‘It starts now’: Hillsborough vigil marks end of one fight and start of another

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The truth has come, now for the justice. As a city remembers the 96 victims and honours their families, focus turns to those who tried to keep the facts hidden

The wide cobbled concourse of St Georges Hall, Liverpools monumental landmark to Britains imperial past, played host to a rally of thousands on Wednesday, assembled to honour both the 96 people who died so needlessly at Hillsborough in 1989 and their families landmark legal vindication.

People gathered in the sunshine from early afternoon, their response to the jurys verdict markedly solemn, in remembrance to those who died and respect for their families epic fight against South Yorkshire police lies, but no tone of raw triumph.

Margaret Aspinall, chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group (HFSG), whose 18-year-old son, James, died in the terrible crush 27 years ago, denounced those lies, paid tribute to all who supported the families and called for justice to follow the truth of the jurys verdict.

As the news came that David Crompton, the current South Yorkshire police chief constable vehemently criticised for failing to stand by his 2012 apology for the disaster and lies during the inquest, had been suspended, Aspinall told the 20,000-strong crowd: Its nice to know we have started on the right track with somebody who has been suspended from South Yorkshire police.

To cheers, Aspinall called for more heads to roll: Lets hope thats only the beginning of whats going to be done because all you, like all of us, have had 27 years of sleepless nights. Lets hope theyre getting theirs now. It starts from now.

The family members walked out to huge applause and chants of Justice for the 96. Young footballers from both Everton and Liverpool clubs laid 96 red roses out on the neo-classical building, beside a candle for each fan that died on 15 April 1989.

The truth has triumphed, the mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, said. Yesterday, the wall of lies was finally torn down. The real truth came out.

The city, represented by Anderson and the supporters of Liverpool football club whose beloved manager on the day of the disaster, Kenny Dalglish, gave a reading, have grown used to these demonstrations of communal solidarity over so many years.

Yet for too long, those gatherings were different, not held on Wednesdays wave of political support, national empathy and public acceptance of the truth, but in a chill wind of isolation: disbelieved, ignored or, worse, derided.

Although after the verdicts on Tuesday the families reacted with cheers, applause and that rendition of Youll Never Walk Alone outside the makeshift Warrington courtroom where they had been forced over the two year inquest to re-live their horror, they are still left with their loss.

Phil Hammond, the former chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group for nine arduous, largely fruitless years from 1999 to 2008, always explained that he and his wife, Hilda, felt they could not grieve properly for their 14-year-old son, Philip Jr, because of police lies and the justice campaign that had to be fought.

So, there was a sense of grieving and vindication, not celebration, in the quiet of the people before the event, the 96 simple candles in lanterns on the steps in front of the hall, the scarves, flowers and messages.

The banner draped in front of the hall spelt the words truth and justice over the names of the 96 people who were remembered with such love and fondness by their families at the inquest, simple principles so maddeningly out of reach for so long.

For years, although the families were campaigning relentlessly against the South Yorkshire police blaming of the victims and the original 1991 inquest verdict of accidental death, this vindication was a day many could not imagine coming.

Throughout, they have remembered bereaved parents and campaigners who have died in the 27 years and did not ever see the jurys justice: Joan Traynor, whose two sons Christopher and Kevin died and who was a founder member of the HFSG; Eddie Spearritt, who was with his 14-year-old son Adam in the hell of that lethal crush and suffered suvivors guilt for failing to save him; Anne Williams, the famous warrior for her 15-year-old son Kevins good name, whose brother, Danny, made a moving speech, and, sadly, many others.

Representatives
Representatives of Liverpool and Everton football clubs lay a single red rose beside each of the 96 candles in memory of the victims. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

After Lord Justice Taylor delivered a remarkably similar finding of police failings and vindication of the supporters just four months after the disaster in August 1989, the South Yorkshire police resolved to overturn that narrative at the first inquest and were felt by the families to have succeeded.

The divisional court turned down the families appeal in 1993, then there were wilderness years before Jimmy McGoverns landmark ITV docudrama in 1996. Yet it has taken 20 years for that awakening to be transformed into a legal overturning of the polices lies: a private prosecution that Hammond helmed in 2000 failed to convict Ch Supt David Duckenfield and acquitted his deputy, Supt Bernard Murray.

From then to the 20th anniversary in 2009, when Andy Burnham and Maria Eagle, then Labour ministers, called for the disclosure of all documents relating to the disaster, leading to the Hillsborough Independent Panels landmark 2012 report, the families faced what Anderson described as a wall of silence.

The countrys politicians and media largely retreated into a comfort zone of believing the false, simplistic stories and ludicrous stereotypes, about football supporters and Liverpool itself. The sneering at Liverpool was itself an abuse, mistaking the citys noble expressions of love, empathy and solidarity as whinging and lachrymosity. That is all over now.

Theresa May, the Conservative home secretary, had read out the jurys determinations on the 14 questions put to them, which identified the desperate failings of the police and Yorkshire metropolitan ambulance service, and the verdict of unlawful killing by gross negligence manslaughter.

Burnham, praised for his sterling backing of the families, had called for speedy prosecutions and fundamental reform of the South Yorkshire police.

Taking to the platform to chants of Theres only one Andy Burnham, he read the names of dozens of those who died, alongside readings by Liverpool MPs Maria Eagle and Steve Rotherham.

The gathering ended, as they always have, with Youll Never Walk Alone, the anthem of Liverpool football club, of the families struggle against the slandering of their loved ones and a city, and now, the song of their vindication.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/apr/27/it-starts-now-hillsborough-vigil-end-one-fight-start-liverpool-96