Thousands of people’s lives were torn apart 20 years ago this week when 96 Liverpool football fans were crushed to death at the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield.
The tragedy was caused by the police – who then lied about their role and slandered the dead fans. Britain’s then Tory government and much of the press helped the police in their attempts to cover up what had happened.
Anne Williams’ son Kevin was 15 when he died at Hillsborough. She spoke to Socialist Worker about how she has spent the last two decades fighting for justice.
“The system has got a lot to answer for,” said Anne. “It has destroyed the lives of families of those who died at Hillsborough and those who survived.
“The loss of a child is the worst thing that can happen to a parent. Twenty years is a long time. But we’ve not had peace – and we need that to be able to mourn for Kevin.”
The Hillsborough disaster flowed from attempts by the press and politicians to brand all football fans as “hooligans”.
The police even tried to blame the Liverpool fans who had turned up to watch their team play Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup semi-final.
Liverpool fans were allocated the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough for the game.
But as the crowd began to build up outside the ground, it soon became clear that there weren’t enough turnstiles to cope. Fans were trapped in a bottleneck and became increasingly distressed.
Police chief superintendent David Duckenfield was in overall command that day. He eventually ordered an exit gate, Gate C, to be opened – but he later lied about this, telling Football Association officials that fans had forced it open themselves.
Thousands of Liverpool fans streamed into two pens directly opposite the tunnel from which they had emerged.
These pens were already packed, but there were no stewards or police on hand to direct the fans towards the side pens.
Soon the fans were being crushed up against the huge fences that separated the crowd from the pitch. The authorities had installed these cages in grounds across the country in order to curb “hooliganism”.
People were dead and dying. Those who were still conscious tried to break down the fencing, while others climbed the fence to get out.
The police were watching this. But they did not see ordinary people trying to escape a deadly crush – they saw a pitch invasion. They decided that the fans were an unruly mob and acted accordingly.
Some police attempted to push the fans back in. Others stood by and did nothing to help. It was down to the fans themselves to help the injured and dying. They tore down advertising boards to act as makeshift stretchers to carry victims to the other end of the pitch.
Despite this, Liverpool fans were subjected to vile attacks after the disaster. The most notorious lies came from the Sun newspaper.
Its front page the Wednesday after the disaster read, “Some fans picked pockets of victims. Some fans urinated on the brave cops. Some fans beat up PC giving kiss of life.”
Then the state cover-up began. The West Midlands Police investigated the role of the South Yorkshire Police in the disaster. But the documentation for this inquiry lay gathering dust for years at the headquarters of the South Yorkshire Police.
Police officers’ statements were later found to be altered. But they still formed the basis of the internal police inquiry, the inquest that returned verdicts of “accidental death” on the fans, and the official public inquiry into the disaster led by Lord Justice Taylor.
No police officer has ever been disciplined as a result of the Hillsborough disaster. Duckenfield retired on a full pension on medical grounds.
The families of the dead and the survivors do not believe they have been told the truth by the authorities, nor do they think they have had any justice.
Anne told Socialist Worker, “The coroner said the cut-off time for any investigation would be 3.15pm, because people would have been dead from their injuries by that time. But I have witnesses who told me that Kevin was alive after that time.
“Seven people touched him after 3.15pm. I have been told that he called for me at 4pm. All his signs of life have been suppressed as they didn’t fit in with the official story. We don’t even know how our son died.
“There has been a cover-up. Two police forces have been disgraced. I wanted to find out what happened to my son, not to fight the system – but that’s what I’ve had to do.
“I was speaking to a Hillsborough survivor the other night for two and a half hours. He’s still distraught and angry at the brick wall that is the system.
“My husband refused to shake Margaret Thatcher’s hand at a memorial service she attended. He just turned away, he was so angry. Thatcher couldn’t care less about us – her attendance was just for show.
“I was only a housewife before all this. I wish I was still naive. It frightens me what they can do. I’m now putting together my evidence to the attorney general to demand what’s known as a memorial into Kevin’s death. We’ll never go away.”