The unfettered glee around Merseyside, which greeted the news of Margaret Thatcher's death yesterday, at the age of 87, created an awkward ambivalence in many. As a man soon to embark on the fifth decade of his life, my recollection of the grim reality of Thatcher's time in power is all too clear. I came to despise, in particular, the way in which her attitudes and policies marginalised a people and a city I have come to love.
However, I was not at Hillsborough on the fifteenth of April, 1989. I did not lose a loved one as a result of the arrogant incompetence of the police. As an Irishman, I was fortunate not to have had to endure, first-hand, the wilful Tory negligence and bile towards the city of Liverpool. I didn't grow up in a family, condemned by Thatcher's policies, to a life of poverty and deprivation. I didn't experience the bleak despair of the Toxteth riots.
For this reason, although it caused me no displeasure, I could not join in the untrammelled joy of many folk I know and respect. It's my personal belief that no good can come of celebrating the death of another, no matter how abhorred. There is no judgement from me here, however. I cannot know how I would react, were it one of my own who was lost.
These decent people feel that Thatcher was the embodiment of governmental indifference and disdain and a central character in the gross, Tory-orchestrated miscarriage of justice that followed Hillsborough. The way they choose to react to the news of her demise is not something I will criticise or judge as I am blessed not to have endured the loss they have borne.
Two women, who have led the families of The 96 with dignity and resolve are Margaret Aspinall of the Hillsborough Families Support Group and Sheila Coleman, of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign. Their reactions yesterday were poignant and restrained, as they urged the incumbent government to finally make available all the documents relating to Thatcher's central involvement in the cover-up.
Sheila Coleman, an inspirational woman I've been lucky enough to speak to recently, was unequivocal about what she felt was the next necessary step. She called for an immediate governmental response to the families of The 96.
"From my own point of view, I respect the dead. but unlike Margaret Thatcher, I also respect the living. Not many will mourn her loss in Liverpool or in mining communities across the country. The HJC hope that now she is dead, at least those who have protected her will do the decent thing and releasse all documentation in respect of the Hillsborough cover-up. She was instrumental in the Hillsborough cover-up. We call on the government to release all documentation about her involvement."
Another tireless campaigner, leader and inspirational Liverpudlian, is Margaret Aspinall, chair of the HFSG. She was as clear as Coleman in her message to the current Tory government.
"I have no feelings towards her [Thatcher] either way," said Aspinall, before insisting that Thatcher had had meetings in the immediate aftermath of the disaster when the cover-up was begun. Expressing her disbelief and disgust at the honours about to be bestowed on the former Prime Minister, Aspinall insisted that it was "a disgrace that she is getting a state funeral."
Close association to the tragedy makes rational and reasonable comment near impossible, yet these two leaders of the campaign for justice, following the revelation of the truth, maintained admirable restraint yesterday, as they have throughout their struggle for justice for The 96, a struggle well into it's third decade.
It would have been easy for Coleman and Aspinall to revel publicly, as so many have, in the passing of a woman who was at the heart of so much of the suffering, vilification and loss visited upon their families and their city; it would have been both easy and very understandable.
As bonfires blazed, fireworks flared and toasts were made across Liverpool last night, they essentially took the higher ground, and that is doubly admirable. The emergence of the truth, it seems, is not yet complete. Only when all of the facts are known, can justice finally be done. The campaign continues, led ably by heroes more admirable than any sporting superstar.