I’m old enough to remember when Easter Road had standing-only terracing that stretched back twice as far as it does now. The singing was twice as loud too because it’s a lot harder to sing when you’re sitting down. But those seats are there for a reason. The reason is Hillsborough.
If you think you know everything there is to know about Hillsborough, you need to go to BBC iplayer and watch the BBC2 documentary of the same name that aired last Sunday evening. It has taken more than 27 years for the verdict surrounding the deaths at Hillsborough to change from “accidental death” to “unlawful killing”. The reason? A systematic cover-up by the people at the very top of the South Yorkshire Police Force, the same kind of high-ranking police officers who used to take tea with Jimmy Saville. None of those men took part in this programme. Instead we heard testimony from decent, honest coppers who were there and tried to help – and from the relatives of the dead who were treated like dirt on the day. And treated even worse in the weeks, months and years that followed.
By a horrible twist of fate, the Chief Superintendent of Police in the control room on the day of the 1989 FA Cup semi-final was David Duckenfield, a man who knew nothing about football. It was he who gave the order to open Gate C and allow thousands of Liverpool fans to pour down a tunnel into two already full pens. In the ten minutes that followed his decision, most of the damage was done. Fans back then were caged in like animals by twenty foot high spiked railings. There was no escape. 93 people were to die from asphyxiation or internal injuries caused by the crush. But before their bodies were even cold, the truth was already being rewritten by senior police officers. This was “a tanked-up mob”, they said, who had travelled down without tickets and forced their way into the ground.
Once the bodies had been taken away to a temporary mortuary, all the coppers who’d been at the game were corralled into a section of the ground. They asked their senior officers if they should write details of what they had witnessed into their notebooks. They were told “No”.
The victims’ bodies were laid out in a school gym and their mums, dads, brothers, sisters, grans, aunts and uncles were brought in to identify them. Immediately afterwards, each relative was grilled by a plainclothes policeman about the amount of alcohol their dead family member drank. One teenage victim’s mum recalled the policeman asking her “Did your son drink?” then “Did your son smoke?” When she said no each time, he said “You’ll be telling me next he was a virgin.”
That same evening, South Yorkshire Police’s PR people fed more lies to the press. The editor of The Sun, Kelvin McKenzie, swallowed them whole. Next day he splashed them all over his front page with a two-word headline: “The Truth”. Underneath, were claims that Liverpool fans had kicked paramedics who were giving the kiss of life, had stolen from the dead and had urinated on to police officers who were trying to help. This documentary painstakingly exposes those lies once and for all. Finally, the families of the Hillsborough dead have justice. All-seater stadiums are the small price we have to pay.