Hillsborough's legacy of grief, five years on: Jenny Hicks, who lost two daughters when 95 Liverpool fans died in Britain's worst stadium disaster, tells Jonathan Foster how she learnt to cope with the tragedy

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THERE was a large, felt-covered board inside the entrance to the makeshift mortuary. Polaroid pictures of the dead were pinned to it. Jenny Hicks remembers about 60 of them, and the policeman saying: 'It's worse than that, love, we haven't got them all up yet.'

Mrs Hicks recalls her knees going weak. She looked, but she did not see Sarah. 'The second time, I saw her.'

Sarah Hicks, 19, had died in the crush behind the goal. Her body had been carried on an advertising hoarding, across the pitch and in front of the grandstand from which her mother had watched, but not seen.

From the safety of her seat, Mrs Hicks had also watched the ambulance drive on to the pitch. She had not seen her other daughter, 15-year-old Victoria, driven away to hospital, mortally crushed, accompanied by her uninjured father, Trevor. Only now for Mrs Hicks has the surreal horror come fully into focus.

'On a beautiful day, we left home in the morning for a lovely day of football with our daughters. I was working as a technician in a sixth-form college in Stanmore. We came back to the house at about two o'clock the following morning without the girls.'

Mrs Hicks had wanted to take the bodies of Sarah and Vicky back with her. 'You go into this zombie stage. The reality is too frightening. The public support helped. I didn't find it intrusive, although I didn't like a lot of the press coverage, especially from the Sun.

'I needed to talk because it seemed so unreal. I found it very helpful to mix with other bereaved families going through the same traumas and pain. I still see them. Most people are trying to get on with their lives, but we are still upset because the people to blame were not made accountable.'

Jenny and Trevor Hicks separated 15 months after their daughters died. She thinks the split probably happened because of the trauma. They had planned to move as a family to Liverpool, but the house sale fell through. Mrs Hicks went on her own. She has no regrets. The girls are buried there. It would have been Sarah's 24th birthday last Sunday; her parents visited the girls' graves together.

Trevor Hicks has become the most public of the bereaved, their spokesman in frustrated attempts to make accountable the football authorities and police held responsible for the tragedy.

Jenny Hicks sought more privately for reasons why her daughters died. She had entered Liverpool Polytechnic in October 1990. She wanted qualifications, and a new start after her marriage split. The inquest opened a month later, so she was back and forth to Sheffield, two days a week until March. She was emotionally exhausted, and dropped out. She now works as an insurance adviser, and has not remarried. 'A lot of the time you think of all the 'if only' arguments. I still do. I try to stop myself.'

Gradually, she put together the narrative of that day. 'The girls would be more likely to recognise me now than at any time since the disaster.' Perhaps that is partly because she can talk now about her experience and her grief.

At 2.30pm, Mrs Hicks, seated in the North Stand, knew something was wrong in the two horribly congested pens behind the goal at the Leppings Lane end. By 2.45, Vicky had already fainted, her sister was holding her up, her mother was seized by anxiety, her father standing in the sparsely occupied wing terraces.

'When the game was stopped at 3.06, I couldn't keep my eyes off the Leppings Lane end. In the game, Peter Beardsley hit the bar, but I didn't see it. At first they said stay in the ground. When they said we could leave, I went to our rendezvous point, a little shop in Leppings Lane, and waited.'

Trevor, Sarah and Victoria did not show. Mrs Hicks went back to the car park. 'Ours was the only car left.' She was taken to the police station. They asked for distinguishing marks, but they offered no information. She remembers them asking about moles. She met a social worker, Alan Dunkley. He offered to take her to the hospital.

The nurse said there had been a Victoria there. 'My spirits lifted. She'd said a Victoria had been there, as if she had been treated and then left.

'Then a nurse took us into a little treatment room. She shut the door, and I felt terribly claustrophobic. A doctor came in. I remember saying: 'You're going to tell me she's dead.' Unreality totally took over.

'They said Trevor had gone to look for Sarah. I thought 'Please God, not both of them'. I wanted to see Vicky. A police officer said I couldn't see my daughter's body. He said: 'She's no longer your property. She is the property of the South Yorkshire coroner.' I felt I was in the middle of a nightmare.'

Still supported by Mr Dunkley, she went back to the ground which Sarah never left. The gymnasium behind the North Stand had become a temporary mortuary. At first they could not get in to the ground; then they got to the board with the green felt covering and its terrible Polaroid gallery. Reunited with Trevor, she got to see her daughters, one of them about to sit her GCSEs, the other in her first year at university.

'They were wheeled in. I got down and gave them a big hug. We had about a minute with them.'

Mr and Mrs Hicks were then interviewed by the police. 'They asked what the girls had eaten for breakfast. Had we had any alcohol? No. Had we stopped for a drink. No, we took a picnic. Had we drunk any wine with our picnic? No. It was as if we were the guilty party.

'The families have talked about it - any of them will tell a similar story about the police's lack of compassion. Trevor was shocked. He'd always been a bit of an establishment man who'd say the police have a difficult job. The story about how the police treated the families hasn't really been told. The attitude of the police was offhand.

'At the ground we made a statement that was more like a cross-examination, as if we had to account for what we had done. Alan Dunkley was appalled.'

Mrs Hicks speaks with the candour and compassion of someone who has learnt to cope, become able to regret without rancour. There will be a memorial service in the Anglican cathedral today. 'It brings out qualities you didn't think you had,' Mrs Hicks said. 'I had thought that one day my daughters would mourn me. I wouldn't have thought I could cope with mourning them.'

(Photographs omitted)

Football's mood;

Eyewitness account, page 17

Grounds for hope, page 34

Comments