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?
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

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game