Wednesday, April 14, 2010

In continuous support of those pursuing the truth about Hillsborough

(Editor's Note: This post from last year offers a thorough explanation of who I am as a Liverpool supporter and how I relate to the Hillsborough disaster.)

Tomorrow, 21 years on from Hillsborough, there is much more momentum for a full – or at least as full as possible – disclosure of what happened, how it was handled and who played key roles in shaping how the public and the world perceived April 15, 1989. Not surprisingly, David Conn's interview with James Jones – chair of the Hillsborough Independent Panel – provides an excellent summary of how things have changed between the 20th ceremony honoring the dead and this year's remembrance of those killed in the disaster.

Multiple factors inspire a reasonable measure of confidence that substantial new answers can be found to the long-asked questions about Hillsborough:

• The panel will have access to ambulance service documents never admitted to the formal inquest because they were compiled after 3:15 p.m. Of course, coroner Dr. Stefan Popper at the time determined – almost assuredly arbitrarily or, at the risk of sounding sinister, because of other factors – all victims suffered their fatal injuries by 3:15 p.m. More details can be found here explaining why that decision has been impossible to defend during the last 21 years.

• The panel includes Professor Phil Scraton, author of the book "Hillsborough: The Truth" and someone whose mere presence in such a high-profile investigation can only be viewed as a force seeking more answers. Scraton's book concluded South Yorkshire police sought to cover up the role they played in causing and worsening the disaster. Now, there are competing ways to look at Scraton, of course. Detractors might argue his involvement is part of rigging the process to produce a certain conclusion. Those people can hold that opinion if they wish. Scraton's involvement also can be viewed as, at last, someone is working to resolve the questions about Hillsborough who most certainly does not believe for a second the matter of the "official record" of the day, whatever that may mean at this point.

• The panel must write a report detailing how what it has learned adds to the public knowledge about Hillsborough. More documents than ever before are being shared as part of this investigation, including South Yorkshire police files and England's national archives. This group of people has been charged with adding to the public's Hillsborough knowledge, and Scraton – whose views on the matter are fairly clear – has been asked to lead the writing of the report that accomplishes that goal.

The great fear behind all this work is that someone, somewhere, will draw a line that investigators cannot cross. The outraged supporters who shouted at Andy Burnham for justice during last year's ceremony have helped open up a new step in the process. The collective efforts of those directly affected by – and also those far removed from – Hillsborough have allowed for substantial new steps in uncovering the truth. But how much truth will be allowed to enter the public realm? The survivors of Hillsborough and the families and friends of the dead have been met with disappointment throughout the years. There is hope now for more complete answers, but there also has been hope in the past. There is hope this investigation might reveal the official documents – and provide the irrefutable evidence – that finally makes clear what most everyone has concluded to be true: The South Yorkshire police mismanaged a large crowd that had come to see an FA Cup semifinal, then created the worst day in English football through incompetence and horrible attempts to cover their own ass. And with the identities of those ultimately responsible exposed to the world, will additional steps take place? Anfield hasn't repeatedly cried out with "Justice for the 96!" merely so a couple of deceitful cops can have a rotten tomato thrown at them in the public square.

That is the trepidation behind this effort. Serious attempts to reveal the truth of Hillsborough must not be derailed by anyone tut-tutting with, "OK, you've gotten your truth. We don't need to go any further." Combined with the usual crowd that likes to claim drunken Liverpool supporters caused all the problems, it could bring about a tragic slip into widespread apathy that would represent an unimaginable crushing of the spirit.

I would like to believe this effort can go further than any other. James Jones, in Conn's article, said this inquiry will present the fullest story possible. It must, and if it does, those who choose to pursue additional actions against the perpetrators of the crime of Hillsborough must not encounter any more roadblocks.

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