"On 15 April, 1989, over 50,000 men, women, and children travelled by train, coach, and car to Hillsborough Stadium, home of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, to watch an FA Cup Semi-Final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. It was a sunny, warm, spring day and one of the high points of the English football season."
So begins the introduction to the Hillsborough Independent Panel's report on 1989's disaster, and following Prime Minister David Cameron's statement at noon on Wednesday, the panel held a wide-ranging press conference to discuss much of what came afterwards. Over the nearly hour-long discussion with members of the press, the panel went out of their way to avoid suggesting a wide-ranging, organised conspiracy was at work.
That didn't, however, stop them from painting the South Yorkshire Police as the primary culprit both in the disaster itself and—in their drive to portray themselves as the victims and cast the real victims as perpetrators in the popular consciousness—the party most responsible for actively seeking to hide the truth in its aftermath.
Still, as important as Wednesday was for helping to reveal the truth of Hillsborough to a larger audience, the panel reminded those watching that they only had the power to examine existing documents. For those seeking not only the truth but justice, that means that a new inquiry that builds on Wednesday's report will likely be a necessary next step. The findings in the report, however, seem as though they will be impossible to discount, overlook, or otherwise ignore once that next step is taken.
Wednesday's findings say that 116 of 164 police statements were altered to shift blame away from the South Yorkshire Police and towards the victims. They say that at least one Member of Parliament helped to push their version of the truth on media outlets all too willing to unquestionably swallow the lies they were being fed because they fit comfortably within the framework of popular opinion most operated under at the time when it came to questions of football and football fans.
They say that it was unequivocally wrong for the coroner during the initial inquest to suggest that all who died on the day had been mortally wounded and were beyond saving at 3:15PM. They say that most damningly and depressingly, 41 of the 96 lives lost could potentially have been saved had emergency services responded adequately—if ambulances had been allowed on the pitch so that paramedics could treat the injured and dying; if police hadn't continued behaving as though they were dealing with a riot or pitch invasion until long after the fact.
Despite all of the facts released on Wednesday, the panel cannot make any official recommendations as to what should come next—the documents must, as they put it, "speak for themselves." Given the widespread coverage of Wednesday's findings, the apologies and statements of support from all corners and the unvarnished coverage in almost every media outlet in England, it seems they may already have done just that—even if the truth they speak to comes more than two decades too late for those impacted by the tragedy.
Two decades late, though, is at least better than never. And the already shifting—perhaps already shifted—narrative surrounding the Hillsborough disaster in the public consciousness will now, one hopes, allow for that truth to provide a foundation for justice.
Video of David Cameron's speech to the House of Commons can be found here.
To read the overview and full report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, go here.