Hillsborough, 24 years on: The truth, the 96, and the tributes.

The Kop at Anfield has been full to capacity this afternoon as Merseyside pays tribute to the 96 Liverpool fans who died at Hillsborough. 24 years on. The memories are still raw for many, and the 96 remain a huge part of the LFC and Liverpool city community. It has been a poignant year for the families. The truth revealed for the nation in black and white. Today is possibly the biggest anniversary memorial in the Hillsborough history.

It was the worst footballing disaster in British history and remains one of the world’s worst incidents. 96 Liverpool fans were killed on what was described as a warm, spring day. The cause – they were crushed to death after a string of errors by police officers. The truth of this was only revealed in its full extent in September 2012 when the Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, published the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report. The report found details which the people of Merseyside had known all along – the police had allowed the crush to happen, safety at the ground had been compromised at every level, and ambulances were not allowed onto the pitch. The report found that there was no evidence that suggested the Liverpool fans were responsible.

In other astonishing details, South Yorkshire Police created a false account of the event, painting a picture that the fans were the cause and the police were at risk. The evidence of this came from the documents which showed how 164 witness statements had been altered, with 116 of them being changed to remove any negativity toward the police. Officers took blood samples and checked national databases from all of the victims, some of them children, in an attempt to “impugn their reputation”. The then Conservative MP Irvine Patnick passed on false accounts to the press which led to a widespread view that Liverpool fans were responsible.

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This led to possibly the greatest boycott in the United Kingdom. Kelvin McKenzie, the then editor of The Sun, favoured the headline “The Truth”, suggesting some of those false allegations – fans were ticketless, drunk, violent and urinating on the victims. All accounts of fans at the Sheffield Wednesday stadium contradict these false and malicious reports. The headline and reports were printed just days after the disaster – there was little evidence and the formal investigation had only just begun. Since that headline, the people of Merseyside, regardless of their team, do not buy The Sun newspaper. Campaigns such as “Don’t buy The Sun” are still rife amongst Liverpool today – and quite rightly so. Kelvin McKenzie apologised in the aftermath of the report being published. It does nothing to help or build bridges with Liverpool or the families.

The original inquest, led by Lord Justice Taylor, backed a 15:15 cut off point at the game. The inquiry said that none of the victims could have been saved after this time and all of those who died at the stadium were dead by this time. Therefore, none of the events following this time have ever been investigated. The Independent Report says there was evidence to support that “up to 41” of the 96 could have been saved. It added that by simply placing “merely unconscious” people on their backs resulted in their deaths. Furthermore, due to the Coroners cut off point it was never investigated as to why only one ambulance reached the Liverpool end of the stadium and why no more had been sent in, yet they lined the outside streets.

It has been an astonishing year for the Hillsborough families and has shown how their courage and strength has been worthwhile. New inquests will be held into the deaths of the 96. It makes the 24th anniversary even more remarkable.

Standing ovations are often the scene on the 15th April every year at Anfield. Fans, from Everton and Liverpool, and even those who do not follow football gather for the traditional memorial event. The names of the 96 are read out, followed by hymns and prayers. Readings from the families and those involved with the history of the disaster, including members of LFC, the Bishop of Liverpool and MP’s are often welcomed by the strong and supportive crowd.

The Kop has long been the home to annual memorial services to mark Hillsborough.

The Kop has long been the home to annual memorial services to mark Hillsborough.

Everton Chairman, Bill Kenwright, spoke of how the event would change him for ever. He spoke of how it could have been Everton in the FA Cup Semi-Final, praising the families for their strength and progress. Liverpool’s owner, John Henry, said he was outshined by the work of the families for justice, adding that the families and those who died “will always be a part of Liverpool Football Club.”

It has been an incredible point in time for Liverpool, the families and the search for the truth. The release of these secret documents have highlighted the efforts of the families of uncovering the truth. This strength will continue throughout the inquests and eventual outcome. There have been many apologies; many people outside of Merseyside have stereotyped the fans as causing the disaster. For that, the Prime Minister apologised on behalf of all previous governments. Subsequent apologies surfaced from South Yorkshire Police, Kelvin McKenzie and Sheffield Wednesday Football Club.

There still remains a minority who still do not understand the clear black and white. Comments from many ill-informed individuals still bring hurt to the many who now fully understand what happened in April 1989. It is with great confusion that I see some high-profile figures, such as Oliver Popplewell, as he criticised the conduct of the families and some figures still remain certain that it was the fans fault and that the police were not to blame. All that despite the report conclusion.

