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.

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'