On the anniversary of their deaths Anthony McIntyre remembers the 96 Liverpool FC fans whose lives were snatched from them by the bungling incompetence and institutional indifference of the South Yorkshire Police.
The sun shines brightly today in Drogheda. It adds to the atmosphere of the occasion. 31 years ago on a sun soaked day in Sheffield 96 football supporters were unlawfully killed in the Leppings Lane terraces at Hillsborough Stadium by South Yorkshire Police. Today, less than an hour's plane journey across the Irish sea, the city of Liverpool will remember its dead.
On a bright Saturday afternoon the crushing horror was building up in front of police lines which placed a premium on crowd control, not crowd safety. Police eyes trained to spot disorder but not distress were institutionally blind to the rising tsunami of horror being thrust out from lungs that had no more to give. Police ears were tone deaf to the collective death rattle heaved out as final breaths giving up the ghost.
The dead fans were let down by just about everybody in authority and viciously smeared by The Sun. On a sunny day there is one Sun whose toxic rays will not be allowed to fall across Liverpool. The Sun that brought darkness rather than light is as welcome in Liverpool as Covid-19, having been shunned in the city since 1989. The Sun set on Merseyside in April 1989 never to rise again.
A flavour of the contempt the Scousers were held in was captured in a letter sent to the families of the dead seven years after the disaster by the odious Bernard Ingham, press secretary to the equally odious Margaret Thatcher, who at the time of the catastrophe was British Prime Minister.
Thank you for your letter of June 13. I am sorry you are disgusted with the uncomfortable truth about the real cause of the Hillsborough disaster. It is my unhappy experience to find that most reasonable people outside Merseyside recognise the truth of what I say.
All I get from Merseyside is abuse. I wonder why. You are at least right in believing that you will have to put up with my discomforting views. I cherish the hope that as time goes on you will come to recognise the truth of what I say.
After all, who if not the tanked up yobs who turned up late determined to get into the ground caused the disaster? To blame the police, even though they may have made mistakes, is contemptible.
The same "tanked up yobs" morphed into an army of makeshift stretcher bearers and first aiders, racing to the assistance of men, women and children, ferrying them away from the crush, resuscitating many and ultimately saving numerous lives. This was while the police commander on the day was ordering dogs to be sent in not ambulances. The figurative call to "bring out your dead" seemed fit for the occasion: there was no one but the much maligned fans to bring out their own.
The current pandemic has led to a cancellation of what was to be the final Anfield stadium memorial event in honour of the dead fans. The families had decided in the wake of the acquittal of match commander David Duckenfield to hold one last ceremony and then move on; not to put it behind them but to remember and honour their loved ones "in their own way."
As for the police who unlawfully killed them, they too will remembered … but not honoured.
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