Above anything, THE REAL TRUTH of Hillsborough has strengthened Liverpool as a community who are renowned for ‘sticking together’ and defending their own. The conduct of the families HAS been above and beyond exceptional and now the road to justice and prosecutions is well underway. Anfield is always a sea of emotion during football fixtures, but never as emotional as the time of the Hillsborough anniversary. Standing shoulder to shoulder, fans and ordinary people alike pay tribute to the victims who perished, yet changed the face of football. They will never be forgotten. Their legacy will always be a part of Liverpool.

The 96 Victims
Jon-Paul Gilhooley, 10, M
Philip Hammond, 14, M
Thomas Anthony Howard, 14, M
Paul Brian Murray, 14, M
Lee Nicol, 14, M
Adam Edward Spearritt, 14, M
Peter Andrew Harrison, 15, M
Victoria Jane Hicks, 15, F
Philip John Steele, 15, M
Kevin Tyrrell, 15, M
Kevin Daniel Williams, 15, M
Kester Roger Marcus Ball, 16, M
Nicholas Michael Hewitt, 16, M
Martin Kevin Traynor, 16, M
Simon Bell, 17, M
Carl Darren Hewitt,17, M
Keith McGrath, 17, M
Stephen Francis O’Neill, 17, M
Steven Joseph Robinson, 17, M
Henry Charles Rogers, 17, M
Stuart Paul William Thompson, 17, M
Graham John Wright, 17, M
James Gary Aspinall, 18, M
Carl Brown, 18, M
Paul Clark, 18, M
Christopher Barry Devonside, 18, M
Gary Philip Jones, 18, M
Carl David Lewis, 18, M
John McBrien, 18, M
Jonathon Owens, 18,M
Colin Mark Ashcroft, 19, M
Paul William Carlile, 19, M
Gary Christopher Church, 19, M
James Philip Delaney, 19, M
Sarah Louise Hicks, 19, F
David William Mather, 19, M
Colin Wafer, 19, M
Ian David Whelan, 19, M
Stephen Paul Copoc, 20, M
Ian Thomas Glover, 20, M
Gordon Rodney Horn, 20, M
Paul David Brady, 21, M
Thomas Steven Fox, 21, M
Marian Hazel McCabe, 21,F
Joseph Daniel McCarthy, 21, M
Peter McDonnell, 21, M
Carl William Rimmer, 21, M
Peter Francis Tootle, 21, M
David John Benson, 22, M
David William Birtle, 22, M
Tony Bland, 22, M
Gary Collins, 22, M
Tracey Elizabeth Cox, 23, F
William Roy Pemberton, 23, M
Colin Andrew Hugh William Sefton, 23, M
David Leonard Thomas, 23, M
Peter Andrew Burkett, 24, M
Derrick George Godwin, 24, M
Graham John Roberts, 24, M
David Steven Brown, 25, M
Richard Jones, 25, M
Barry Sidney Bennett, 26, M
Andrew Mark Brookes, 26, M
Paul Anthony Hewitson, 26, M
Paula Ann Smith, 26, F
Christopher James Traynor, 26, M
Barry Glover, 27, M
Gary Harrison, 27,M
Christine Anne Jones, 27, F
Nicholas Peter Joynes, 27, M
Francis Joseph McAllister, 27, M
Alan McGlone, 28, M
Joseph Clark, 29, M
Christopher Edwards, 29, M
James Robert Hennessy, 29, M
Alan Johnston, 29, M
Anthony Peter Kelly, 29, M
Martin Kenneth Wild, 29, M
Peter Reuben Thompson, 30, M
Stephen Francis Harrison, 31, M
Eric Hankin, 33, M
Vincent Michael Fitzsimmons, 34, M
Roy Harry Hamilton, 34, M
Patrick John Thompson, 35, M
Michael David Kelly, 38, M
Brian Christopher Mathews, 38, M
David George Rimmer, 38, M
Inger Shah, 38, F
David Hawley, 39, M
Thomas Howard, 39, M
Arthur Horrocks, 41, M
Eric George Hughes, 42, M
Henry Thomas Burke, 47, M
Raymond Thomas Chapman, 50, M
John Alfred Anderson, 62, M
Gerard Bernard Patrick Baron, M

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The Iron Lady is no more

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The Iron Lady. A woman who did not turn. Tributes have been paid to Lady Thatcher after the announcement of her death, aged 87. She had suffered a stroke.

