|NEVER FORGOTTEN: The Hillsborough memorial outside Liverpool’s Anfield stadium with the names of the 96 fans who died. AFP Photo
Calling something a ‘cover-up’ is a term that can’t be said lightly, even though it often is. To make such a claim, the burden of proof must be overwhelming.
More often than not, confirmation a particular action has been covered up takes a long time to prove.
That said, I can safely say hand on my heart and with true conviction, the initial investigation into the cause of the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster, when 96 Liverpool supporters were killed watching their team play in the FA Cup semi-final, was a cover-up of gargantuan proportions.
We knew it at the time, and after an independent inquiry found that police officers had doctored statements and lied about their actions putting the blame on drunken football fans, no one was really surprised.
A second inquest into the losses of life also confirmed the appalling acts of those in charge who failed in their duties. Their actions, or rather lack of action, directly led to the deaths of 96 people.
The inquest concluded the supporters were unlawfully killed due to grossly negligent failures by police and ambulance services to fulfil their duty of care. It also found that the design of the stadium contributed to the crush and that supporters were not to blame for the dangerous conditions.
Yet despite this, for years and years, those in power blamed Liverpool fans. They covered up the truth.
The supporters, and relatives of the victims, fought tooth and nail for decades until the truth finally came out. It was a cover-up.
Yet nobody has ever been held responsible.
This week, two former high-ranking officers with South Yorkshire Police, Chief Superintendent Donald Denton, 83, and Detective Chief Inspector Alan Foster, along with former solicitor for the force, Peter Metcalf, 72, appeared in court accused of changing 68 officers’ statements and withholding important evidence that "masked the failings of the police".
But the three men were acquitted of all charges, not because they were innocent, but instead on the basis of a technicality.
The judge ruled that even though he accepted the trio had altered statements, covering up the facts, the changes were made for a public inquiry, and not a court of law, therefore they had not perverted the course of justice and could not be punished.
Once again, the relatives of those who died have been kicked in the teeth. So used to such treatment, they all probably have a dentist on speed-dial.
Each family has in their possession a death certificate confirming their loved ones were ‘Unlawfully killed’. Yet nobody, not a single person, has been brought to justice.
An awful lot has changed in the 30-odd years since the Hillsborough disaster. Football has changed a great deal, it has become safer, far more family orientated, and going to the game is a far more pleasant experience than it was in 1989.
For this to happen 96 people paid the ultimate sacrifice. Of those who died, 78 were aged under the age of 30; 38 were under 20; and all but three of the victims were aged under 50.
If, God forbid, something similar happens in the future, I hope and pray justice will be swift and true. Those who are to blame should be punished. The truth should never, ever be covered up. VNS