DAVID SHONFIELD: Families show truth can have no boundary

Never give up.

If the Hillsborough families are looking for a badge to commemorate their campaign, then perhaps that could be its motto. It might even be translated into several languages, including Latin — numquam cede — for this fight has motivated other campaigners against injustice and official cover-ups, inside and outside football, and not only in Britain and Ireland, but elsewhere.

To some it may seem strange, but among those who have taken heart from the Hillsborough campaigners are those who lost family or friends at Heysel in 1985. Their case against Uefa and the Belgian police and football authorities over their negligence took years. Eventually, there were six-month suspended sentences for two senior police officers and the former secretary-general of the Belgian Football Union, Albert Roosens, but the compensation awards to many families was pitiful, being based on the income of those who died.

It took years, and a change of top management, for Juventus to acknowledge the families properly, but, up and down Italy, local groups have continued to commemorate the tragedy, and were moved to do so by the way the Hillsborough campaigners kept that disaster in the public conscience.

The club and the families were finally reconciled in a memorial last year.

It also took 30 years for the full horror of the Bradford City fire to be appreciated and for evidence that pointed to the possibility of arson to be heard in public. We will probably never know exactly what happened to start that fire at Valley Parade, but the tenacity of the Hillsborough families has encouraged relatives of the Bradford victims to argue the case for a second inquiry.

As with Hillsborough, it seems the police were inclined to blame the fans, in this case for being slow to evacuate the stand. The police on the ground were heroic, but lawyers representing the Bradford families argued last year, in their appeal for a further inquiry, that the officers in charge were responsible for a delay in ordering the evacuation and notifying the fire brigade.

Outside football, the campaign for a full public inquiry into the confrontation between police and miners at the so-called Battle of Orgreave in South Yorkshire in June 1984 has been strongly influenced by Hillsborough.

The Orgreave riot involved the same police force that was in charge at Hillsborough and lawyers argue there was a similar cover-up and fabrication of evidence in the two cases.

Last year, the UK police complaints commission announced it would not launch a formal investigation into the events, as too much time had passed.

However, the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, established in 2012, was directly inspired by the Hillsborough campaign, and the conclusion of one inquiry is certain to lead to further calls for another.

The Hillsborough campaign also influenced the aftermath of another disaster, just four months after the Sheffield events. On August 20, 1989, the pleasure boat Marchioness, hired for a birthday party on the River Thames, sank after a late-night collision with the dredger Bowbelle: 51 people drowned.

The skipper of the Bowbelle went on trial for negligence two years later, but was acquitted after two juries failed to agree on a verdict, though a coroner’s inquest in 1995 concluded the victims had been unlawfully killed.

The Marchioness Action Group ultimately secured a full investigation, which criticised the owners and managers of both vessels, and resulted in improved safety measures.

“The original investigation didn’t even meet the standards of procedures for a minor road collision,” said one survivor, Magda Allani.

However, in this case, the victims and their families, though encouraged by the Hillsborough campaign, felt their cause was neglected, by comparison.

“The way it’s been viewed has been influenced by how people on the boat were flagged up as a privileged elite, but really we were just the sort of people you would find in a typical London pub,” she said.

The sinking of the Marchioness, like the capsize of the Herald of Free Enterprise outside Zeebrugge, was one of a series of accidents resulting from negligence and mismanagement. Out of the Zeebrugge disaster came the Herald Families Association, which helped create Disaster Action, a campaigning and support group that has also involved some Hillsborough families. They, in turn, helped inspire the family association that campaigned after the worst European maritime disaster of modern times: The sinking of the ferry Estonia in the Baltic in 1994.

Such campaigns would have existed irrespective of Hillsborough of course, but the conclusion of the inquiry and the identification of its causes and those responsible is a landmark not just for people in Liverpool, but elsewhere.


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