A divisive individual, she brought about anger in the North of England with the closure of mines. The privitasion of many sectors, including the railway industry proved to be a legacy (good or bad) which is still felt today. Her leadership during the Falklands War is something which is significant when considering her impact.

Thatcher was an individual who did not take hurt or offence from the newspaper headlines and her strong-minded approach is something which could have brought about parts of her downfall. An uncompromising approach to the economy and straight view of privatising industry are some of the factors have caused intense debate. In recent years, suffering from illness, Margaret Thatcher was rarely seen in public. The last time she was seen was in Downing Street during the leadership of Gordon Brown.

She was pushed out of office by her colleagues in 1991 – the longest-serving and the first and currently only female British Prime Minister. Her policies and personality divided opinion. As today’s commentators have insisted, there may have been disagreement over her policies, but there is respect for a politician who has had such an impact.

Have we seen the best of Top Gear ?

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Top Gear line up: Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.

Top Gear line up: Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.

I will always openly admit that my favourite programme on television is Top Gear. The mix of laughter, cars and genuine passion and interest for what the three presenters do is what appeals to me most. Hosted by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, “New Top Gear”, as they call it, began in October 2002. Ten years on, Top Gear remains the most watched car programme in the world with over 300 million viewers and remains one of the, if not the, most successful and most watched show on British television. But in recent years, the numbers of shows per series has decreased dramatically, and the content of the show has moved away from the original ethos of Top Gear. So have we really seen the best of Top Gear?

When considering what to write in this blog, I originally thought it would be a simple answer of yes, however, the latest series of the programme, broadcast in early 2013, has shown how the quality of the show remains one of the highest on British TV. Stunning camera shots, specialist filming of high performance vehicles and interesting yet quirky items have seen Top Gear deliver highly on their changed priorities – more expensive and powerful cars are reviewed over ‘sensible’ cars for the average motorist.

The early editions of the new format of Top Gear did reflect some of the content of the old format. Informative and factual reviews of cars such as the Citreon Berlingo and Land Rover Discovery made the car reviews, whilst the new interests of the modern viewer wanted excitement and power. This came in the form of more focus on power cars such as the Lamborghini Murcielago and Pagani Zonda. The new format is studio based, unlike the previous, and features new additions such as lap times with The Stig, and a new interview feature – A Star in a Reasonably Priced Car. These segments revived Top Gear from what was a struggling motoring programme into a show that boasts immense commercial success.

It was around series 4 when Top Gear moved to film new and exciting challenges such as the legendary Aston Martin versus a train to Monte Carlo and the cars playing football – a feature which still recurs today. In the latest series’ of Top Gear, there has been a shift from the review of sensible, everyday cars, to longer films about supercars and the challenges the presenters face from the producers. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I always defend the programme when people claim ‘they don’t do normal cars’. That’s not because they’re not interested in them. The audience has changed. Younger viewers want excitement and high-octane thrills. An insight into the power of a Ferrari is likely to be preferred over reviews of a bog standard Vauxhall.

In 2007, Top Gear moved into another new era, as some of the one hour programmes became dedicated to one single challenge. These often consist of buying a certain type of car for less than a given budget and then driving them through rough terrain, encountering a number of difficulties. The rapport of the presenters, the character of the cars chosen and the obscene challenges faced are what have and continue to bring in the millions of viewers who tune in on a Sunday night.

I can’t, however, feel comfortable that Top Gear will go from strength to strength. The legendary films that Top Gear has produced – the trip to the North Pole, the American special and Bugatti Veyron race across Europe are items that viewers will not forget and that brings a very high standard to future productions. It’s simple – some but not all of the films following such stand out years for Top Gear have not been matched.

At points, there is some question about the spontaneity of events. The caravan holiday antics where a tourer was set on fire, for instance, was set up, yet was presented very realistically. The idea of some features purposely being scripted for laughs seems rather disappointing to any viewer, especially when the show was so spontaneous in earlier editions.

