who fought the families’ corner also deserve praise for their unstinting support of those affected by "Hillsborough.” All being well, the families of the bereaved will go on and achieve proper justice, and they - and those who survived the disaster - will receive support, succour and some measure of closure.
The verdict of the inquest into the Hillsborough Disaster does not merely render those who died of their injuries at Hillsborough free of any blame for what happened at the stadium on that awful day back in 1989, but also those who survived. It was a tragedy which was not of their making. It took 27 years for a jury to reach a verdict of unlawful killing, and prosecutions of those responsible for what happened in Sheffield must follow.
It also vindicates not only Liverpool FC but an entire city, a city which has been forced to sit under the shadow of what happened for so long, a city which has been long forced to endure slurs continually flung at it by others for the flimsiest of reasons: because of the city’s politics, because of its comparative poverty, because of the alleged laziness and dishonesty of its inhabitants (yes, the city of Liverpool has its share of scumbags, but which village, town or city doesn't? Name one..), because many Liverpudlians – in the eyes of others - support the “wrong” football club and because of what happened at the Heyselstadion and at Hillsborough.
The verdict of the jury is there for all to see and read. It is, however, still only the first step to justice for the 96. It will be a long road until justice is seen to be done, but done it must be, in a correct and timely manner.
To those who still doubt: The deceased, and all Liverpool supporters attending the game at Hillsborough on that black day, have been exonerated. They always were, and remain, innocent.
It wasn't their fault..