Twenty-three years is a long time to live with a crime that has gone unpunished. Especially when the crime involves the death of family, friends and loved ones. Even more so when the crime has gone unacknowledged and the victims were pilloried for being partly to blame for their own deaths.
Yet that is what happened with the 96 victims of the Hillsborough Disaster, although perhaps we should now refer to it as the Hillsborough Conspiracy.
For what the official panel of inquiry has now revealed in its 395-page report is not just a cover-up - that has been known and talked about for years - but a full-blooded criminal conspiracy by the police and others.
Police protect their own. South Yorkshire Police were already notorious for the frame-up trial of the Yorkshire miners when they brought charges against 95 people for riot and unlawful assembly after the battle on the picket lines at the Orgreave coking plant during the 1984 strike.
As Guardian football writer David Conn explained in an article in April, the Orgreave case collapsed after the police were shown in court to have falsified and concealed evidence. In 1991, 39 miners were paid a total of £425,000 to settle civil claims against the police, but there was no enquiry, no one was disciplined let alone prosecuted and the same senior officers were in charge on that fatal day in April 1989 when an FA Cup semi-final turned into Britain's worst-ever stadium disaster.
It was a botched police operation that led to the tragedy - along with the stadium 'security' arrangements that left thousands of fans trapped and crushed against the steel pens at the Leppings Lane end of the ground.
Many football fans at the time saw Hillsborough as a disaster waiting to happen. A year earlier Liverpool had played a semi-final in the same stadium without any significant problems, but other matches at that time could easily have ended in tragedy. It might have been fans from Manchester, or Birmingham or London just as easily as Liverpool. Stadiums were unsafe and the Thatcher government saw football fans as a problem to be suppressed. If not quite the 'enemy within' like the miners then something close to it.
Even so there is something truly shocking about the extent of the Hillsborough Conspiracy. Doctoring 164 statements and deleting comments from 116 of them must set some sort of record in the annals of police cover-ups.
The coroner ordered blood alcohol checks on the dead, which was bad enough - but blood alcohol tests were also taken from survivors without any purpose other than to build a case against the victims. Similarly the police did computer checks on the dead with the obvious intention of criminalising them.
Almost half the victims might have survived had the emergency services got to them faster - making the arbitrary decision of the coroner to impose a 3.15pm cut-off for time of death even more disgraceful than it seemed at the original inquest.
Then there was the sinister ploy of leaking false information to the media in order to turn public opinion against the fans. Using a local news agency and Tory MP for cover, four senior officers fed a disgusting set of lies which were notoriously splashed all over the Sun as 'the truth' and repeated in the Daily Express.
As David Conn observes, it's reminiscent of the 'black propaganda unit' used against the miners five years earlier. It's also precisely the way police regimes manipulate the media against 'troublemakers.'
Margaret Thatcher's regime was starting to wobble at the time of Hillsborough. The poll tax that was to produce its downfall had just been introduced. It was a regime that owed its very survival in 1984 to the police, South Yorkshire police in particular. Senior officers must have been quite confident that the government would overlook a cover-up, especially backed by their colleagues from the West Midlands who were given the task of investigating, or rather aiding and abetting.
Times have changed, or at least so we are assured. The senior police officers concerned are dead or have retired. South Yorkshire Police has been reformed and is more accountable. Irvine Patnick MP, the one-time supporter of apartheid South Africa who helped spread the lies, left politics 15 years ago.
The revolting Kelvin MacKenzie, who printed the lies in the Sun, is totally discredited. Trevor Hicks, whose two daughters Sarah and Victoria were killed, and who chairs the Hillsborough Family Support Group, got his assessment spot on yesterday - 'lowlife, clever lowlife, but lowlife.'
There will almost certainly be another inquest and a full judicial inquiry to follow. Corporate manslaughter charges are possible. The families will eventually get at least some of the justice they have fought so hard for. Football will at last be able to honour the memory of the 96 without any of the controversy that has been attached to the cause.
All's well that ends well? Not quite. This appalling story is about more than justice for the Hillsborough victims and their families.
How far did the conspiracy extend? More than one police force was involved. The West Midlands Police were given the job of preparing the inquest. Detective Superintendent Stanley Beechey, former head of the Serious Crimes Squad was given the key role alongside the coroner. Beechey was at the time on 'non-operational duties' after the SCS was disbanded for corruption.
And how far up the chain of command did it go? Margaret Thatcher was immediately on the scene and predictably swallowed the line about drunken hooliganism. Later on she was briefed that the South Yorkshire Police were probably lying. Was the government then complicit in the cover-up or did they just turn a blind eye?
Policing has changed significantly over the past and will shortly change again, with the election of Police and Crime Commissioners who are meant to make the police more open and accountable to local people. Ensuring those responsible for the Hillsborough Conspiracy are identified and where appropriate punished has to be part of that process.
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