It must be commended that the show does have a proven track record of success. No other programme has ever been as commercially successful as Top Gear and probably no other programme will be. The recent 19th series of the programme finished alongside two “Best of Top Gears” – a regular look back the highlights at the end of the series. The stand out feature from this series was the quality of the films. Yes, Top Gear might not film as many reports as previous series’ but the quality of what is produced is above and beyond an ordinary motoring programme. The two-part special featuring the presenters travelling to find the source of the River Nile was possibly the greatest Top Gear adventure yet. The trip felt fresh, alive and exciting. The presenters were genuinely passionate about their quest to find what they had been challenged with. And with the usual combination of bickering, bantering and boyishness, the show was a ratings success for the BBC.

Some of the ideas have felt a little strained, almost as if Top Gear executives are running out of ideas. However, if Top Gear are going to do less shows per year, the overall quality of series 19 would be welcomed any day.

Yes, Top Gear has been on air, in its current format, for over ten years now. And yes, it does feel that the top of the hill has been reached in terms of its features. I will always be an avid and loyal viewer to Top Gear whatever happens. Lots of people will moan about how the show has moved from its roots to focussing just on fast super cars. My argument is that Top Gear is a reflection of its audience. An audience which has developed and changed with the years.

Awarding Jeremy Clarkson a special recognition award in 2007, Sir Trevor McDonald claimed: “He has helped create a niche show for enthusiasts into a must see show for millions of fans.” Not many programmes can boast of that success.

Hillsborough: New inquest on the way.

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Following the damning revelations in the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report, the Attorney General ordered the original inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans, victims of the worst football disaster in the United Kingdom, to be quashed and a new inquest be held.

It has been confirmed that the decisions on the new inquest will take place in London on April 25th with the new coroner, Lord Justice Goldring. The decisions will include the location and date of the new inquests.

The road to justice has been long and is not yet at an end. Following the response to the Independent Panel Report in September 2012, the determination of the families and the support of the people of Liverpool, the North West, the UK and football fans alike will seek to bring justice for the 96 fans who travelled to Hillsborough and did not return.

Town remembers terrorist attack, 20 years on.

Bridge Street today. The River of Life serves as a permanent memorial to the victims of the attack.

Bridge Street today. The River of Life serves as a permanent memorial to the victims of the attack.

The scene on Bridge Street on 20th March 1993, when the bombs exploded.

The scene on Bridge Street on 20th March 1993, when the bombs exploded.

Hundreds of mourners have flooded the town centre of Warrington this week to remember the victims of the 1993 IRA bomb attack which claimed two lives and injured many more. A special service was held on Saturday 16th March to remember and pay tribute to those who were killed and injured in a planned attack which began a huge revolution in the process for peace.

The bombers struck on Saturday 20th March, the Saturday before Mother’s Day. A weekend which saw Warrington town centre busy with shoppers in the early Spring sunshine. Two coded messages were received indicating that bombs were planted outside a Boots store. Police had been put on alert, whilst emergency procedures took place at the Liverpool branch. The two bombs, planted in two separate litter bins, exploded within seconds of each other outside the branch in Warrington, sending panicked shoppers at the scene of first explosion into the path of the second attack. The bins acted almost like a large hand grenade, with shrapnel being blown in all directions.

Three year old Jonathan Ball and twelve-year-old Tim Parry were fatally injured in the attack; Both of these faces have since been the focal point of the programme for peace, not just in Warrington, but across the UK and The Republic of Ireland.
Speaking at the special ceremony held at the scene of the attack, father of Tim, Colin Parry spoke of how the ‘Peace Centre’, set up Tim and Jonathan’s memory, has helped his family. He stated how “good had come out of evil” and that the work of the Peace Centre had made a “real and unique difference” to the peace process.

On the Wednesday of the same week that the special memorial service took place, hundreds more people gathered to stand shoulder to shoulder, in silence, paying their respects, tributes and memories twenty years on. Balloons and white doves were released into the Warrington skies – a simple gesture which acknowledged the grief of victims’ families and the grief the town of Warrington felt and still feels today.

It has been an incredible exposure of strength that both families have shown in the aftermath of the terrorist attack which has shaped the history of Warrington. Not only is The Peace Centre a landmark in the town, but the centre for young people, is a landmark for peace in all four corners of the UK.

The Bridge Street area of the town has been transformed into a street of remembrance of the victims and the day that shook Warrington. The ‘River of Life’ which runs the length of the street recognises the history of the town but also serves as a permanent memorial to the two young victims and the dozens more who were injured.

54 people were also injured in the attack. An attack which still dominates the minds of those who were in Warrington at the time of the attack and those who live in and around Warrington today. Twenty years on, the victims are not forgotten, the process for peace continues.