Hillsborough wait for justice at end

By Mark Townsend

23 years after 96 football fans died, there's hope truth will come out.

Fans were initially blamed for the crush which developed at the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough stadium. Photo / AP
Fans were initially blamed for the crush which developed at the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough stadium. Photo / AP

In the small room above the Hillsborough Justice Campaign shop in Anfield, Kenny Derbyshire is used to meeting strangers.

"Survivors still turn up out of the blue. They'll stand there, numb, unable to speak and break down in tears. This city is still suffering, until we get the truth no one can move on."

This week, 23 years after 96 football fans died at Hillsborough, the city of Liverpool hopes that, finally, the truth will come out.

An independent panel of experts, chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, has spent 20 months examining 450,000 internal documents relating to Britain's worst sporting disaster.

On Wednesday night NZ time, the panel will aim to deliver a definitive narrative into the events of April 15, 1989, when a fatal crush developed at the Leppings Lane end of the Sheffield stadium before an FA Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

Sources say it will find "in favour" of the families and illustrate, in detail, the lengths to which South Yorkshire police orchestrated a "coverup" to hide their culpability by blaming the fans.

The city hopes this will be the week that will finally clear the names of the supporters, who were maligned as drunk, ticketless and unruly, a portrayal perpetrated by police and articulated by the Sun newspaper under the headline: "The truth".

Lawyer Michael Mansfield, who will be with families at Liverpool cathedral this Wednesday to offer free legal advice following the release of the documents, hopes myths will be laid to rest. The lawyer, who specialises in miscarriages of justice, said: "It was a false story, it's time to put it to bed."

Margaret Aspinall, whose son, James, 18, died, said the smearcampaign directed by those culpable for the disaster had deepened Liverpool's grief. "It's not just the survivors, we have to clear their names [the dead] ..."

No one from the Government or police has apologised and no organisation or individual has been sanctioned, despite Lord Justice Taylor's official inquiry in 1989 which found that police failures caused the tragedy.

"Liverpool has always been a militant town, but the attitude to Hillsborough destroyed any trust in the Government. It can never be repaired," says Derbyshire. He agrees that the sense of injustice has amplified the emotional fallout from a tragedy that keeps claiming victims.

The Hillsborough Justice Campaign knows of least six survivors who have taken their own lives because they could not come to terms with the disaster or the official response it drew.

Two weeks ago, a male survivor threw himself beneath a train.

"There are a lot of walking wounded out there, broken marriages, people turning to drink," says Derbyshire, 46. "Thousands remain traumatised. To many it feels like it happened yesterday."

10 unanswered questions

1. Hillsborough's safety certificate had expired. Why was the football stadium still chosen for such a high-profile match?

2. Why did only one ambulance make it on to the pitch? Who stopped the others?

3. To what extent were the fans blamed for the tragedy during a meeting between Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Home Secretary Douglas Hurd and the chief constable of South Yorkshire, Peter Wright, the day after the disaster?

4. Why were the central pens of the Leppings Lane terracing dangerously over-full by 2.45pm?

5. Why was the 2.52pm order given to allow 2000 fans through an exit gate without closing the tunnel that led to these pens?

6. Did anyone in the control room tell the commanding officer the pens were already too full?

7. Who ordered police statements to be amended?

8. Who removed CCTV tapes from Hillsborough's control room ?

9. Why were the fence gates of the Leppings Lane end locked, even though the fire service had stated that the terracing was safe only if those gates remained open?

10. At least nine families still do not have death certificates. Why?

- Observer

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