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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
A boy holds a chick during the Russian National Agricultural Exhibition Golden Autumn 2014 in Moscow on October 9, 2014.
news
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
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

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot