In the back streets of a northern industrial town, 23 years ago, 96 ordinary people died in one of the most horrific displays of official state-endorsed callousness to have taken place in recent years.
For the last 23 years, the families of the dead, and the survivors, have fought to have the truth of the Hillsborough disaster uncovered. They have faced a coordinated conspiracy to suppress that truth, organised from the very top of the British establishment; including the then Prime Minister Thatcher, the major news organisations (including not just the appalling slanders of the Sun, but also the “impartial” BBC), the South Yorkshire police and the justice system. All of whom were pushing a version of events which put the blame on the ordinary football fans who were the victims, and allowed the authors of the tragedy to escape scot-free.
This is not intended to be an article unpicking the events of that afternoon, and exposing in detail the lies and distortions that have been peddled since by those seeking to avoid responsibility, and who continue to rely on official apathy to protect their reputations. (For those who want an in depth examination, get a copy of Phil Scraton’s “Hillsborough: The Truth”, published by Mainstream Publishing.) Rather, it is intended just to remind Counterfire readers that there are 96 potential readers who will never read these words, will never go fishing, or take their kids for a walk in the park, or drive to the garden centre to pick up bedding plants.
They will never attend a family celebration, watch their kids get married, go to a football match.
They will never do these things, because they died 23 years ago, in a mass tragedy under the very eyes of senior police commanders who, from that minute, saw their prime job as being to blame the victims, and to protect themselves. They were aided and abetted in this by the press, the government, the media and the coroner.
They died because they were “just” football fans; potential hooligans; ticket-fodder. There just to increase the bank balances and ratings of those for whom sport is just another business opportunity, and supporters are just financial units to be packed in as tightly as possible to maximise revenue.
This article is written because it is shocking that, 23 years on, it is possible for a stand-up comedian to appear on the Arsenal site arguing that it is time to move on and that Liverpool football fans should stop regarding April 15th as anything special. (Liverpool have not played a match on the anniversary of Hillsborough since the tragedy. They won’t because they attend a memorial service each year – supporters, players, and club officials.)
It is shocking because it shows just how widespread, still, is the ignorance of what happened that day. This tragedy was not solely about Liverpool Football Club, and so
neither are the memorial services or the campaign for justice. It was an accident of history that meant that the fans killed that day were Liverpool fans; they could have been fans of any club. They died because of how football fans were treated in general.
It could have happened on May 4th 1976, at Molyneux, when the crowd pressure –caused by the authorities cramming the ground to over-capacity to maximise revenue – caused the exit gates behind the terrace to collapse.
It did happen at Bradford on May 11th 1985, when 56 fans died in the fire that swept the 80-year old stand. Less than a month later, 38 fans died in the Heysel stadium.
There are many, many other examples. So April 15th is not a day that Liverpool fans own. It is a day of remembrance for 96 human beings who died – half of them under 21 years old – because of official indifference. And the campaign for justice still continues; to challenge the lies spread which tried to put the blame on the fans; to force the authorities to admit it was their incompetence and their prejudices that caused those deaths.
We now know that the coroner refused to enquire into any events after 3.15pm that afternoon, even though some of the deaths incontrovertibly happened after this arbitrary cut-off point – but this decision meant he could exclude any questioning of police actions after that time.
We know the disgusting allegations of the Sun newspaper, (of fans picking the pockets of the dead, of fans urinating on the dead, of the disaster being caused by drunken fans charging the gates) are absolutely untrue.
We know that senior police officers pressured junior officers to alter their statements in order to exonerate the police commanders on the day.
We know the disaster happened because of incompetence at the highest level and that for the last two decades the powers-that-be have fought tooth and nail to cover up the truth.
This is what Hillsborough is about. This is why the day deserves to be remembered.
It is a way of making sure the memory is kept alive and the pressure for the truth is kept up.
This is why every football fan has a vested interest in the campaign for justice for the Hillsborough 96. And this is why LFC will not play a game of football on April 15th. Perhaps that can change when justice has been achieved.
But until that day, it is important that football fans everywhere (and not just football fans) remember – it could have been any one of us. It could have been our child. We will not let them be forgotten. We will not let them be vilified and traduced.
Justice for the Hillsborough 96 means an end to the lies and cover-ups. No Justice, No Peace.
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