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29 July 2021

What the latest Hillsborough death tells us about government scandals

It took 23 years to strike down the original coroner’s verdict of accidental death, and a further four years to reach a verdict of unlawful killing. 

By Stephen Bush

Andrew Devine has died, 32 years after suffering life-changing injuries during the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.

A coroner has ruled that Devine was unlawfully killed, which makes him the 97th person to die following the crush at the Leppings Lane stand at the Hillsborough stadium, during the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on 15 April 1989. Ninety-five people died immediately or shortly after the crush. Tony Bland, the 96th fatality, who, similar to Devine, suffered severe and irreparable brain damage in the crush, died in 1993.

[See also: Hillsborough shows how the UK remains institutionally biased against working class people]

Devine’s injuries were so severe that doctors told his family he was unlikely to survive the day. Although he required constant care and was unable to communicate, he became a much-known presence among Liverpool fans and players. The open-top bus that toured the city in 2019 following Liverpool’s 2-0 defeat of Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League final, visited Devine’s home.

In 1991, the first coroner’s inquest into the Hillsborough disaster ruled that all the deaths were accidental. In 2012, however, 23 years after the tragedy, that verdict was overturned. It took a further four years for a new inquest to reach the verdict that the victims were unlawfully killed. 

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Devine’s death is a reminder that the Hillsborough disaster isn’t solely a historical tragedy. The support for the families’ fight for justice is not limited to people who follow Liverpool Football Club, or to football fans. The challenges that the families of the victims faced during their campaign to change the coroner’s verdict, and that no individual has yet to be held responsible, has implications for any number of government scandals, not least the ongoing inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire

[See also: 29 years on from the Hillsborough disaster, Grenfell shows how little we’ve learnt]