There I was in the car, in the car park in Woodlands. The 14 year old jumps in after her football training, and the tears were tripping me.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. I couldn’t speak so just handed her my phone.
Liverpool city were singing together their anthem for truth and justice, “You will Never Walk Alone”, following the inquest verdicts that declared the 96 and their fans entirely free from any implication in the deaths.
She watched it in silence, while I composed myself and drove towards Andersonstown. She said quietly, “You’re crying for all the families, the ones here too”.
People comment on how she is like me, but she is more like my mother. Blonde with green eyes. And just like my mother did, she understands how I feel before I do. She was right once again.
Not long after RFJ first opened its office on the Falls Road in 1999, Phil Scraton came to the office to do the Belfast launch his seminal book about Hillsborough. As he spoke, families gathered and were amazed to hear how their experience was so like that of the families bereaved in a football stadium in England. A system that had treated them so cruelly acted in the same way in England too.
The people who gathered in that room were affected by coverup, media lies, official denial, and a refusal to allow anyone in a position of state responsibility to be held to account. Those who fought against this injustice and for the truth were criminalised and denigrated. The grieving for their loved ones was deemed less. That the families of Liverpool fans were treated the same way seemed incredible.
When these families achieved a verdict of unlawful killing in an English inquest court, it resonated far beyond English shores. Their verdict said that there is hope. Hope for the families who had sat in that room nearly 20 years ago and all those like them. Not a single one of whom has yet secured a rewriting of lies or a pathway to justice. What happened in the Hillsborough inquest was a victory for truth and justice for not just those 96 families, but for all families.
However there are differences. The killings here were pre-planned, as was the cover up. It was policy. Those perpetuating the cover up today are not just covering up institutional failings, disgusting levels of corporate incompetence, systematic negligence and lies. They are covering up deliberate policies of death and destruction from the agencies tasked with protecting life.
And that is the appalling vista given the emperor’s clothes of National Security in talks about how to deal with our past and deliver to victims and survivors. A thin pathetic veil for state impunity. But robustly defended.
We are in a battle with real vested interests who will deliberately refuse to see, and indeed hide, the obvious lessons from an English court room last week for the Belfast courts this week.
But, let those with power take heed. Those who lost their posts last week were those with responsibility today. They were held accountable for their part in the perpetutation of injustice. No matter if you were there initially, delay, obfuscation and defending the indefensible today makes you legally part of the violation.
So with all of that in mind walk on indeed, with more hope in our hearts. And let no family be alone on that journey.