As parliament prepares to debate the full release of documents relating to Hillsborough and the long-suspended dominos begin to fall, momentum building towards what seems more and more an inevitable release of what has shamefully been kept hidden for far too long, it's been a nervous day of remembrance and retrospect for many just as much as one of cautious hope for the future.
As papers around England offer up their retrospectives and lecherous populists at TalkSport indulge in the likes of Hillsborough Week, perhaps the most through and meaningful distillation of the ongoing tragedy comes by way of a heartfelt op-ed in the Mirror by Labour MP Andy Burnham. Including passages from previously unreleased documents, one of the politicians leading the charge for the release of all documents relating to Hillsborough in recent years brilliantly examines a dissaster made all the worse by its being dragged out over more than two decades now:
In dusty box files in the House of Lords, there are thousands of badly photocopied papers.
They look inconsequential. They are anything but.
The boxes contain personal statements from police officers who witnessed at first hand one of the biggest peacetime disasters in our country’s history. They are painful to read, so terrible are the scenes they describe.
One in particular stands out. It is the hand-written statement of PC 227 from Woodseats Police Station. These are his recollections in those crucial moments just after 3pm on April 15 1989:
“I realised a great tragedy had occurred. I began to feel myself being overcome with emotion, but soon realised I would be of no use to anyone if I felt sorry for myself.
“I was assisted out of the terracing and onto the pitch. I saw several officers wandering about in a dazed and confused state.
“Some were crying and some simply sat on the grass. Members of the public were running about with boarding ferrying people from the pitch to the far end of the ground.”
Even those files he has seen don't begin to scratch the surface of what has been hidden from the public's view, yet if passages such as the above had come out at the time of the disaster, one might have expected its aftermath—and in particular the slander and slant against its victims—to have been rather different. But stories such as PC 227's weren't the public face of government and authority as they reacted to the tragedy, with a note from a more senior officer attached to the above statement encapsulating all that was wrong in it at the time and all that those seeking justice have been pushing against for the past two decades:
“Last 2 pages require amending. These are his own feelings. He also states that PCs were sat down crying when the fans were carrying the dead and injured. This shows they were organised and we were not. Have PC rewrite last 2 pages excluding the points mentioned.”
That fight for justice so many have struggled at may not quite be over yet, but it appears to have picked up an undeniable momentum as the debate triggered by a government e-petition signed by 140,000 plus Britons, set for the early evening today in London, approaches. A just released statement from a Home Office spokesman speaks to the level that momentum has built to even before the actual debate has had a chance to take place:
All papers had previously been shared with the Hillsborough Independent Panel. The government is happy for all the papers, including Cabinet papers, to be released as soon as the panel so decides, in consultation with the families. We expect them to be shared with the Hillsborough families first and then to the wider public.
Today's decision—one fully expected to be in line with what's been demanded by those seeking justice for the victims of Hillsborough—may end up being largely symbolic, with that final decision falling to the independent Hillsborough panel established two years ago. It certainly won't mean the full release of all documents within a matter of hours, even with further recent revelations that the Prime Minister's Office has now also thrown its weight behind a full, uncensored release of everything on file. But it will be a massive, meaningful step on the road to that happening, one that would make backing away from any such action quite nearly impossible and a debate that by being triggered in the first place appears to have itself spurred movement in other quarters.
That debate is scheduled to begin between 5:30 and 6PM in the UK—or between 1:30 and 2PM Eastern Standard for those around the globe more comfortable converting to their home timezone from there. Those in the UK not near a television can watch the debate live on BBC Parliament, and those outside of the UK can view a lower quality stream via BBC's Democracy Live.