On the 15th April 1989 I was nine, and I can remember playing a game with my younger brother Sean. We were in the bedroom of our house in Burscough, messing around on the bunk beds. At some point we wandered downstairs, to get a drink or a ‘Toronto Snack’ – a fruit salad like the ones I used to get at nursery in Canada when Dad was teaching there for a year and Sean was just a baby. In my memory we came into the living room to find him watching the television.
“Something’s happened at the match,” is what I remember him saying. I remember the green of the pitch and the blue of the sky and the people milling around on the grass. People running as they carried others on makeshift stretchers. A line of police. As the afternoon progressed we learned of the deaths. 10, 20, 30… until it got to 95. Mum and Dad never hid the truth of the world from us, and so we knew what had happened but of course, at nine years old, I don’t know if I could really comprehend it. That night and over the next days Dad met many of the survivors as they returned from Sheffield. He knew, we knew, the truth from the beginning, whatever that newspaper wrote. A week after the disaster we went with Mum and Dad to Anfield, to pay our respects and to leave scarves on the pitch in front of the Kop. At 3.06pm we were in Stanley Park and held the line of scarves that linked Liverpool and Everton. It was the start of a bond between the two clubs, between the two sets of fans – between the people of Liverpool – that remains to this day.
96 people went to a football match and never came home. We have long known, but now we have it decided by a jury, that they were unlawfully killed. This was the first injustice of Hillsborough. The shameful cover-up by the police and the other authorities, enabled by the establishment including elements of the press, was the second injustice. That it took 27 years to get to where we are today, in which time many family members died and survivors lived with a guilt they should never have had to take upon themselves, that was the third injustice.
From those first days after the disaster Hillsborough became a part of our lives. Not, of course, in the way that it has been for the families and the survivors of the disaster, but through Dad’s work it has shaped us as a family for the past 27 years. When I think of Dad back in the 1990s, as Sean and I grew up from the children we had been at the time of Hillsborough to the young adults who reflected on the tenth anniversary of the disaster, I see him with a pad of papers on his lap and a pen in his hand. In Burscough on the couch as we waited for Match of the Day. On Anglesey, outside our tents. In the car park of Formby Hockey Club on a Sunday morning, as Sean and I trained and he wrote, and marked and read. I can remember going in to Edge Hill during half term, to help sift through the Stuart Smith Scrutiny. I remember the proofs of Hillsborough: The Truth on our kitchen table.
He needed to do it like this because Hillsborough, and the many other campaigns and injustices he worked on, came on top of his job at Edge Hill. But he was always there for us. When we came home from school. Friday night guitar lessons. Hockey matches across the North West and beyond. Concerts in Liverpool and Manchester. And all the while, in the background, was Hillsborough.
In his work with the families, from the Hillsborough Project via No Last Rights, Hillsborough: The Truth, and later the Hillsborough Independent Panel report and now the inquests, they became our family friends. We didn’t think of them as “the families”, but as people who celebrated birthdays with us, helped me move out of university, and came to visit us in Berlin after both Sean and I made our homes in the German capital. So I think I can speak for Sean when I say that we never questioned Dad’s commitment to the families and to the pursuit of justice for the 96 who died that day. It was what he could do, what he was excellent at doing, and what he had to do…. He shouldn’t have had to, but in all his work Dad has been driven by a desire to challenge authority, fight injustice and speak truth to power.
Sometimes I know that it felt hopeless, especially in the long, fallow years leading up to the 20th anniversary of the disaster in 2009. But if Hillsborough teaches us anything it is that you can fight for a cause that is right and just, fight with dignity and without resorting to the tactics that so often are used against you, and you can win. What the families, the survivors and their supporters have done is remarkable, and I am immensely proud of my Dad’s role in it and the love and support his partner Deena has given to both him and the families during that long journey.
On the 26th April 2016 I was thirty six. Three quarters of my life has passed since that day Sean and I were playing in our room in Burscough. As I tried to follow the inquest verdicts in Berlin Sean called me from London.
“Are you watching?” he asked, but I couldn’t get the stream to work. “Unlawfully killed,” he continued. “It’s what we wanted…”
“What about the fans?” I asked. I got the BBC News stream up and running just as the question flashed up on screen.
“I think its No,” he replied and then the journalist confirmed it.
Unlawfully killed. Fans exonerated. Justice after 27 years.
I put the phone down and sat at my desk. My partner Katrin was at work, my daughter Lotte – who is exactly the same age now as I was in 1989 – was at school. As the reality of the verdicts hit home, as the families emerged into the sunlight to hold hands and sing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ I began to cry. I have done that a lot over the years. Watching the Memorial from Anfield each year, feeling very far away. Watching Dad and the rest of the Panel deliver their findings in the Cathedral. But this felt different. Yes, the journey is not over. Yes, there must be accountability. But this, in the words of Margaret Aspinall, felt like the peak. That we had reached the summit.
I have only ever once written about Hillsborough before, in the aftermath of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report and I described it as a “shadow lifted.” But the biggest shame – and yet another injustice of Hillsborough – was how, during the inquests, the authorities attempted to cast those shadows, of lies and smears, once again.
No chance. The truth is out and justice is coming.
The day after the verdicts I was reading the Liverpool fans website Red and White Kop, where I read a comment about Dad, Hillsborough and the impact it must have had on his life and that of his family. My only response is this: 27 years is too long and the sacrifices for everyone – for the families, the survivors, and for my Dad and Deena – were too large, but what choice was there? You have to keep going. You have to.
I couldn’t be more proud.
Justice for the 96. You’ll Never Walk Alone.