Early Doors

Hillsborough report uncovers both truth and lies

Early Doors

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It is difficult to know where to start in reaction to the findings of the independent report into what happened on April 15, 1989.

When the Hillsborough Independent Panel's findings were released, preceded by Prime Minister David Cameron's apology in parliament, they were met with conflicting feelings of relief and horror.

Relief that the Liverpool fans who were corralled into a pen in the Leppings Lane end, causing a crush that needlessly took so many lives, were no longer being blamed or could have their names smeared.

Horror at the confirmation that the grieving families and an entire community were kept in a state of misery, pain and victimisation for almost a quarter of a century by what Hillsborough Families lawyer Michael Mansfield QC confirmed was the biggest cover-up in British history.

Perhaps the easiest place to start is with some numbers. Some of these figures we knew before Wednesday's shocking full disclosure, some were not confirmed but many suspected and some which shocked even those whose lives have been defined by the events of April 15 1989.

23 — That is how many years since one of the most horrendous peacetime tragedies in Britain occurred, and how long the families have been searching for justice.

96 — When a ground-breaking court ruling allowed Tony Bland to "die with dignity" in the hospital bed where he had been in a vegetative state since the Hillsborough on March 3 1993, his became the 96th and final life claimed by the tragedy.

41 — The number of lives which the Hillsborough Independent Panel found could have been saved after the 3:15pm cut-off point of the original inquiry.

400,000 — The number of pages of documents overseen by the panel in compiling its report and released to the public along with the findings.

164 — The number of police statements the report found were significantly amended in the attempts to cover up South Yorkshire Police's failings,

116 — The number of police statements which specifically removed negative comments about the policing of the match.

0 — The number of individuals who, to date, have been held legally responsible for the tragedy.

Taking in the full scale of the cover-up is extremely difficult because to do so is utterly depressing. That an authority paid for by the public in order to protect them would be not only incompetent enough to cause such a large loss of life but also manipulative enough to try and blame the disaster on the very people who were its victims — both living and dead - is almost too terrible to comprehend.

That the deceit was on such a large scale almost beggars belief. But it is no longer a conspiracy theory. It is now cold, hard fact.

But it was not only the authorities who lied by blaming the victims for causing their own demises. The Sun newspaper's infamous front page of the following week declaring unsubstantiated claims that some fans picked the pockets of the dead and dying and urinated on police trying to help has now been unequivocally proven to be the disgusting fabrication most right-thinking people knew it to be.

Kelvin MacKenzie, the paper's editor at the time, was yesterday finally forced into the apology which he has repeatedly and steadfastly refused to give for years.

MacKenzie told the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics earlier this year: "If we believed the story to be true and we felt Sun readers should know the facts we published it and we left it to them to decide if we had done the right thing."

The reporting of such a shocking and false story from without corroborating it with anyone else who was at the scene was damaging and irresponsible in the extreme, and was the cause of not only misery and anguish for those involved but also the root of so much uninformed disparagement directed at the city of Liverpool ever since.

Surely now the living that MacKenzie has carved out for himself as an obnoxious irritant of a media pundit must end, and the next time he is seen on our television screens should be when he is interrogated and chastised for his careless handling of people's lives.

Sadly, in spite of the report's findings and the hacking scandal involving its erstwhile sister paper, you can bet that The Sun is still Britain's biggest-selling newspaper a year from now.

In one sense, this great tragedy has nothing to do with football. The FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest which kicked off that day, only to be abandoned after just six minutes, is an irrelevant detail.

Yet, on the other hand, the disaster is inextricably linked with the game. Liverpool, truly one of the biggest and greatest clubs in British and European history, had the course of their destiny changed as a result of Hillsborough.

Just as the Munich Air Crash left an indelible scar on their great rivals Manchester United, the events of that day in Sheffield will loom over Anfield forever more.

But Hillsborough is an event which, at the time, could have happened to any club's supporters in any number of grounds. The pain of loss and the disgust at the cover-up that followed is something that should be felt by all football fans, and should never be forgotten.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "We always felt, as players, that we had the greatest fans in the world and it was extremely difficult to accept what the authorities were saying about them after that day. We came across things that were not true, and we knew differently. What has come out today is mind-blowing. We knew there was a different side of the story to the one that we had heard, but I don't think anyone expected it to be as bad as it has been today." —Liverpool legend Jan Molby sums up the feeling of relief at the fans being exonerated of blame and disbelief that it got as far as it did.

FOREIGN VIEW: "At last, The Truth came out after 23 years. The dignity and respect of the families of Hillsborough was always an example." — Former Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso, now at Real Madrid, on Twitter.

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