The wrong city
I have had the pleasure of attending concerts by the excellent Christy Moore on several occasions over the years and he never lets his fans down. From thoughtful ballads like ‘the City of Chicago’ to banging tunes such as ‘Viva La Quinta Brigada,’ Christy has a real gift for leading an audience through the full range of emotions during his concerts. A few years back he sang a song I hadn’t heard before. It was called, ‘Does this train stop on Merseyside’ and is a thoughtful journey through some important historical moments in the life of that fine city on the Mersey. Part of the lyric says…
‘Yorkshire Police chat with folded arms while people try to save their fellow fans…’
It’s quite clear that the lyric is referring to the awful events at Hillsborough Stadium in 1989. Not only is it becoming abundantly clear that the official version of events as portrayed in the media and in the initial reports into the disaster were deeply flawed, it is also clear that there were huge failings in the response of the emergency services to the disaster. I have written elsewhere about the bitter-sweet pride I felt when Celtic invited Liverpool FC north to play their first match in the aftermath of the events at Hillsborough and perhaps take the first faltering steps towards healing. Of course the wounds of Hillsborough would remain raw for years as justice and truth were denied to the survivors and families of those lost.
Just as the city of Derry refused to swallow the travesty of justice which was the Widgery Report into the Bloody Sunday massacre of 1972, so too did the gutsy people of Liverpool refuse to accept the official version of events which in retrospect seemed to be more about passing blame onto the supporters in order to deflect attention from the appalling actions and inaction of the Police and other officials that day and in the days following those lamentable events.
The late Anne Williams who lost her 15 year old son, Kevin, that day refused to be cowed by officials stonewalling her and dedicated years of her life to the search for truth. Her long held view that the medical evidence given at the inquests was flawed has since been vindicated. Crucially the Sheffield coroner, Dr Stefan Popper, ruled at the time that all the victims were dead or could not have been revived by 3.15pm on the day of the disaster. His evidence meant that no evidence was heard at the inquests about the chaotic and failed response from the police and ambulance service. Anne Williams refused to accept this version of events and with relatives of other victims fought a long and at times bitter campaign for justice. She finally saw the evidence of Dr Popper overturned as unsound. It has now been established that many of the victims were alive after 3.15pm and that prompt medical help may have saved up to 58 of them. Anne said after being vindicated that…
‘I have known all these years that the inquest evidence was wrong and Kevin could have been saved.’
With heart breaking poignancy Special Police Constable, Debra Martin stated at the new inquiry that Kevin had died in her arms at 4pm and that the last word he mumbled was, ‘Mum.’ Martin also spoke of being ‘pressurised’ to change her statement of the time so that it concurred with the ‘official’ version of events. This creation of cover story to disguise the failings of the Police that day added huge insult to the pain being endured by the Hillsborough families. The disgraceful stories they peddled to a compliant gutter press which sought to shift blame onto supporters remains a shameful episode in the history Policing in these islands. So too, was the establishment closing ranks and denying justice to those so painfully wronged for over two decades.
Anne Williams and the families of those lost fought on with that determination and spirit Liverpool is known for and their determination to see justice done was recognised by one newspaper which commented…
‘It is now accepted that the families fought this battle, with no glimpse of vindication for so long, only out of love for their relatives. So, at the end of her life, Anne Williams, with other Hillsborough families, was recognised not as part of some Liverpool rabble but as a shining example: an everyday person embodying the extraordinary power and depth of human love.’
Anne lost her fight with cancer in 2013 but two days before she left us, this remarkable woman defied her doctors to attend the Hillsborough memorial service. She heard Everton Chairman, Bill Kenwright pay tribute to the families and particularly the mothers of victims. He spoke movingly of their struggle with the establishment for justice and said that if they thought the families were going to give up or go away…
"They picked on the wrong city – and they picked on the wrong mums."
At long last the truth is emerging about what actually occurred on that day in April 1989. The ‘missing’ video tapes, deleted evidence, amended police notes, negligence, mistakes, lies and human frailties which compounded the fatal error of judgement made by the match commander are now a matter of public record. ‘Integrity,’ said CS Lewis, ‘is doing the right thing even when no one is looking.’ There was precious little integrity on display that day from those public servants we are meant to trust implicitly.
There can never be closure for the families affected as the loss of a loved one is a daily reality for them. Glasgow felt this pain too in 1971 with the dreadful events at Ibrox Stadium and perhaps that experience helped the folk on the Clyde to empathise more closely with their counterparts on Merseyside. That game at Celtic Park on the last day of April 1989 is one I shall always remember. It showed that solidarity between real football supporters transcends petty rivalries when such traumatic events occur. What are all the prizes in football worth when compared to a single human life? Bill Shankly once said that football was more important than life or death. For once the great man was wrong.
I hope the families of those lost at Hillsborough see justice done to the fullest extent. Anne Williams is typical of many who fought a long, hard battle to expose the truth. As she said when she was vindicated after her long struggle…
"This is what I fought for. I was never going to give up."
Rest in Peace the 96