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Remembering Britain’s Tragic Hillsborough Disaster, 25 Years On
April 15, 2014
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Today's memorial service for the 96 people killed in 1989's Hillsborough Disaster (Photo: AP Photo/PA, Martin Rickett)

On April 15, 1989, 96 Liverpool fans were killed and 766 were injured in a terrible crush at Sheffield's Hillsborough Stadium during an FA Cup semi-final match between the Liverpool and Nottingham Forest soccer teams. To this day, it remains one of the worst sports-related disasters of all time.

But the Hillsborough disaster wasn't just a tragedy for the people of Liverpool who lost their family and friends. It also became one of the country's most contentious battles for justice, with allegations of police corruption and complicity on the part of the media.

Indeed, fresh inquests into the deaths of the 96 are currently being held in England, alongside separate inquiries into allegations of police misconduct connected to the tragedy.

In the immediate wake of the disaster, the South Yorkshire Police sought to put the blame on the fans. An infamous cover story published four days after the tragedy in The Sun, the leading daily tabloid, carried this incendiary headline: "THE TRUTH: Some fans picked pockets of victims; Some fans urinated on the brave cops; Some fans beat up PC giving kiss of life." In 2012, The Sun issued a front-page headline apologizing for what it called 'false reports' about the Hillsborough disaster.

Here are the two front pages, side-by-side:

In 1990, the official government inquiry into the case, the Taylor Report, concluded that "the main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control." The next year, an inquest ruled that the deaths were accidental. But in 2012, a British government inquiry into the role of the police in the disaster found that the South Yorkshire Police had actually altered 164 documents in the course of their investigation, and in the majority of cases, they "were amended to remove or alter comments unfavourable to SYP." It also found that the police had attempted to "impugn the reputations of the deceased by carrying out Police National Computer checks on those with a non-zero alcohol level."

That finding led to the original accidental death rulings being overturned, and the new inquests that are going on now.

Today, a memorial service was held to mark the 25th anniversary of the tragedy. Thousands gathered at Anfield, the Liverpool home stadium, where 96 seats were left empty for those who lost their lives. The number "96" was also spelled out on the pitch with scarves from every professional club in England.

The tragedy has spawned memorials in books, films, articles and songs. Among the most famous is Hillsborough, a docudrama starring Christopher Eccleston as Trevor Hicks, who lost both his daughters in the disaster and went on to campaign for safer building and crowd control standards for soccer stadiums. Here's a scene from the film (warning: strong language).

The disaster also figured heavily in an episode of the British series Cracker, which starred Robert Carlyle as an unstuck Liverpool supporter who becomes a killer intent on avenging the 96.

One of the most comprehensive overviews of what happened that day is Hillsborough — The Truth by Phil Scraton.

The tragedy continues to resonate today. In 2012, a version of the classic Kelly Gordon ballad "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" was recorded by a group of musicians calling themselves The Justice Collective, including Melanie C, Robbie Williams, Paul McCartney, Shane MacGowan and many more. Profits from the sale of that record, which went to number one on the UK charts at Christmas time, were given to various Hillsborough-related charities.

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary, former Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar recalled to the Independent what it was like seeing the crowd getting crushed in the stadium's overcrowded enclosures.

“It haunts me,” he told the paper. “It all happened right behind my goal. I can see those images today, if I think about it. They will never leave. It doesn't get removed from your mind. I will never forget.”


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