Hillsborough just one tragedy where slow justice insult to victims says TIM NEWARK

It was on a spring afternoon in 1989 that 96 Liverpool football fans died in a crush at Hillsborough football stadium during an FA Cup semi-final match. The tragedy has tormented the families of the victims ever since and quite rightly they demanded answers to whether this was a disaster that could have been prevented. A first inquest ruled all the deaths accidental but the families rejected the findings. It then took a second inquest 25 years after the disaster to rule that the supporters had been “unlawfully killed” due to “grossly negligent failures” by the police and emergency services.

With the acquittal this week of police chief David Duckenfield for manslaughter, the daughter of one of the victims quite rightly addressed the judge, saying: “I would like to know who is responsible for my father's death because someone is.”

The very delay had fuelled horrible accusations aimed at the fans themselves.

"It is right that an impartial and thorough investigation was carried out,” said Assistant Commissioner Rob Beckley, in charge of the criminal inquiry. “What is wrong is that it has taken 30 years to get to this point.”

Furthermore, he said damningly: “Thirty years means myths took root about fans being a cause of the disaster, now unequivocally shown by both defence and prosecution evidence to be wrong. And 30 years means many people, especially families, have had to constantly relive their terrible experience.”

It is right and proper that the law is not rushed in to making a judgement. But the fact is that on this occasion it has taken so long because the establishment dragged its feet in an attempt to hide the terrible truth.

The same can be said of the appalling contaminated blood scandal. Between 5,000 and 30,000 people suffering from haemophilia were given blood infected with hepatitis C and HIV in the 1970s and 80s and yet it took decades for this to be uncovered. In the meantime vital evidence was destroyed and 3,000 people died prematurely.

Finally in 2015 the Penrose Inquiry in Scotland investigated the disaster but failed to apportion any blame. Families of the victims considered it a whitewash and said the £13m inquiry was a colossal waste of money and time. It was only in 2017 that stalwart campaigners finally managed to persuade the government to back a full UK-wide inquiry that allowed the victims to subsequently take legal action to seek damages for the victims.

“This is the worst tragedy in the history of the NHS,” said one of the victims, “and it must never ever happen again, absolutely never.” So why has it taken over 30 years for justice to be delivered?

Again, at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital, hundreds of elderly people were given opiate overdoses between 1989 and 2000. Many of these unfortunates had not been admitted for terminal care but were expected to recover. The exact number of deaths will never be known because incriminating records went missing. When families started to voice their suspicions they were given short shrift by the hospital staff.

It was only—yet again some 30 years after the first deaths—that a four-year £14 million inquiry concluded in 2018 that the lives of over 450 patients were “shortened while in hospital”. When relatives complained, they were “consistently let down by those in authority—both individuals and institutions.”

Police investigations have resulted in no charges being brought against anyone at the hospital. Senior clinician Dr Jane Barton has simply been allowed to retire despite the General Medical Council finding her guilty of professional misconduct relating to 12 patients who died at Gosport Hospital.

So many people crying out for justice and yet the wheels of public investigation move so slowly, too slowly for many. Began in 2017, the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry has only completed its first phase with hearings continuing into 2020.

It can seem that institutional delay is used in the hope that people will forget and their emotions drain away. But it is a testament to the persistence of not only the Hillsborough families, but all those afflicted by public disasters, that they will not allow their loved ones to be forgotten or ignored.

It is not wrong to expect that someone should pay the price for the deaths of so many innocent people.

“We firmly believe that we have done everything in our power to do right by our Steven,” said one of the Hillsborough relatives this week. “And we walk away from this case with our dignity and our heads held high.”

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