On 15 April 1989, Liverpool FC and Nottingham Forest, accompanied by thousands of fans, travelled to the Hillsborough football ground in Sheffield to play the FA Cup semi-final match.
Only minutes after the 3.00 pm kickoff, the game had to be abandoned. The police had opened an exit gate to try to ease overcrowding at the turnstiles, resulting in a flood of around 2,000 extra people coming into the stadium. A huge crush ensued, and 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives because of it.
The years following saw lies, deceit and altered statements from the police, which was then perpetuated by the tabloid press, and an inquest verdict of ‘accidental’ death for the 96 victims with no prosecutions to follow. The families fought for decades to clear the names of the fans, muddied by the authorities in order to keep their own noses clean.
In 2009, twenty years after the disaster, the Hillsborough Independent Panel was set up, and in December 2012, the previous conclusion of the deaths being accidental was quashed. Then, on 31 March 2014, a new inquest was begun and was to last for two years; the longest inquest in UK legal history.
On 26 April 2016, the verdict of the inquiry was announced. The deaths of the 96 Liverpool were considered unlawful, the fans considered completely blameless, and the police and stadium to be at fault. Those hurt and damaged by the disaster finally had their truth.
The Hillsborough verdict at St George’s Hall
When the verdict was announced from court in nearby Warrington on 26 April, it was shown on a large screen put at the front of St George’s Hall in Liverpool. St George’s Hall is a magnificent building, and is often the centre of public gatherings in the city.
The previous day, banners had been hung at the front of St George’s Hall listing the names of the 96 dead. While I was there, they were being changed over to banners spelling out the words ‘truth’ and ‘justice’ (with the names still running behind the lettering).
I arrived at the hall not long after the jury had given their verdict. There was an atmosphere I’ve not experienced before. It was an uneasy mix of immense joy at the verdict and continuing sadness at the tragic loss of lives. People were happy, yet pensive. And the air became heavy and quiet as the name and age of each and every one of the 96 dead, along with the cause of their death, was read out by the BBC News (the youngest victim had been only ten years old).
There were 96 candles lined up along the steps at the front of the building, and there was a solitary Liverpool FC scarf tied around a lamppost. People were laying flowers in front of the candles and the flags at the hall were at half mast.
The Hillsborough disaster has hung over the head of the entire city for 27 years. Many people in Liverpool know someone who was there on the day and feels the pain of what happened. The city felt joy at the verdict, and a sense of vindication from accusations thrown at the people of Liverpool for so many years for wantonly wallowing in their grief and not accepting the lies of the police as some imagined truth. The day following the verdict, around 30,000 people gathered at St George’s Hall for a memorial.
I hope this photographic essay helps to convey a little the feeling of the day.
If you want to find out more about the Hillsborough disaster and the ensuing near-three-decade fight for truth, the BBC website has a good timeline of events, a more detailed report published following the inquest verdict and a breakdown of the questions the jury had to consider.
The Guardian has a particularly detailed and interesting piece on the mishandling of the situation and the subsequent decades of lies here.