September 14, 2012
British Prime Minister David Cameron has apologized to the English public for a cover-up regarding the Hillsborough soccer disaster in Sheffield which resulted in the deaths of 96 people on April 15, 1989. The soccer fans were crushed to death before an FA Cup semi-final contest between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Documents that were recently released, known as the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report, revealed that medics and police officers were to blame for the tragedy and it wasn’t the fault of the deceased fans. It was the worst sports-related disaster in Britain’s history.
The relatives of the 96 Liverpool supporters who lost their lives have campaigned for 23 years to have the 400,000 pages of documents released to the public and they got their wish on Sept. 12. The documents clarify the cause of the disaster and what mistakes were made by British authorities during the incident. The disaster took place when thousands of fans surged forward and their weight caused the collapse of several barriers. Many people were crushed to death and more than 200 others were injured.
When apologizing, Cameron said that Britain had lived in more than 20 years of shame because of the incident and the cover-up and the truth should have been revealed many years ago. As he spoke in the House of Commons, many members wept. He said that the state failed to protect the fans and there was no excuse to have hidden the truth from their relatives and especially to blame the deceased for their own deaths. He added that he was profoundly sorry for the injustice which had been left for such a long period of time.
Police officers rounded up approximately 2,000 Liverpool supporters before the game and moved them to caged-in areas of the stadium which were already filled with people. Ninety-four fans died at the stadium while two more of them died later, one of them in 1993 due to injuries received in the incident. After the disaster, Britain introduced a new law which stated that all top-tier soccer clubs had to convert their stadiums into all-seaters.
This change resulted in less hooliganism and safer venues for families to watch games in. More women and children then started attending the previously male-dominated soccer games. However, when the stadiums were converted from standing room to seats, the cost of tickets rose and many working-class fans could no longer afford to attend matches. With the nation being able to stamp out hooliganism and violence at soccer games, Britain was then seen as an ideal location to stage international sporting events, such as this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The new documents were released publicly after the government appointed a panel to review the disaster. The panel was led by Liverpool native Bishop James Jones, who said that the documents clearly showed that British authorities failed in their duties that day at the stadium. It was also revealed that a number of injured fans didn’t receive medical treatment which may have saved their lives. Jones claimed the Hillsborough tragedy never should have taken place and authorities should never have tried to deflect the blame from themselves to others.
Dr. Bill Kirkup, who was also a member of the panel and a former British Health Ministry chief medical officer, said that there was evidence that 41 of the deceased may have survived if they had receive the proper medical attention at the time. However, he stated it’s unclear if they all would have been saved if medics had arrived at the stadium quicker. The documents said that unneeded tests were taken on the deceased, even the children, to see what the level of alcohol was in their bloodstreams. The police also conducted background checks on the victims to see if any of them had criminal records as a way to discredit therm.
The report said the problem with overcrowding at Hillsborough Stadium was known by authorities, but was simply ignored. Out of 164 statements given to the police regarding the incident, 116 of them were changed to make sure the South Yorkshire Police weren’t blamed in any way. The South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service changed statements as well. It was reported that ambulance staff and police acted slowly because they thought a riot was going to break out instead of realizing that people needed help.
Some of the most shocking evidence stated that the police officer in charge at the stadium told superiors that the deaths were caused after Liverpool supporters forced their way into the stadium. In addition, Margaret Thatcher, who was the British prime minister at the time, was told that violent behaviour and drunkenness caused the fatal crush.
British authorities have paid some of the victims and their relatives compensation payments, but nobody has ever been charged with criminal activity as a result of the disaster. A lawyer for the victims’ families named James Saunders said that anybody who concealed or tampered with evidence and lied about the case should be brought to justice. In addition, the Sun newspaper, which is a British tabloid, was highly criticized regarding the incident for publicizing and publishing false allegations made by police against Liverpool supporters.
The newspaper inaccurately reported that some fans urinated on several policemen who were trying to help the injured and that other supporters stole items from the deceased. The editor of the newspaper at that time was Kelvin MacKenzie. He said the articles were printed in good faith and apologized that they were wrong. David Crompton, who is currently in charge of the South Yorkshire Police, apologized as well for the way the police force failed in its duties.
One of the deceased was Jon-Paul Gilhooley, who was the cousin of Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool captain. He was just 10 years old when he died and was the youngest of the victims. Gerrard said the survivors of the tragedy and the relatives of the dead and injured have shown a lot of dignity and courage over the past 23 years. Gerrard said they have fought for the truth to be told and that even though the pain and suffering will never go away, he hopes that the report will at least bring some sort of comfort or closure to them.
Prime Minister Cameron said the Attorney General will probably ask the British High Court to soon overturn the original verdict on the disaster. In 1991 it was ruled that the deaths were all accidental, but this means a new hearing will be held regarding the incident. While The Hillsborough disaster was the worst ever in Britain, it certainly hasn’t been the only one over the years. Soccer’s governing body
FIFA reports that approximately 1,500 people lost their lives and 6,000 have been hurt in 60 incidents at sporting events just between the years 1971 and 2012 alone. The English Football Association (FA) also apologized to the public.