THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Inquest jury decide that 96 people unlawfully killed and not caused by fan behaviour

A look through the WSC archives at how the disaster has been covered

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26 April ~ The jury at the Hillsborough disaster inquests have returned a verdict that the 96 people who died were unlawfully killed and no supporter behaviour caused or contributed to the disaster. After more than two years of the inquests, the longest case heard by a jury in British legal history, the fallout from the verdicts will be wide-ranging and take a long time to become completely clear. You can find up-to-date news reports from the Guardian here and Liverpool Echo here. It is the culmination of years of a long campaign for justice by the families of the 96 supporters who died on April 15, 1989.

Since that day in 1989 WSC has covered many different aspects of the disaster, from the effects it had on Liverpool and football in general, to personal recollections of the day, via the various aspects of media coverage, legal proceedings and policing of supporters. A lot of our coverage – from the issue in immediate aftermath, the tenth and 20th anniversaries and November 2012, when the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report was released to the public – is now free to access via our complete online archive.

The post-Hillsborough editorial, from May 1989, said: “There is very little common sense applied to football. In no other area of life is the victim treated with as much disrespect as the perpetrator, nor the majority held to be guilty of the crimes perpetrated by a minority. But, ultimately, what happens to us doesn't matter. It is our own fault for being football fans. That is why MPs always ignored pleas from supporters' organisations seeking to prevent the sort of disaster that has become a reality. Whatever they may say, few politicians gave any indication that they cared about football fans before Hillsborough happened. Suddenly everyone knows the answer. A fortnight ago, they didn't even hear the question.”

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In that same issue John Duncan picked apart the mainstream media coverage of the disaster. He suggested that “all they [the media] succeed in doing is vulgarising the tragedy that they decry. Worse still, they set the agenda for what happens beyond the disaster itself, leaving others to sort out the mess of ideas and crackpot notions they spew out and leave behind.” Tom Bucke, meanwhile, presented his account of the day: “An entrance is packed with people. Groups of supporters are wandering around, confused 'Is this the entrance to the West Stand?' There doesn’t appear to be any clear indication of what part of the stadium these turnstiles serve.”

Ten years later, in May 1999, John Williams assessed the issues that arose from that day. “If the disaster itself was avoidable and tragic, the treatment of the families later by the police was little short of inhumane and repellent,” he wrote before going on: “Personal and professional damage limitation – the attempted cover up – soon swung into action.” 

In that same issue Roger Titford examined how football had changed over the decade since Hillsborough. “It's OK to talk football now. Gates are up over 20 per cent and hooliganism has been driven back. But in its place, or indeed alongside it, there is emerging a spiteful, name-calling culture, fuelled by the radio call-in, the club fanzine and the Internet noticeboards. Every club has to have another it calls ‘scum’.” Next to this, Sheffield Wednesday fan Graham Lightfoot bemoaned his club’s response to the tragedy: “Of course no Wednesdayite ever had to go through the anguish suffered by so many Liverpool fans because of that day but there is still an uneasy feeling of guilt by association.”

Another ten years on and John Williams looked at how the disaster had come to shape the identity of Liverpool FC: “No Liverpool match anywhere takes place without the ritual distribution of yellow “Justice” stickers and without copious references – in fanzines, flags, websites, on the club crest – to the missing 96. They have become embedded into the very identity of the club and its new generation of supporters.”

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By November 2012 the Hillsborough Independent Panel had returned their report into the tragedy, and Rob Hughes debated whether they would now get the justice they deserved: “We need accountability for the 96, we’ve got to demand that these verdicts are overturned.” 

At the same time Roger Titford looked at the arguments around safe standing, while Tom Hocking pointed out how the disaster had affected Sheffield Wednesday fans attending Hillsborough regularly: “Sheffield Wednesday supporters have always been able to point to their stadium as a symbol of what the club can achieve,” he wrote, before going on: “They deserve to know who was responsible for the hosting of matches for a decade without a safety certificate.” Ian Preece was a Nottingham Forest supporter at the other end of the ground on the day, looking on as the disaster unfolded. “Within minutes, seconds, the Forest fans realise that something is not quite right – no one is actually fighting; a few blokes seem to be walking around, dazed.”

Photo by Paul Thompson/WSC Photography: The Hillsborough disaster memorial, outside Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield

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