Britannian Fields – Justice for the 96

They went to see their team in a Cup semi-final, to watch football and to enjoy the success of a rampaging Liverpool side. Only some of them returned. Krishnendu Sanyal talks about the 1989 Hillsborough disaster


96:You’ll Never Walk Alone

Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” – Bill Shankly


The families of the 96 that lost their lives, on that fateful spring afternoon on April 15, 1989 at Hillsborough, might have a different opinion to the legendary Liverpool manager. And if, Bill Shankly lived long enough to witness the tragedy, he might have had changed his opinion on football.

Liverpool supporters on that day, went to Sheffield to support their team in a Cup semi-final and 96 of them never returned alive. Is Football more important than Life and Death?

But, the real tragedy was how the British authorities tried to wash their hands of the tragedy and blame it solely on those fans who were not alive to defend themselves. For 23 years. The families of those 96 were waiting for a closure. 23 years of lies and cover-ups of gigantic proportions. Finally, A Hillsborough Independent Panel, chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones had unrestricted access to more than 4500 documents over three years, revealed the depth of police cover-up in the days after the tragedy.

It confirmed Lord Justice Taylors key finding in August 1989 -the main reason behind the tragedy was a ‘failure in police control’.

What Went Wrong?

The Hillsborough tragedy was a result of multiple failures of various authorities, who didn’t do the right thing at the right time and shied away from responsibility.

The safety of the crowd, who were admitted to the Leppings Lane Terrace, was seriously compromised and there was evidence of the failings in the previous Cup semi-finals held in the stadium.

Before the 1981 Cup semi-final match between Tottenham Hotspur and Wolves, there was a near-fatal crush in the same terrace and fans narrowly escaped with injuries. In aftermath of that incident, there was a total break-down in the relationship between Sheffield Wednesday and the South Yorkshire Police (SYP). The club refused to accept their responsibilities and blamed the police for the incident. It was crystal clear that the ground didn’t fulfil the minimum safety requirements to stage matches of high stakes. Wednesday’s primary concern was to cut costs and the safety proposal was ignored. There was a delayed start at the 1987 FA Cup semi-final and crushing at the 1988 semi-final.

The Independent Panel found that the briefings held by senior police officials were more focused on potential crowd disorder, alcohol consumption and ticketless fans. It was pretty clear that the police were more focused on crowd control than crowd safety. It was also a bewildering decision to replace Chief Superintendent Brian Mole, who had experience in Hillsborough with the inexperienced David Duckenfield, as the match commander. Add to that shoddy decision making, malfunctioning radio system and design of the police control room – it was a recipe of disaster.

The rescue and recovery operations were hampered due to lack of leadership. Police officers, particularly the senior ones, interpreted the crowd unrest as a potential disorder and took decision with that point of view, without realising people were being crushed and killed.

Medical teams arrived but they were too late and opportunities to exercise control were missed for almost an hour. A better equipped response could have saved lives.

Some of those who died did so after a significant period of unconsciousness and they could have been rescued.

The 3:15 p.m. cut-off was one of the most controversial decisions that the coroner took. His rationale that most of them were dead or suffered irreversible injuries before that time was quashed by pathologists. It was the recorded time when the first ambulance arrived on the pitch.

The coroner’s decision (first disclosed in the Independent Panel report) to take blood samples from all of the deceased, even from children, for alcohol consumption was distasteful. The police action of running the names of the deceased in their records to pour scorn on the dead deserves contempt.

The statements of SYP officers, initially handwritten as recollections, were subject to review and alteration by SYP solicitors and officers. The practice extended to the ambulance service. Officers were discouraged from making criticisms of senior officers, their management or deficiencies. 116 out of 164 statements were amended to remove or alter comments unfavourable to SYP.

The cover-up and the lies that were told to cover-up the incompetent action of the authorities is despicable. Nobody deserves to die in such a horrific way. They were football fans, who wanted to enjoy a Cup semi-final and they never returned. On that day Football and Humanitywere the losers.

The Time is Ripe to Stop

For years, for decades, we have all stood as silent spectators to football’s politics of hate.

-Munich Songs.

-Heysel Songs.

-Hillsborough Songs.

-Chants suggesting Arsene Wenger to be a pedophile.

-Hisses to replicate gas chambers.

-Suggestions that Emmanuel Adebayor should have been one of the victims of the Togo bus attack, not a survivor.

It cannot be termed as freedom of expression. It just shows how moral values have degraded and how people don’t think twice to mock the dead.

What makes it worse, far worse, is the justification.

It’s their fault; they started it” is nothing more than the intelligence of the playground, seeking some ridiculous excuse for the inexcusable.

For too long, the authorities have been silent on this. There are better ways to create a stadium environment than mocking the dead or wishing somebody was dead. It’s time the authorities and fans come to their senses. I know, it’s a small minority of drunk idiots who create the nuisance but it should be clamped down with harsh measures.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”    – Edmund Burke