Was it really all over? Even when favourable verdicts were being widely predicted there was still tension, a sense of dread. Before the verdicts were read out one of the bereaved, now in a wheelchair, was said to be “beaming”. Thankfully the cruellest of denouements didn’t happen.
The questions to the jury were numbered but it was the answer to number 6 that created the real ripple through the court. Were the fans unlawfully killed? “Yes.”
There was a 27-year wait to hear it confirmed, something most of us had known within a few weeks after April 15 1989. It’s remarkable how little difference there was between the Lord Justice Taylor report results of 1990 and the Lord Justice Goldring inquest results of 2016.
Twenty-seven years. That’s almost half my life. Despite being able to vividly describe Liverpool’s great football achievements from a lot further back than that, it still feels like I’ve lived forever under Hillsborough’s grotesque dark clouds.
To know your country could be this callous, this manipulative. The politicians meant to help run our lives, the police force meant to keep us safe, the media meant to inform us and protect us against those who transgress. All of them at some stage throughout the Hillsborough years did the exact opposite of what they were supposed to do; serve the people, especially the most vulnerable and those who have suffered.
I began a fanzine six months after the disaster and worked for this paper since 2002 but I’ve always hated writing about Hillsborough. Write what you know they tell you, but of the suffering those 96 people had to go through? The pain, loss and disgraceful manipulation of the feelings and pride of those they left behind? How could you know any of that — unless you’d experienced it ourself? There’s always an impulse in the decent people to empathise, even with something so extraordinary, it’s almost beyond human comprehension.
My father died aged 74 of natural causes over seven years ago and I can truthfully say I’ve not been right ever since. Imagine what it must be like to lose a child, or in the case of the Hicks family two teenage daughters, with the life slowly crushed out of them and to then have them almost demonised and tested for excessive drinking, their bodies lying in makeshift mortuaries while total strangers asked inhumane questions over and over.
Try to find the words for that. Try to find the courage to keep fighting as every door closed and all decency was denied. Now it has been confirmed, without a fragment of doubt, their loved ones were unlawfully killed. Does that make it any better?
The families have been superhuman, displaying the kind of resistance that gets whole peoples through warfare, poverty or destruction. They’ve fought not just for the rights and good name of their loved ones; they’ve done so for all of us besmirched by a lying police force, a lying body politic and sections of a cowardly lying media. At various times for over a quarter of a century — a quarter of a century — we’ve all of us been told to let it go, see sense, and often with that most insidious and deceitful of claims: “It’s for your own good.”
There will be more days of court attendance for the families; trials for those individuals it feels like the establishment can toss aside without regard or loyalty for their frontline roles in their cover-up.
Even then there can be no relaxation, only more days of being urged not to comment for fear of hindering justice.
More fears of eternal legalese, those shifting sands of “reasonable doubt” come into play now. Or how about Old Faithful, “too old or too ill to stand trial”?
Countless powerful figures throughout the years evaded suitable justice for their often-contemptible actions. It’s hard to avoid cynicism, that it’s somehow academic. The entire political elite should be writhing in agony, guilty of the part they all played and all losing sleep over the potential loss of their own liberty.
Those who have already died will, depending on your beliefs, be suffering now anyway. There are others who still thrive, like the editor of Britain’s most popular newspaper who orchestrated his own smear, who still writes as a columnist for the paper and who not so long ago referred to himself ‘humorously’ as Lord Kelvin of Anfield.
Will a few sacrificial lambs make a difference? In the grander scheme of the suffering this whole nightmare caused, how could it?
The cheers, the sighs of relief in the courtroom, even an exclamation of “hallelujah” would suggest that the people who always mattered the most got what they wanted merely by hearing the words “unlawfully killed”.
It still hurt to think of people like Anne Williams and John Glover, whose pain accelerated their own deaths, not being there to hear the verdict.
When it comes down to it, there could never have been a ‘happy’ ending to all this. Just one that left the soul slightly less destroyed than it was before.
In a way, all of the lies still serve their purpose. Even now Liverpool fans will have to share these nice shiny new stadiums with others who sing “always the victim, it’s never your fault” oblivious or stubbornly resistant to any legal verdict that contradicts them.
Mealy-mouthed platitudes about how it’s meant to be about Heysel won’t wash, nor that it’s “banter” about the perceived Liverpudlian relish for victimhood. Like that would make it any better. Twenty seven years of venal propaganda won’t be washed away by a Tuesday-morning recitation in a Warrington court. Battles for Truth will go on.
Families, supporters, activists have fought so long on the admirable sentiment that “the people must know the truth about what has happened”.
The fact is there are plenty of people in Britain and all around the world who simply don’t want to know, and they never will. That’s one fight a whole battalion could never win.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved