Early Doors

Swift justice must follow the chilling truth

Disgracefully it took 23 years for the full truth of Hillsborough to emerge, but now the full devastating chronology has been established it can only be hoped that the process by which justice is served is far swifter. Certainly the initial signs offer encouragement in this regard.

Because while we may still be digesting the full implications of a report that reviewed more than 450,000 documents before delivering its monumental findings, already we have seen some significant developments as the process of accountability finally begins.

By anyone's standards the events of the past two days have been remarkable. The families, who for 23 years have been met with obfuscation, delay and indifference as their inspiring fight has proceeded at a glacial pace, have suddenly been deluged with apologies.

Apologies from the Government, Sheffield Wednesday, the police, The Sun, Kelvin MacKenzie, Boris Johnson, Irving Patnick MP and, belatedly, the Football Association.

But as they demonstrated when some of the families' representatives brushed away FA chairman David Bernstein's mea culpa, apologies are not nearly enough. Now the full horror of Hillsborough and the subsequent demonisation of entirely innocent Liverpool supporters has been laid bare, it is not enough to merely say sorry.

Not a single person has yet been prosecuted for the disastrous chain of events that led to 96 people losing their life that day in April 1989. Not a single person has been held responsible for the subsequent cover-up and systematic smear campaign that attacked the very victims of this tragedy.

In its totality, Hillsborough must surely be seen as one of the most abhorrent crimes in living memory. Even David Peace - pioneer of 'Yorkshire Noir' literature, whose novels have insidious police corruption as a recurrent theme - would struggle to paint a darker picture than the one exposed by the Hillsborough Independent Panel this week.

It is not enough to merely say sorry when it has been revealed that 116 police statements were "amended to remove or alter comments unfavourable to South Yorkshire Police" - a revelation that drew gasps from MPs when it was revealed in Parliament during David Cameron's official apology.

Mere words are not enough when it has been shown that police had already begun a concerted effort to blame fans for the force's own failures while bodies were still warm, with officers instructed to take alcohol levels from the dead and run their names through the police database in the hope of unearthing a criminal record and, in the words of the report, "to impugn the reputation of the deceased."

Words cannot be enough now it has been laid out in detail how the police force embarked on a black propaganda campaign to sully the names of the dead and the survivors, roping in Patnick and The Sun to construct a narrative that painted Liverpool supporters as monsters, a stigma that lasted until Wednesday when it was proved indisputably they were not. The Taylor Report reached the same conclusion long ago of course, but such was the potency of those original smears it could not shake false blame from the Liverpool fans.

How can words be enough when the HIP concluded that as many of 41 of the 96 could have been saved had the emergency services' response been adequate? Just take a second and think about that.

The extent of the crime against Liverpool fans is harrowing, but this is not just a football injustice, it strikes at the very heart of society. Those whose job it is to protect the public instead failed miserably and then, incredibly, turned the blame on those lying in graves or wracked with grief. But for that brave, relentless group of families, and the support of a few MPs and a few journalists, this vast injustice may never have seen the light of day.

No person living in Britain should feel comfortable until individuals and official bodies have been held responsible for this offence against society and decency. Punishments must now follow.

Yesterday we learned that South Yorkshire Police are putting into motion plans to bring in the Independent Police Complaints Commission, a process that could result in the prosecution of officers. The IPCC itself said the matter "raised extremely serious and troubling issues for the police."

It has also been announced that Sir Norman Bettison, chief constable of West Yorkshire Police, will be investigated. A chief inspector with South Yorkshire Police at the time of the disaster, the HIP report showed he was part of a unit tasked with putting across the force's version of events. Yesterday he again attached some blame to fans, despite them being fully exonerated. Other individuals are likely to come under scrutiny too.

Concurrently, Andy Burnham MP has said he will not rest until the original verdict of 'accidental death' has been overturned and a new inquiry ordered that does not take 3.15pm as an arbitrary cut-off point, allowing some families to finally have the death of their relative properly investigated and the actions of the emergency devices properly assessed.

The Football Association, too, has pertinent questions to answer. Burnham yesterday accused the governing body of "negligence" for awarding the FA Cup semi-final to a stadium without a safety certificate, and for ignoring the warnings of previous crushes at Hillsborough in 1981 and 1987.

All of these strands of a story that shames Britain must be looked into as a matter of urgency. But the dense weave of misinformation, conspiracy and lies is beginning to be unravelled, and as the truth continues to spill out of the dark corners from where it was once obscured, we can have renewed hope that justice will follow, swiftly.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I am not sure there will ever be closure, because I think the fight goes on for the rest of your life. You don't really get justice because you never get your father, sister or brother back. But you fight for the right and fight for the cause, and the cause was simple - it was the name of the people of Liverpool, which was damned for all these years. Football is wonderful, but life is more important. Yet what football can give those people I met at the vigil on Wednesday is hope. That is what we can provide." - Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers strikes a perfect tone in his press conference on Thursday.

FOREIGN VIEW: The Telegraph didn't deem the Hillsborough story sufficiently newsworthy enough to feature on the front page yesterday, but the resonance this story has globally was demonstrated yesterday when it did make the front page of the New York Times.

COMING UP: We preview all the weekend's Premier League games as well as bringing you all the essential team news from the SPL, Championship, League One and League Two. Loads of Premier League managers will be conducting their press conferences as well so there should be plenty of news flying around.