Comment: After 25 years of horrendous torment, the Hillsborough families finally seem set to receive the justice and dignity they deserve

It is a great victory of working people against the abuse of power

The simple tribute from a father to a son was achingly tender when the second inquest into the death of 96 people in British sport’s greatest tragedy opened last week. Twenty-five years of voiceless anguish heaped on top of terrible loss lay behind the words of Wilf Whelan. The death of his son Ian inverted convention, as did the experience for many of the bereaved. It was the wrong way round.

Parents are not used to burying their children. There is no adequate coping mechanism available to modern families, which tend to be nuclear in number rather than the extended variety of generations past, when child mortality was more of a feature of working-class lives.

The appalling treatment of the dead and their families by the state apparatus condemned relatives to a life of unrelenting torment. The loss of a son, a daughter, a sibling, a parent in such circumstances is in its own way a life sentence for those left behind. To deny the bereaved the dignity of an honest understanding of how loved ones lost their lives, and to besmirch their reputations with damning accounts, was a pain beyond endurance.

The courageous protest that led to the quashing of the original verdicts two years ago and the appointment of a new inquiry under the aegis of coroner Lord Justice Goldring constitutes one of the great victories of ordinary working people against abuse of establishment power. It is a tale of the common man teaching those who make the rules how to conduct themselves while reminding them that the class of individual they sought to dismiss without a second glance is just as substantial as they are, if not more so.

Lord Justice Goldring is quickly emerging as a hero for the sensitivity of his early deliberations and the tone he has set. He intuited the need of the bereaved to speak in a public forum that carried force; the words of those paying tribute will not disappear into the ether but will be recorded in law for posterity.

Anyone who consults the ledgers 100 years from now will know that those who died were fine people from honest homes, who left us through no fault of their own, paying a cruel price for the love of a football team,  a relationship that has deep roots in the communities from which they came.

Wilf Whelan wanted the world to know that his son was not the hooligan the police would have him be, but an ordinary lad making his way in the world. As a boy “he was constantly playing football in the back garden while commentating on himself. And he was a son that any family would have been proud of.

“One of his highlights was passing his driving test first time just after he had turned 18 years old. His other love was music, especially U2, and Joanne [his girlfriend] told us he insisted on sitting near the largest speaker in the cinema when he took her to see the U2 film Rattle And Hum and would sing it to her most mornings on the way to work and on the way home again.”

This is the stuff of life we take for granted, just as Wilf Whelan did until that day 25 years ago when his son did not return from an FA Cup semi-final. This was an age before global ownership of football institutions from the great English metropolis, an era before the Premier League, when clubs had a deep cultural connection to their surroundings and Liverpool ruled the land.   

The team that 96 people died supporting is paying its own tribute on the pitch in a league they have not won for 24 years. If feelings will not be stretched enough at the pivotal home match this coming Sunday against Manchester City, the fixture coincides with football commemorations to mark the 25th anniversary of the game against Nottingham Forest, which was abandoned after six minutes. All matches across the Football League and FA Cup will kick off seven minutes later, which includes a minute’s silence, and Liverpool will sport an emblem on their shirts bearing the legend “96 never forgotten”.   

There is a groundswell of emotion behind the idea of Steven Gerrard embellishing a marvellous career with a championship medal. Gerrard, who has given generously to fund the fight for justice, would of course trade all his medals and more for the life of his cousin, Jon Paul Gilhooley, the youngest to die on 15 April, 1989, aged just 10 years old. Jon Paul’s ticket came at the last minute, and off he rode with his uncles towards what should have been an afternoon of unimaginable joy.

The inquest is to last a year. We are at the beginning of a civilised end for the families. And for those who believe in the afterlife, there is comfort to be had in the thought of Jon Paul looking down on his cousin next weekend, giving him a celestial push toward footballing nirvana. One thing is certain: Gerrard will be looking up. Justice at last.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game