In the North Stand at Hillsborough, I was among those who saw the disaster unfold – but our story still remains unheard, says Daniel Bennett, barrister, Doughty Street Chambers
On 15 April 1989 I was sitting in the North Stand at Hillsborough with a perfect view of the Leppings Lane end. Along with 40,000-odd other people, I witnessed what has now been described as the biggest cover-up in modern British history. How can you cover up something which is witnessed by more than 40,000 people?
As a 19-year-old, I returned to college after the spring break to read and watch reports of events which I knew to be false. It was not just The Sun. False reports were published by the BBC and ITN, by The Guardian and The Times. By every source of news.
What the Hillsborough panel has revealed is a widespread, almost industrial-scale process of corrupting the witness evidence of all those who worked for the police and ambulance service combined with a PR campaign by every public body involved, from the Police Federation to the Football Association and including the Government. All designed to promote this false story.
While I waited for what I presumed would be a call for witness evidence, the Taylor Report and inquests progressed without reference to the non-establishment witnesses and on the basis of the corrupted evidence of establishment witnesses. The false version of events became the official version.
But 40,000 people knew it was false. And most of us were Scousers.
When Labour came to power on a wave of optimism in 1997, they promised a review of what these “underground” witnesses claimed was a false version of events. Instead, Jack Straw appointed Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, widely thought of as one of Britain’s most right-wing judges.
On the first day of his review, he greeted the families of the deceased with the welcome, “Have you got a few of your people or are they like the Liverpool fans, turning up at the last minute?”. Not only were they not late, he had greeted them with one of the very blood libels which they sought to overturn. His review confirmed the libels as truth.
But over 40,000 people knew it was a lie and they all told their friends, many of whom were Scousers. The justice campaign was born by word of mouth and passed by person to person. My witness statement is one of many on the Hillsborough justice campaign’s website. This is hosted on a website in Holland as threats of injunctions by the Police Federation prevent its publication in this country.
The Hillsborough panel has not reported the truth. The panel has reported the version of events as originally told by the establishment witnesses. A brief review of the list of personnel whose statements and documents formed part of the review reveal little or no testimony of non-establishment witnesses. The truth of the extent of the actions to block the escape of fans and to block the medical treatment of fans remains untold by the courts and the media. But it remains known by more than 40,000 people and continues to be told by word of mouth.
There is still some way to go before the true story of Hillsborough becomes a common and accepted narrative. But there are too many witnesses for it not to happen in time.