Stony-faced, eyes watering, they sat amongst the splendour of the Royal Courts of Justice listening yet again to the “gruesome carnage” of the day their relatives were crushed to death at Hillsborough.
Some cradled their heads in their hands in the hush of the court as Attorney General Dominic Grieve argued that it was time to order new inquests, time to give the families of the 96 fatally injured that day the justice they craved.
When their “bitter sweet” victory came, the celebration escalated slowly – a smattering of smiles, then respectful applause, a few hugs followed by tears. Finally, some broke down in sobs, evidence, as if it were needed, of the searing grief of those left behind when so many Liverpool fans perished during that tragically historic FA Cup semi-final in 1989.
Today as Home Secretary Theresa May ordered a fresh police investigation into the disaster, the country’s most senior judge the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, quashed the original accidental death verdicts and ordered a new coronial investigation be launched as swiftly as possible.
“The interests of justice must be served,” said Lord Judge “However distressing, the truth will be brought to light”.
More than a hundred relatives ignored the opportunity to watch events by video-link from Liverpool and rose in the early hours of yesterday morning to make the journey to the High Court in London.
In marked contrast to the contempt with which the football fans were dismissed as drunken louts in the immediate aftermath of the horror, relatives and survivors were treated like dignitaries. When the sheer numbers made it impossible for them all to be in court and some were diverted to a video-link nearby, Lord Judge himself personally visited them to apologise for the fact they were in a separate court.
Later he added: “We must record our admiration and respect for their determined search for the truth about the circumstances of the disaster and why and how it had occurred, which - despite disappointments and setbacks - has continued for nearly quarter of a century.”
Mr Grieve, who argued the case on their behalf, met with them afterwards, shaking hands and insisting: “I would just like to say how grateful I am to you all for coming down. I hope this inquest will be able to take place as soon as possible.”
“It is overwhelming, a very bitter sweet moment and quite a bit to take in. It is a fabulous day, after all the hard work we have done over 23 years,” said Stephen Kelly, whose 38-year-old brother Michael perished that day, one of more than half that could have been saved with swift medical attention.
Commenting on Mrs May’s announcement of a new police inquiry led by former Durham Chief Constable Jon Stoddart, which could trigger criminal prosecutions, he added: “If anyone is guilty now is the time for them to have sleepless nights as we have had for over 23 years.”
The latest developments follow a damning report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel that uncovered a cover-up that attempted to shift the blame on the victims. It found clear operational failures in the response to the disaster, insisted the victims were not exceptionally drunk, as originally suggested, and around half could have survived.
“Thanks to the work of the Hillsborough Independent Panel it was made clear that the medical evidence underpinning the original inquests, and relied upon in subsequent reviews and inquiries, was fundamentally unsound,” Mr Grieve said yesterday.
”In addition, the statements concerning the actions of the police and emergency services, and the original evidence concerning the alcohol consumption of the deceased, give rise to questions that fresh inquests should address,” he added.
Further expert analysis of medical evidence commissioned by the Attorney General assessed that 58 “definitely or probably” could have survived, 25 were likely to have died swiftly while 12 more were unclear. Mr Grieve argued that an inquest – similar to that held for the victims of the 7th July bombings – should re-examine all the case, including that of Tony Bland, 28, who was in a persistent vegetative state until he died four years later
There was tearful jubilation as the families left court yesterday, having witnessed in the words of Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson a “watershed moment”.
Trevor Hicks, chairman of the Family Support Group who lost his daughters Sarah, 19, and Victoria, 15, added: “Justice is on its way. Everything we've said has been proven to be correct.”