Hillsborough truth might bring justice, but never closure
"Hillsborough is a tragedy without a final chapter". Photo: Getty Images
Wednesday was a hugely significant day for the families of those 96 Liverpool fans who set off one sun-strewn morning in 1989 for a football match and never returned.
The families' long, dignified and relentlessly resilient campaign was vindicated. The police did tamper with statements. They did orchestrate a cover-up of unbelievable size and criminality.
The Liverpool supporters were exonerated. They were not drunk. They were not ticketless. The truth was found. But closure? There can't be.
Hillsborough is a tragedy without a final chapter. So let's not talk blithely of closure for the families, for the club, for the city of Liverpool over what happened on April 15, 1989, when the 96 died in a crush in a grandstand at Hillsborough Stadium, in Sheffield, during an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest after police opened a large exit gate to relieve overcrowding among Liverpool fans trying to enter the stadium.
The pain and anger will always be there with the relatives, sometimes screaming within them, sometimes kept at bay for a day.
The parents will never see their children grow up, go to university, have families of their own, How can there be closure when a mother keeps a child's room untouched for 23 years as a shrine?
Closure is unattainable because of the succession of horrors wrought on these families. They will never forget those grim hours in that makeshift mortuary in the gym at Hillsborough or the despair-filled visits to the hospital in Sheffield. When Trevor and Jenni Hicks tried to see the body of their daughter Vicki, a police officer refused, saying: "She's nothing to do with you any more." Their child.
The police treated the parents as cattle just as the police, in conjunction with the footballing authorities, had herded their children onto the Leppings Lane End, caging them in with such fatal consequences.
Police questioning of grieving relatives, sitting metres from where loved ones lay in body-bags, was an exercise in pitilessness and one of the many reasons why there can never be closure.
Consumed with sorrow at the loss of their two daughters, Trevor and Jenni Hicks were basically interrogated by the police. No sympathy. No sensitivity. Just question after brutal question. Had the girls been drinking? Did they have tickets?
When Jenni Hicks asked to go to the toilet, a policewoman insisted on accompanying her, even demanding the cubicle door remained open. Once the Hicks' statement was finished, they were allowed to leave with their daughters' belongings in a white bin-liner.
Closure is unrealistic when the Hillsborough Independent Panel unearthed even greater collusion by the police than suspected. The panel, which released its report on Wednesday, concluded no Liverpool fans were responsible for the disaster; the main cause was a ''lack of police control''.
The disclosure that up to half of the 96 fans could have survived if they had been given proper and prompter medical attention, makes the contemptuous stance of the authorities even harder to bear.
Those parents know that their sons and daughters might have lived. The feeling of bleakness intensifies.
So the families now have the truth. So now the state that so badly let them down must give them justice. A new - truthful - inquest must be ordered by the High Court.
The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, spoke well on Wednesday but proper, significant deeds must follow his fine words. The Attorney-General must take this on. So must the courts.
The families deserve to have their stories heard in court, to have those whose failures led to their children's deaths be called to account. Those who spread smears must be arraigned. Justice will bring undeniable succour to the families if never, ever closure.
They deserve to know who tested the blood levels of a 10-year-old for alcohol. In the 1990 report of his inquiry into the disaster, Lord Chief Justice Taylor made a mockery of the police claims that Liverpool fans had been drinking by contacting off-licences next to Hillsborough.
None reported excessive off-sales. Yet the slur remained until Wednesday when Cameron declared Liverpool fans were not responsible for Hillsborough. Blame lies with an inadequate stadium, unresponsive and repugnant police officers and the culture of treating football fans with disdain and disregard.
On Wednesday, barring the odd gangs of dementors who fly around the social-media airwaves, there was rare unity among football supporters. Just as at the time, the first of his counterparts on the phone to Liverpool's manager, Kenny Dalglish, was Alex Ferguson, offering to send a supporters' delegation from Old Trafford to show solidarity with their rivals in their darkest hour.
Fans understood then, just as they do now. It could have been them.
So everyone who cares about the match-day experience should hope that a new inquest takes place, that the families keep campaigning for state accountability.
Stadiums are far safer now, and mobile phones and Twitter would give far more advance warning of unfolding tragedies, but the authorities must always be reminded that fans are human beings, not the faceless, useful only for fleecing.
So the families' campaign continues. Justice will come their way. Sadly, closure never will. They had to bury their children. Nobody ever recovers from that emotional trauma.
Henry Winter is the football writer for The Daily Telegraph in London, in which this article was first published.