April 15th 1989: Hillsborough Disaster

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Liverpool fans lifted to safety by their peers in the stalls to avoid the human crush

 

On this day in 1989, 25 years ago today, the Hillsborough disaster occurred in Sheffield, United Kingdom. A human crush during an FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium led to the deaths of 96 people. The victims were mostly Liverpool fans, as the two sides were allocated separate sections of the stadium. The Liverpool area was overcrowded, with the police letting in more spectators than the stadium could contain and making exits into additional entries. The game only lasted six minutes, as the mass of people broke the crush barrier.

 

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Memorial to the victims at Hillsborough Stadium

 

The incident proved very controversial at the time and still today. The authorities initially tried to cover up the police negligence and blamed the fans for the disaster, claiming they were mostly violent drunkards who rushed the field. Stories swirled accusing the spectators of attacking police officers and each other. However, subsequent investigations revealed the level of police culpability. These concluded that: the fans were not responsible for the disaster; the authorities did try to cover-up what happened; many of the deaths could have been avoided if they had received prompt medical treatment (only 14 of the victims went to hospital); and the findings have led to the abolition of standing spaces in British football stadiums.

 

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Liverpool fans’ banner displaying the names of the 96 victims on the 20th anniversary in 2009

 

On the 25 year anniversary, we mourn one of the worst stadium disasters in history and the tragically avoidable deaths of the 96. I am not a Sheffield native, but I attend university in this great city and live there. Hillsborough is truly a disaster which still affects the regional and national consciousness. This is mostly due to the outrage many feel at how the victims and their families were betrayed by the authorities; their deaths could have been avoided if the authorities present had done their jobs better. I had the privilege of being in the House of Commons last year when David Cameron reported on the findings of the latest Hillsborough inquest which confirmed a cover-up had taken place. I was there because a family friend had got us tickets to Prime Minister’s Questions – a great experience in itself – but when it came to the usually quiet section for ‘any other business’ of the PM, he delivered his speech on the disaster. Cameron referred to the ‘double injustice’ suffered by the victims and their families and it was particularly moving to see our Prime Minister (and the leader of the opposition) finally confirming the cover-up. These reports do nothing to console the victims’ families, but they do provide some solace as it seems that we are closer to justice for the 96.

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