The Hillsborough verdict proves the the power of grassroots activism

The families of the victims and the city of Liverpool have fought for decades against classism and political disregard

Special edition of the Liverpool Echo published to mark the verdicts

Today, as Lord Justice Goldring read out the verdicts that completely vindicated their decades-long fight for justice, the families of the 96 football fans who perished at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989 broke down in tears. They have been waiting 27 years. 

After enduring smears from media, politicians and even some football fans, the families now have official acknowledgement of something that they always knew was true: the Hillsborough disaster was caused by negligence on the part of those entrusted with ensuring the welfare of their loved ones.

But even more than that, the families have been vindicated in their belief that there was a cover-up of the facts of the disaster, a cover-up that painted their loved ones as hooligans, drunks and thieves.

It’s hard now to imagine, in the bright lights of the Premier League era, how this fight could have been drawn out for so long, taking such a toll on ordinary people who had no prior experience of activism, of legal battles or of building political pressure.

The verdict shines a light on the toxic classism that allowed South Yorkshire Police to avoid blame while smearing victims of a sport that had been described by the Sunday Times in 1985 as ‘a slum sport watched by slum people in slum stadiums’.

It exposes the laziness and callousness of certain parts of the media, preferring to blame supporters than challenge the official line.

It reminds us that many in the political establishment demonstrated a deep disregard for the city of Liverpool— the extremely offensive official reply from Bernard Ingham was just the tip of the iceberg.

hillsborough letter

This success is an amazing credit to a community that refused to be beaten, even when faced with seemingly never-ending snubs from the establishment.

This success is a credit to the power of grassroots activism and the enduring power of a city coming together to fight injustice.

The Hillsborough Justice Campaign—a group of true heroes like Margaret Aspinall and  Anne Williams—have taken on police, the government and the media — and have emerged with the truth.

Liverpool Football Club, which supported the families from the start, embraced the cause entirely, with a succession of players and officials heavily involved in supporting the campaign.

Kenny Dalglish, Steven Gerrard (whose cousin Jon-Paul Gilhooley died at Hillsborough), Rafael Benitez— the list of supporters is long and star-studded. Even departed manager Brendan Rodgers was at the last Hillsborough Commemoration, a sign of the seriousness with which all at the club took the campaign.

Phil Scraton, a criminologist and scholar from Queen’s University Belfast, put in tireless work to pick apart the official Hillsborough narrative, and has had that work vindicated.

Throughout the past 27 years, the people of Liverpool have stood united in an oftentimes lonely crusade against injustice. Between their ongoing boycott of The Sun—whose infamous and disgusting ‘The Truth’ front-page has now been entirely rebutted—their continued displays and calls for justice at matches, and the support from Everton FC and their fans, the people of Liverpool rallied together to exonerate their own.

The hurt that the people of Liverpool felt was never more clear than in 2009, when fans booed the then Culture Secretary Andy Burnham at the 20th anniversary commemoration of the disaster. It was that communal display of grief and anger that spurred Burnham to fight for a re-examination of the Hillsborough Disaster, leading to the Hillsborough Independent Panel and eventually the inquests that today vindicated the 96.

But these are just a few selected figures who helped lead to the final unveiling of the truth. The hundreds of thousands who sang ‘Justice For The 96’ on the Kop, bought Hillsborough Justice Campaign badges or stickers, signed petitions, waved banners or gave the families support from all over the world are a part of the story too.

The inquest’s findings will never bring back the 96 innocent people who died at Hillsborough, or make up for the hurt caused to their families, but it will at least, hopefully, end the slander of their good names.

And the inspirational lead of the Hillsborough families, the support of the entire city of Liverpool and the tenacity of the campaigners shows that a people united will never be defeated.

You’ll Never Walk Alone.

David Hartery is a writer from Waterford, Ireland and a life-long Liverpool fan. Find him on Twitter.

2 Responses to “The Hillsborough verdict proves the the power of grassroots activism”

  1. David Lindsay

    Unlawful killing. All 96. Prosecutions for manslaughter must now be inevitable. Has at least one arrest already been made? If not, why not? The News of the World went down for far less than this. The 2020 Election with no Sun, which had been gone for four years by then? Imagine that.

    But the fight goes on. In Britain alone, and our concern is most certainly not Britain alone, we still have Orgreave, Shrewsbury, Clay Cross, Wapping, Farepak, Remploy, the Liverpool Dockers, and the blacklisted construction workers and other trade unionists. To name but a very, very, very few.

    Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that the Incredible Disappearing David Duckenfield is still alive and still in this country, or possessed of the slightest intention ever to come back here, or so possessed even in relation to anywhere with a British extradition treaty.

    Tony Blair is never going to stand trial for the Iraq War. So it is going to fall to those squaddies. At least as much as anything else, they will be tried as proxies for Blair. That is hardly going to help their defence. Likewise, Margaret Thatcher cannot now stand trial for anything that happened while she was Prime Minister, and never could have done for much of it. So it looks as if Duckenfield is going to have to appear in the dock of an almost literal Trial of a Decade.

    The Britain of the present decade is going to put the Britain of the 1980s on trial, and it is going to reach a recorded verdict, with a sentence in the event that that is a verdict of guilty. A man would then serve that sentence. This country will never have seen the like, and it is possible that nor will the world. Not even the great American trials of race will ever have been quite like this. Where might such a trial even be held? How could a jury be impanelled? Yet it is going to be.

    This is about a thousand years of class, from the Norman Conquest, as it crescendoed in Thatcherism after the brief and only partial interlude between 1945 and 1979. Her treatment of the working classes, of the North, of Liverpool in particular (with the whole Irish thing behind that): when Duckenfield stands in the dock at least for perjury and for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, and quite conceivably on 96 counts of manslaughter as well, then all of that will be on trial. I cannot think of another case like this, ever.

    The BBC was filming the match at Hillsborough. So how did the lies ever take hold? But remember, we must protect the BBC from any and all criticism, and especially from the proposed changes to its structure, both managerial and editorial. Heaven forfend that we might instead propose permanent representation for the Left, including the working-class and ethnic minority Left, in return for permanent Tory representation even under a Corbyn Government.

    What have the Liberal Establishment and its broadcaster ever done for us? They have spent 27 years not broadcasting the footage that proved the unlawful killing of 96 of what were, at least broadly, our people. In so doing, they spent 24 of those years, until her death, protecting our greatest enemy in living memory from the criminal prosecution that ought to have been her due. I want there to be a BBC. But I am sure as hell not going to die in a ditch for this one.

  2. Jimmy Glesga

    Were the police responsible for the high iron fence that penned in the fans like animals. Were the police responsible for the non ticketing arrangements by the football authorities who knew tens of thousands would descend on this ground. Is it the responsibility of the police to staff profit making football clubs. Do the clubs and players that make millions have any responsibility?
    The police should have put their hands up and said we could not cope with this situation however being human they went on the defensive and get the blame. The profiteers walk away as usual.

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