“We’d been killing football fans for a century, the bodies stacking up every decade,”
These are the telling words from Professor Rogan Taylor about the sad state of British Football stadia prior to Hillsborough. Pre 1989 football stadia in Britain were rackety old grounds with “charm and character”. Football fans over the age of 40 grew up going to football in surroundings that had altered little since the start of the 20th century. For most grounds, this charm & character consisted of mounds of ash from the neighbouring train depot/station with railway sleepers wedged in to tier the hill. They were not safe! Seated areas for the Hoi Polloi were principally wooden stands with wooden seats. In an era of public smoking, Bradford showed they were a bonfire waiting to be lit. There had been football disasters before at grounds, most notable in Scotland was the Ibrox disaster which led Rangers to make changes to their infrastructure. Unfortunately the game as a whole did not take on board those lessons and it took the 96 deaths at Hillsborough and the Bradford fire for the foresight at Ibrox to be enforced upon the game across the country.
Not all the causes of Hillsborough were infrastructure issues with the actions of individuals contributing to unlawful deaths and whilst the positive of Hillsborough was the realisation that football fans required the same safety considerations as people at other leisure events sadly it took nearly 30 years for the people who contributed and their cover up to be acknowledged.
Finally today the CPS in England has confirmed that the victims and relatives of that horrific event will get their day in court. Sue Hemming, Head of the CPS Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division, made the announcement to families of the deceased at a private meeting in Warrington this morning.
She said: “Following our careful review of the evidence, in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors, I have decided that there is sufficient evidence to charge six individuals with criminal offences.
“Criminal proceedings have now commenced and the defendants have a right to a fair trial. It is extremely important that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings.”
Charges have been authorised against:
- David Duckenfield, who was the Match Commander for South Yorkshire Police on the day of the disaster
- Graham Henry Mackrell, who was Sheffield Wednesday Football Club’s company secretary and safety officer at the time of the disaster in 1989
- Peter Metcalf, the solicitor acting for the South Yorkshire Police during the Taylor Inquiry and the first inquests
- Former Chief Superintendent Donald Denton of South Yorkshire Police
- Former Detective Chief Inspector Alan Foster of South Yorkshire Police
- Norman Bettison, a former officer with South Yorkshire Police and subsequently Chief Constable of Merseyside and West Yorkshire Police
These matters are going to court and we shall see how this transpires but those of us of a certain age will never forget watching the events of that day as they unfolded live on TV. We had all been at big games, travelling down the stairs at the Celtic End of Hampden without our feet touching the ground or arriving 30 yards from our standing point on the terrace after a goal at a big game. We all watched Hillsborough and realised “there but for the grace of God…”
The other lesson from Hillsborough is that infrastructure must always evolve and upgrade. Never again can fans go in grounds untouched for decades because they’re “good enough” and never again must the state allow victims to feel like the guilty.
Let’s hope that finally justice is served.