Papers: 'The Real Truth' of Hillsborough

Yesterday's monumental revelations about the Hillsborough disaster and the official Government apology that followed predictably dominate both the front and back pages of Thursday's newspapers.

Substantial column inches are dedicated to the report from the Hillsborough Independent Panel which completely exonerated fans of any blame and for the first time exposed the breathtaking depth of the cover-up operation undertaken by South Yorkshire Police, who disgracefully smeared the victims of an awful tragedy that claimed the lives of 96 people in April 1989.

Complicit in this smear campaign was The Sun newspaper, who published that infamous article detailing fictional accounts of Liverpool fans robbing the dead and attacking police officers under the headline 'The Truth'.

On Thursday, 23 years on from that fateful FA Cup semi-final, everyone was waiting to see how The Sun handled the story, a story that due to their disgraceful actions the newspaper found themselves prominent players in. Indeed, at yesterday's press conference at Liverpool cathedral, Trevor Hicks, who lost two daughters in the disaster, asked any reporters from The Sun to leave the room. There were none.

'The Real Truth', accompanied by a sombre black and white photo, is the headline that attempts to correct The Sun's previous abomination of a story.

Current editor Dominic Mohan writes: “Twenty-three years ago The Sun newspaper made a terrible mistake. We published an inaccurate and offensive story about the events at Hillsborough.

"We said it was the truth — it wasn’t. The Hillsborough Independent Panel has now established what really happened that day. It’s an appalling story and at the heart of it are the police’s attempts to smear Liverpool fans.

"It’s a version of events that 23 years ago The Sun went along with and for that we’re deeply ashamed and profoundly sorry. We’ve co-operated fully with the Hillsborough Independent Panel.”

The Sun had no choice but to apologise - neither the man responsible for that grossly offensive headline, former editor Kelvin MacKenzie, who also did so on Wednesday - but the paper only did so under huge duress and after 23 long years during which the stigma of that headline has been allowed to fester.

In the more lofty sections of the Tory press, the Telegraph took the bizarre editorial decision not to feature the story on their front page at all in their first edition. It makes the second, but only as a snippet at the top.

While 'Thief Hid 20 Mobile Phones in his Tights' and 'Beware the Speed Camera Comeback' are deemed newsworthy enough to make the front page, the astonishing details of what was described yesterday as the biggest cover-up in British history are not. It is inexplicable. But at least Henry Winter writes a powerful piece for the paper.

"Closure is a concept utterly impossible to comprehend," Winter writes. "How can any parent recover from the sight of a coffin containing their beautiful child being lowered into a grave? The memory and the misery, the unremitting numbness and occasional outbursts of fury remain always.

"Wednesday was a hugely significant day for the families of those 96 Liverpool fans who set off one sun-strewn morning for a football match and never returned.

"The families’ long, dignified and relentlessly resilient campaign was vindicated. The police did tamper with statements. They did orchestrate a cover-up of unbelievable size and criminality.

"Liverpool’s supporters were exonerated. They were not drunk. They were not ticketless. The truth was found. But closure? There can’t be.

"Hillsborough is a tragedy without a final chapter. So let’s not talk blithely of closure for the families, for the club, for the city of Liverpool over what happened on April 15, 1989. The pain and anger will always be there with the relatives, sometimes screaming within them, sometimes kept at bay for a day. But always there."

The Guardian's reporting of Hillsborough, attempting to unpick the propaganda of the police, has been very important, with David Conn doing a particularly fine job in this regard.

The paper's front page headline reads 'Hillsborough: the reckoning' and Conn and colleague Owen Gibson take up the theme by explaining how yesterday's revelations make it likely that the original verdict of 'accidental death' will be quashed and a new inquest ordered. Criminal proceedings against those responsible could also be on the horizon, some justice at last for those families who have so bravely continued their fight over 23 years.

"A fresh inquest into the Hillsborough disaster is likely to be ordered after the full scale of the establishment cover-up over the 1989 disaster was revealed for the first time," writes the paper.

"Criminal prosecutions of key figures are also possible after the Hillsborough Independent Panel – which was chaired by the bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, and had unrestricted access to 450,000 documents over three years – revealed the depth of a police cover-up that swung into action the morning after the disaster.

"It confirmed Lord Justice Taylor's key finding in August 1989 that the main reason for the disaster was a 'failure in police control'.

"But it also revealed that 'multiple failures' in other emergency services and public bodies contributed to the death toll. Similarly, serious failings in the inquests and reviews that followed prolonged the agony of the families of the victims.

"Legal representatives for the families of the 96 victims crushed to death at the Leppings Lane end of the ground said that South Yorkshire police, Sheffield city council and Sheffield Wednesday FC could all face charges for corporate manslaughter."

The Times' coverage of Hillsborough has been very emotive and football editor Tony Evans, a Liverpool fan who was there on that fateful day, has a very poignant, personal take on what Wednesday's developments mean for the city.

He writes: "It was the day Liverpool got its reputation back. For so long, the place had been sniggered at and derided, tagged 'self-pity city' and supposedly populated by whingeing, conspiracy theorists. Yesterday it turned out that Liverpool was right all along.

"Attitudes had set hard in the 23 years since the Hillsborough disaster. For many people first impressions lasted longest. The smears by the South Yorkshire Police defined the event for many.

"Numerous times I have been informed by people that they 'know' what happened in Sheffield on April 15, 1989. On every occasion, they had been told by someone else. They repeated the slurs that were placed in the public domain with brutal, nasty insensitivity by Kelvin MacKenzie in The Sun.

"My eye-witness version — with its broken and twisted limbs and young people dying in the sunshine — was discounted as Scouse revisionism. After these conversations I would often wake from gruesome nightmares and howl with rage.

"I have been told repeatedly to 'get over it' and 'move on'. British justice can today thank the families of the 96 who died and all those who fought for the truth for not moving on. Liverpool’s trust in the Government was minimal, which made David Cameron’s unequivocal endorsement of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s findings gratifying."

For the final word we turn to the Mirror, which has also been influential in promoting the fight for justice for the Hillsborough families.

Their front page brings into stark relief the human tragedy of Hillsborough, and the human cost of the huge blunders by the emergency services.

Under a banner headline of 'The Truth' - another rebuttal to rival tabloid The Sun - and a picture of a Liverpool shirt with 'Justice 96' on it, the subhead '41 Lives Could Have Been Saved' leaps off the page.

Inside, writer Brian Reade, who has campaigned long and hard for justice, gives his personal take on a day some thought would never come.

"We are taught from childhood to always believe that 'the truth will out'," he writes.

"That however bad a deed or lie, justice will eventually be seen to be done. Because that is how life works.

"For 23 years and 150 days, 96 bereaved families, hundreds of mentally-scarred survivors and thousands of fans who witnessed what happened at Hillsborough stadium on April 15, 1989, have scorned such a notion.

"They played by the book, trying every point of authority to get that truth out.

"They pleaded with the Establishment’s conscience to cease looking away and finally admit why 96 people, half of whom were 21 or younger, never came back from a football game.

"Yet they got nothing back but rants about whingeing and kicks in the teeth from size 10 boots.

"Until Wednesday, when the house of lies came tumbling down.

"When the sheer force of love and dedication and refusal to be beaten forced out that truth."