I survived Hillsborough. This is why the inquest decision is important
‘It always felt as though some blame was attached. That has now gone.’
Today the inquest for the Hillsborough disaster was finally completed. After a fiercely fought campaign following the death of 96 Liverpool supporters – the fans have been removed of all blame.
Because of what happened at the FA Cup semi-final in 1989, the jury found match commander Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield responsible for manslaughter by gross negligence. David Cameron said the inquests proved “official confirmation” that fans were “utterly blameless”.
Leo Roberts is a survivor of Hillsborough. Aged 27 at the time, he was pulled from the crush and escaped with two broken ribs and a ruptured trachea. He tells us his story, and explains why today’s decision is not only important for justice, but for the conscience of the Liverpool fans.
“It was a bit squashed as the game kicked off, nothing too unusual – it was an FA cup semi-final after all. But it soon become clear that there was a problem,” says Leo.
He explains: “My friend Mike and I were in front of a barrier and we were being slowly pushed forward. We decided to move to the side, but as soon as I moved the pressure of the crowd buffeted me towards the front. The next few minutes were a bit of a blur. I’d lost sight of Mike and was being relentlessly pushed down towards the front. It was difficult to breathe.”
Leo adds: “Police were trying to push people. There were kids trying to climb up onto the pitch. In the blink of an eye these same police were suddenly pulling people out. I couldn’t breathe at all. I just raised my hands high and hoped to get pulled out.”
Thankfully Leo was quickly pulled out by a police officer with the help of some other fans. He was rushed away in an ambulance, where they discovered two of his ribs were broken. Doctors inserted a tube into his throat to assist his breathing, which then ruptured his trachea.
When Leo woke up, he was on the floor of a sports hall, surrounded by injured fans. Many others were dead, with bin bags covering their heads. His friend Mike had managed to avoid the main push and had been waiting for Leo by the car.
“It seemed that and my friends and I, were to blame,” Leo says. “That’s what we were told by the police, the FA and the media.
“We had got drunk. We had stormed the gates to get in without tickets. We had killed our fellow supporters and then nicked stuff from the bodies and pissed on them.
“So it was all our fault – nothing to do with the Police or the FA. So they could not be blamed. They were not going to be held responsible. Let’s face it, if they accepted responsibility then they would be sued. Where there’s blame; there’s a claim.”
Leo adds: “People say that the most shocking revelation of the panel is that 41 of those who died could have been saved. But people should have done their jobs properly in the first place, in selecting a ground which had a valid safety certificate, in allocating tickets sensibly, in stewarding the ground effectively and in postponing kick off to allow those who had been delayed by traffic to access the ground.
“If these people had done their jobs properly then 96 people would not have died in the first place.”
For Leo Hillsborough is something which will never go away, even 27 years on. He admits he has waited half of his life for the verdict, and now it’s here it has helped him find some sense of peace.
“It always felt as though some blame was attached, even thought I know there never was,” he explains.
“That has now gone. For me it means that any accusations that Liverpool fans were responsible for the deaths of their friends, and any guilt people wanted me to feel about that by association, have now be proved false. It means I can feel free of blame.”