A national tragedy requires a national response. At such a time, it is the responsibility of the Prime Minister to speak to Britain, for Britain. It is a task that only the Prime Minister can fulfil and its symbolism has a profound effect on those directly and indirectly associated with the tragedy. Today, the Prime Minister delivered, for the families, survivors, and the city of Liverpool.
Hillsborough will always be synonymous with one of the biggest losses of British life in any one day since the end of the Second World War. In the 23 years that have passed, two very different stories have emerged about that day, and three key elements have haunted those associated with it. The failure of the authorities to help protect people. The attempt to blame the fans. And the doubt cast on the original Coroner’s Inquest.
The real version of events was told today and I am confident it will become known simply as ‘the truth’. It is a version of events that depicts the carnage at Hillsborough through the eyes of the survivors and the families of the victims. It makes clear that whilst the police froze and did nothing, the fans reacted and saved many more lives.
The second version, which has now been proven to be false, was told through the eyes of a warped media. The Sun newspaper despicably produced a headline that suggested Liverpool fans had stolen money from the dead, had urinated on the “brave cops” who were trying to save lives and had been drunk and ticketless. As the Prime Minister said, “This was clearly wrong.”
Today’s report has shocked the nation. 96 deaths, of which 41 could and should have survived if those responsible for our safety had done their jobs. 164 police officer statements amended, 116 negative comments removed from witness statements, and a 23 year campaign for truth and justice.
It proved, once and for all, that it was the fans who were the real heroes on the day and that the police, press and politicians, conspired to instigate a cover up that would smear a city and its people, whilst allowing the guilty to evade responsibility for their deadly mistakes. Liverpool has been exonerated. The guilt for the deaths lies squarely at the door of South Yorkshire Police, who made catastrophic mistakes and unashamedly sought to deflect the blame onto the fans.
The Hillsborough families cannot accept the Coroner’s verdict of “accidental death” and some have never even picked up the death certificates for their loved ones. It has been proved that some victims were alive well past the 3.15pm cut off and that if the authorities had acted quicker, more people would have survived. After today’s publication, the families will be appealing for the Attorney General to make an application to the High Court for the inquests to be reopened and a new cause of death to be determined.
Hillsborough was a tragedy that transcends party politics and unites parliament and the country. So whilst the overwhelming majority of Merseyside fundamentally disagrees with the Prime Minister’s politics and the direction he is taking the country, today we are eternally grateful.
His apology will not be met with celebrations on Merseyside. Instead, there will simply be dignified remembrance from a city that will no longer be a lone voice in a sea of ignorance and scepticism. Whilst for some, the true horror of 15 April 1989 has been eclipsed by the passage of time. For others, today’s news will see the conclusion of half our 23 year cause. Now that the truth has been ascertained, it is time for justice to be delivered.
Steve Rotheram is Labour MP for Liverpool Walton.