It's never too late, but it is. How can this take nigh on thirty years to go to court? Let's hope the case is tried more rapidly and we can get true justice.
Twenty-eight years after the shocking death of 96 football fans at Hillsborough football stadium, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has decided that charges should be brought against six individuals in connection with the disaster.
Among them are former Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, match commander at the fatal FA Cup semi-final, who faces 95 charges of manslaughter by gross negligence. For legal reasons he will not face charges in respect of the death of the 96th victim of the tragedy, Tony Bland, who died in 1993. What’s more, before he can be formally charged the CPS must apply to the High Court to lift an order imposed after he was prosecuted privately in 1999. A senior judge will rule on that matter in due course.
Sir Norman Bettison, the former Chief Inspector of South Yorkshire Police, faces four charges of misconduct in a public office over alleged lies told about the culpability of fans. Two other former police officers, a retired solicitor and a former Sheffield Wednesday club official also face charges.
Without question this is a highly significant moment for the families and friends of the Hillsborough 96. They will be relieved that, at last, individuals will face a criminal trial in which their testimony and other evidence can be properly examined. As the chairwoman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, Margaret Aspinall, put it: “This is definitely the start of the end.”
Plainly though, it is a remarkable fact that the CPS decision comes almost three decades after those terrible events unfolded in Sheffield. Nobody in Britain – least of all those who were affected directly – will forget the haunting images and television footage of the disaster; but it is also true to say that the actual events are now beyond the memory of anyone under the age of 35. It is a sad indictment of the speed at which the wheels of justice can move in this country.
The question of how we investigate major incidents involving mass deaths is topical, of course, in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire in London earlier this month. Only time will tell whether any individuals are ever brought to trial over the blaze which killed at least 79 people; but if the Hillsborough timeline were ascribed to Grenfell, we could expect to find out in 2045. That, quite clearly, would be unacceptable to the extent that most would regard it as a bad joke.
Indeed, of all the lessons we have learned from Hillsborough it is that inquiries into significant public tragedies must not only be thorough but timely. In the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe at Grenfell Tower, the Prime Minister offered reassuring words suggesting that a judicial inquiry would begin imminently. Two weeks on and a judge has not been identified to lead the investigation, despite the overwhelming pressure to get started. Jeremy Corbyn raised the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday and will continue to bang the drum until Theresa May provides a satisfactory answer. He is right to do so.
For much too long after Hillsborough, families felt they did not have support in their quest for answers about how their relatives died. They were seemingly brushed off by officials and told by sections of the tabloid media that it was the fans themselves who were to blame for the disaster. It was only through the sheer persistence of those who lost loved ones, and the efforts of some notable legal and political figures, that the narrative began to change.
Now, at last, they can look forward to a day in court. It is absolutely imperative that those left bereaved by the Grenfell Tower disaster do not have to wait decades for their own losses to be fully explained and accounted for.