“The fans were superb. They helped the police as much as anything else. It was their friends, their supporters and their football club that was in trouble and they did everything they could and more,” Kenny Dalglish
“The actions of the Liverpool fans that day were absolutely fantastic. It was one of the greatest acts of spontaneous humanity that this country has ever witnessed and it is time that this was recognised,” Hillsborough survivor Peter Carney
By now we know their names. We know the organisations that they worked for. We know how their failings contributed to the deaths of 96 people. We also know the parts they played in a cover-up that denied the victims of British football’s worst ever disaster and their families the truth and justice that they deserved. There is a lot we know about the villains of Hillsborough but what of the heroes of April 15 1989 and its aftermath? What do we know about them?
The simple answer, more than 23 years on, is nowhere near enough. The smear campaign that was launched before most of the victims of Hillsborough had even been identified meant that no bravery awards or accolades have ever been handed out to those Liverpool supporters who saved countless lives on that fateful day. They remain anonymous, their actions a mere footnote in a tragedy in which ordinary men and women were the ones who performed heroic acts when those in authority failed them.
In the build-up to last Wednesday’s gravity-shaking release of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s remarkable report into the disaster, the sister of one of the 96 went to extraordinary lengths to track down those who had tried in vain to save the life of her brother, Andrew. Louise Brooks’ story was as instructive as it was heartbreaking and as she recounted it in an ante-room of Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral the need for the heroes of Hillsborough to be given the recognition they have always deserved but been denied was made even more apparent than ever before.
“A witness saw my brother vomiting on the pitch at 3.40pm, which is obviously 25 minutes after the 3.15pm cut-off point imposed at the inquests” she said. “Andrew was given the body number 50 before he was certified dead. A black bin-liner was placed over his head before he was certified dead.
“The police officer who allegedly tried to save my brother lied to my parents and tried to obstruct us from finding the fans who did help him and carried him off the pitch. We were told the fan was a ‘rough gem’ from one of the roughest estates in Liverpool and that we shouldn’t try to approach him.
“When I eventually tracked him down he was from one of the richest areas and he and his family were wonderful to us. The police officer was meant to have been Superman for what he did that day and all I have of him is a photograph of him with his arm around a doctor while the fan gave my brother the kiss of life.”
And that, in essence, is what the Hillsborough disaster is all about and why the extraordinary findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel should represent a line in the sand, marking the end of the lies and deceit that damned innocent fans and the beginning of the truth which not only exonerates them. It celebrates their undoubted heroism.
Until now, the cover-up has prevented this from happening and over the years Liverpool supporters have become increasingly used to hearing “The Sun was right, you killed your own fans” directed at them at certain away grounds. That the exact opposite was true did not matter, tribal terrace points were at stake and fuelled by the falsehoods peddled by those in authority it was all too easy for supporters to resort to a macabre game of tragedy top trumps. The truth was out there but the lie was too convenient and too prevalent to be ignored.
Now, though, the truth is too compelling to be dismissed and the alternative, misleading version of events has been shown up for the lie it always was. A new narrative is needed. One that keeps the focus on fans but in a positive, factual manner that highlights their selfless courage, rather than smearing them with misinformation and black propaganda.
Countless people involved in the Hillsborough disaster have already tried to make this happen. Louise Brooks recently used Twitter in a desperate attempt to track down the three men who had used an advertising hoarding to carry her brother to where they hoped he would receive lifesaving treatment.
By posting photographs of the trio she hoped that someone would come forward who would be able to identify them, to be able to both show her gratitude and discover more about Andrew’s final moments. She was able to track two of them down, only to learn that the third had passed away. That a family member of someone who had died in such tragic circumstances was reduced to such a desperate search years later when social media made it possible is yet another damning indictment of a cover-up which actively denied people the truth.
As well as giving the Hillsborough families the opportunity to seek fresh inquests into how their loved ones died and raising the possibility of those responsibility finally being held to account for their actions, the events of the past week also offer a chance to right the wronging of fans who deserve to be celebrated for their deeds on April 15, 1989.
The heroes of Hillsborough are out there. The names of many of them are not yet widely known but at least now there is a realistic possibility of them being given the credit that one of the biggest cover-ups in British history threatened to deny them.