Wheels towards justice begin turning

Posted by Kristian Walsh

Liverpool Hillsborough Truth banner GettyImagesThe truth has come out about Hillsborough, but the fight for justice continues

After the families and survivors of the Hillsborough disaster waited 23 years for the world to discover what they always knew, perhaps the speed of the latest developments will surprise them. But once the wheels of justice begin turning, it's hard to stop them.

IPCC to investigate Hillsborough officers
Mindless few won't shift focus
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Just over four weeks ago, the full horror and undeniable truth about the Hillsborough disaster was released into the public domain. It had, of course, been there since the release of the Taylor Report in 1990 - but this time, as the gross negligence and subsequent repugnant cover-up was laid bare fully, pride was swallowed, ears were pricked. Now they listened. The families were right all along.

With the truth revealed, it was time for justice - that was the discourse, repeated by families, survivors and supporters. For years, people asked Liverpool fans what was the justice they sought, what constituted the justice they sang for across the country. Some could not answer; others would give answers of differing directions: newspapers, police forces, emergency services. Without questions answered by the authorities, they couldn't give answers of their own.

Friday's announcements, by the IPCC police watchdog and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Kier Starmer, now gives a uniformed response. The IPCC will investigate allegations of misconduct by South Yorkshire Police, West Midlands Police and others; the DPP will review all the evidence in the independent report to decide whether new charges of manslaughter can be brought.

This is what justice looks like. Not even Norman Bettison - a knight of the realm in nothing but name - will avoid investigation, despite his conspicuous attempt to avoid scrutiny by announcing his retirement, scheduled for March.

Bettison has been referred to the IPCC twice in the past month: firstly for the allegations that he gave misleading, scurrilous information about the fans' behaviour, secondly for an alleged attempt last month to influence West Yorkshire Police's decision-making process in relation to the Hillsborough allegations.

But Bettison is just one of hundreds that could be punished for their behaviour on April 15 1989, and the subsequent 23 years of covering up their inadequacies. The temptation to focus on just a few figures in the limelight is sometimes too tough to resist. Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie has taken the deserving brunt of Merseyside's hate for 23 years for his vile headline 'THE TRUTH' - but few asked where his information came from, and who was complicit in telling him those lies. Likewise, Bettison and David Duckenfield have the rightful scrutiny of most, but out of focus will be far more to see.

The work of the IPCC and DPP will hopefully leave no stone unturned; no question unanswered; no act of negligence or collusion unpunished. That the DPP is looking at potential manslaughter shows how avoidable the disaster was. That the IPCC have launched an investigation said to be the largest in its history, looking at alleged incidents of police officers perverting the course of justice, shows the gravity of what happened in Sheffield 23 years ago, and the efforts to hide that from those who should have known all along.

The Hillsborough Independent Report makes it clear that justice was not just denied legalistically, but morally as well. Not only have laws been broken, but hearts too. Thankfully, the willpower of those wronged never broke. The truth would not have taken 23 years to emerge if nobody lied; this long road to justice would have finished far sooner if those in culpable acted with dignity and decency. But at least the end of the road is in sight, ever so slightly.

The investigations from the IPCC and DPP will begin to answer some of the questions raised in the report: why the emergency services failed to declare a major incident, with 41 of the 96 deceased still potentially alive after the 3.15pm cut-off time; a full list of those at blame for the failure to close the tunnels as the authorities had done in 1981, 1987 and 1988, and why the statements saying that were altered. Indeed, who were the scribes of the 164 altered statements, and whose decision was it to remove criticism of police in 116 of them; and who, behind that evil vacuum of Kelvin MacKenzie, turned his cogs and supplied him the poisonous ink to smear Liverpool supporters, of which they are now only washing off.

Unfortunately, the most pertinent question of all will always go unanswered: how do these people responsible for the deaths of 96 innocent people, and actively covering it up for 23 years, sleep at night?

There is still work to be done, of course; the IPPC and DPP must act responsibly and examine the evidence properly. The attorney general is yet to apply to the high court to level the existing verdict of accidental and order a new inquest, and surely must do so - it is something which would bring Anne Williams, who lost her 15-year-old son Kevin in the disaster, a step closer to her own personal justice.

This is who this day is for: for Anne Williams, for the families of the other 95, for those who survived and those who have supported the cause throughout. Their unrelenting endeavour and hard work to find truth and justice has not been in vain. The release of the findings in September was the start of a new journey for them. They fought 23 years to reach this path to justice and never surrendered; they will not stop now those wheels are moving towards their destination.

That, as much as any independent watchdog or potential manslaughter charge, should worry those who are culpable for the tragedy.

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