Hillsborough: How does it feel to fight for 27 years? – BBC News

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Donna Miller, with a picture of her brother, Paul Carlile, who was 19 when he died at Hillsborough

For years the families of victims of the Hillsborough stadium disaster have been searching for justice, looking to uncover a conspiracy to conceal the truth. Now new inquests have concluded the 96 victims were unlawfully killed.

Tapping phones. Doctoring evidence. Intimidating witnesses.

Not the sort of thing you expect of the authorities in modern-day Britain. But ask the families of those who died at Hillsborough, and they’ll tell you that’s exactly what has happened.

For years they weren’t believed. Even treated as paranoid.

There have been inquiries, investigations and inquests, but for more than a quarter of a century the families have fought to separate truth from myth.

The disaster

Andrew Brookes and Henry Burke never met. One was a car worker from Bromsgrove, the other a roofing contractor from Liverpool. Andrew was 26 and single; Henry was 47, and a father of three.

Both men had a passion for Liverpool Football Club. From the Midlands and from Merseyside, they each followed their team to Sheffield, to watch the Reds play Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup semi-final. And so it was that, on 15 April 1989, they came to be standing yards away from each other inside Pen Three on the Leppings Lane terrace at the Hillsborough ground.

Media captionHow a crush at a FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest developed, leading to the deaths of 96 football fans.

It was a glorious day. The prize for the winning team – a trip to Wembley for the FA Cup Final.

It was the third consecutive time that the Football Association had chosen Hillsborough to stage a semi-final. The year before, the same two teams had played each other there at the same stage of the competition.

Andrew Brookes and Henry Burke made the journey to Sheffield with 24,000 other Liverpool supporters from all over the country.

The problems began outside the ground, as the numbers waiting to get in built up. The Liverpool fans had access to fewer than half the number of turnstiles that the Forest supporters did.

With the crowd pressure at the Leppings Lane entrance growing, the officer in charge of that area radioed for the wide exit gates to be opened. At 14:52 the match commander, Ch Supt David Duckenfield, gave the order for that to happen. More than 2,000 Liverpool supporters flooded through exit gate “C” in five minutes.

They headed down the central tunnel which led to the standing terraces that were divided into fenced pens. The two pens directly behind the goal were already full. The crush which developed quickly became fatal. Neither Andrew Brookes nor Henry Burke would escape.

crush in stand

When Andrew died, his sister Louise was 17. Henry’s daughter Christine was 23. The women would never have met, but for their common bereavement. Now they consider themselves “Hillsborough sisters”.

Louise Brookes says that after 27 years the women are “like family but without the genes”. She has also become close to Donna Miller, who lost her 19-year-old brother Paul Carlile, a plasterer from Kirkby on Merseyside.

“The bonds we’ve formed are unique,” says Louise. “We do laugh and wonder ‘what would our loved ones think?'”

She adds that together they’ve had to “fight tooth and nail” for their relatives.

Fan lays tribute on gate - his shirt says "never ever forget - 96"Image copyright
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There were 89 men and boys who were killed in the crush at Hillsborough. Seven women, aged between 15 and 38, died alongside them. The 96 were of all ages and backgrounds.

Rose Robinson, whose 17-year-old son Steven died in the crush, has described the Hillsborough families as “a club that you’re in but you don’t want to belong to”.

That club began to form just weeks after the disaster. Travelling to and from Lord Justice Taylor’s public inquiry, some families decided that they should organise themselves formally, and thus in May 1989 the Hillsborough Family Support Group was born.

Who were the 96 victims?

The 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster

Read profiles of all those who died in the disaster

How the disaster unfolded

What the police chief knew

Five key mistakes

Families and players react to conclusions

Margaret Aspinall, mother of 18-year-old James, was one of the founding members and is the group’s current chairwoman.

“I remember saying, ‘I don’t want to meet any families. They’re not going to feel the way I feel. They can’t have loved theirs like I loved mine’.

“But I got encouraged to go. And when I went along, I saw the pain, the grief, and the heartache, people still crying… I wasn’t the only one. We were going to have a fight on our hands here. Especially after that headline.”

Margaret AspinallImage copyright
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Margaret Aspinall, chairwoman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group

Spin, lies and headlines

The families were in the early stages of grief, still coming to terms with their loss. But it became mixed with anger almost immediately, borne out of the suspicion that their loved ones were being set up to take the blame for their own deaths.

The headline Margaret Aspinall refers to was splashed across the top of Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper, the Sun. Four days after the disaster, it printed an article under a banner reading “The Truth”. It falsely accused Liverpool fans of attacking police and robbing the dead.

Headline of The Sun, 19 April 1989: "Truth" showing false claims about the Hillsborough victims

Margaret recalls the immediate effect it had. “Somebody showed me the headlines of this newspaper and I thought ‘oh my God they’re going to blame [those who died] and the fans. We’ve got to do something about it. We can’t allow this to happen.”

Jenni Hicks and her then husband Trevor were also founder members of the group. They’d travelled to the match with their two teenage daughters Sarah and Victoria, who both died.

Jenni says: “You have to remember how football fans were looked at in the 70s and 80s. They had a terribly bad reputation then, so really the fans who died at Hillsborough, and the supporters, were prime targets.”

That was a concern of Peter Joynes, whose son Nicholas died, aged 27. He remembers the families meeting Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

“I was introduced to Mrs Thatcher, and she said: ‘Do you have anything to say?’ I said: ‘It seems there will be a cover-up.’ She said in her drawl: ‘Mr Joynes, I can assure you there will be no cover-up’, and I’m here years on still thinking there was a cover-up that day.”

Barry Devonside was at the match at Hillsborough with his 18-year-old son Christopher. They had chosen to watch the game from different parts of the ground.

Barry was sitting in the North Stand, but Christopher was behind the goal at the Leppings Lane end.

Barry Devonside, whose son Christopher Devonside died at Hillsborough, on March 18, 2015Image copyright
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Barry Devonside: “I said: ‘I know what the score is, Liverpool are going to take the blame for this. The Liverpool supporters.'”

After the crush, Barry spent all afternoon searching frantically for him. It wasn’t until late that night that he was taken to the club gymnasium, which had been set up as a temporary mortuary by the overwhelmed emergency services.

Christopher was brought out in a body bag for his father to identify. Barry remembers that he was then interviewed by two police officers. “They asked me: ‘How did you travel here today? Did you stop on the way? Did you have a drink?’ I asked: ‘What’s that got to do with identification?’ I didn’t believe what they were saying. I said: ‘I know what the score is. Liverpool are going to take the blame for this. The Liverpool supporters.'”

It’s been argued that the rush to blame the fans began hours earlier, when the match commander David Duckenfield lied to the FA within minutes of the crush. Although it was on his orders that the exit gate had been opened, he said it was the supporters who’d forced their way in.

David Duckenfield in 1989Image copyright

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Ch Supt David Duckenfield gave the order for fans to be allowed through the Leppings Lane entrance at Hillsborough

The lie went around the world. It was repeated live on the BBC’s Grandstand programme, then on TV news bulletins and it prompted some newspapers to fill their pages with claims of fan misbehaviour.

Hillsborough: How does it feel to fight for 27 years? – BBC News