[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, has spoken of the “loss, grief and pain” felt by the victims of the Hillsborough disaster as a jury ruled that the 96 Liverpool FC fans who were killed in a crush at the FA Cup semi-final match against Nottingham Forest in April 1989 were unlawfully killed.
Today’s verdicts come at the end of a fresh inquest that was ordered after an independent panel, chaired by the former Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd James Jones, discovered evidence that 41 of the 96 fans could have survived if they had received better medical treatment; and that some 164 police statements had been significantly amended before they were submitted to the original inquests and inquiry.
The disaster occurred when police opened a gate to speed up entrance into the ground; with the result that an increasing number of fans being were sent into already overcrowded fenced pens. The families of the victims have fought for 27 years for justice after the police, politicians and media conspired to cover up the cause of the tragedy and deflect blame onto the fans.
Today’s verdicts say that the fans were not responsible for the disaster. Instead, it says that there were failings by the police and ambulance service, by Sheffield Wednesday, the owners of the Hillsborough Ground, and by the Football Association and the ground’s engineers.
The inquests – the longest in British legal history – heard that there were two other crushing incidents in the years leading up to the Hillsborough disaster and that the ground did not have a safety certificate.
“We have waited a long time for these determinations, and today was bound to be a difficult day,” the current Bishop of Liverpool, Paul Bayes, said. “It brings raw emotions and painful memories to the surface once again, for the families and for our city region.
“But there is also real comfort today, because the accusations at the time that Liverpool’s fans contributed to this tragedy have finally been proven to be false.
“The steady journey continues. The families have always said that they seek truth and justice, and the inquests have worked longer than any in British legal history to uncover the truth. Now justice must follow.”
Bishop Bayes continued: “I pay tribute to those whose courage and tenacity has never wavered over the years. In particular, I honour my predecessor Bishop James Jones and the work he did with the Independent Panel which did so much to get us to this point.
“Now we move forward once again on this long journey to justice. Together with my colleagues from all the churches, I commit myself to support those who hurt, help those who grieve and show God’s love and compassion for all.
“As we take in this week’s news and consider our reactions, let us not lose sight of what is most important. At the heart of this story are the 96 people who lost their lives and countless more who have had their lives and their hearts broken.
“We honour the families and those who have supported them over the years. We honour those who have stood for truth and justice. Ours is a story of loss, grief and pain. This story continues because that pain continues, but we will walk forward with hope in our hearts. And as Christians we believe that the God of all love and strength will walk alongside us into the future.”
Last week, in a statement to mark the 27th anniversary of the disaster, Bishop Bayes said: Like anyone else who lives their life in this city and region, I have grown to understand the impact of the Hillsborough tragedy on us all, and the importance of keeping its memory alive. We remember the 96 with pride, and we honour their memory by seeking justice.
“I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with my colleagues from denominations and faiths as we mark the anniversary this year, and as we await the outcomes of the inquiry. I am particularly honoured to stand with my predecessor Bishop James Jones, who as chair of the Independent Panel did so much to open the doors to the justice and truth we seek.
“I continue to pray for God’s comfort and healing to touch the families and all those affected in our wider community.”