Ian Herbert: Out of the darkness springs hope eternal for families ruined by Hillsborough disaster

The last inquest was scarred by degenerating into a private battle

There have been very few new dawns for the Hillsborough families and nearly all of them false, but amid the latest tremors to beset their beloved football team came fragile cause for hope.

The court hearing convened to establish the parameters for the restaged inquests into the 96 victims of British sport's worst disaster was held in a building usually occupied by those in the midst of family anguish – the Principal Registry of the Family Division – which was appropriate. A girl who was 14 when her mother was killed at Sheffield Wednesday's ground did not think she would be middle-aged before sitting here, in the room where they would begin to put the truth straight. One of the QCs, Pete Weatherby, who argued what seemed to be an eminently sensible case about the North-West – and not London – being the best location for the inquests, described how two of those family members he had met and agreed to represent had died before this day arrived.

Typically of the past 24 years, Hillsborough was in the shadows of the news agenda – the Godolphin doping case was unfolding a few doors up on London's High Holborn and most of the cameras had amassed there. But the day the families had waited for did not let them down. When pre-inquest hearings were held first time around, on March 6 1990, it was a few suited men in a room, including the coroner Stefan Popper and the assistant chief constable of the West Midlands police force, which investigated its South Yorkshire's counterparts. They made abysmal plans, one detail of which tells the story. Families were asked to attend inquests hearings in the same Sheffield Medico-Legal centre where they had viewed the bodies of their loved ones, in the days after the disaster.

The rough edges of these past 24 years have bound families together and, perhaps naturally enough, turned some against others. The divisions were still deeply evident, even on this sunny day they'd waited for. The Hillsborough Family Support Group's members (71 of the 96 families) have voted by a strong majority at two Liverpool meetings since last December for London inquests – away from jurors who might harbour anti-Liverpool prejudice and in a place so neutral that no police officer could allege the outcome is prejudiced. The Hillsborough Justice Campaign don't like the idea of making that kind of journey. There will be financial assistance for travel and accommodation for families, though possibly not supporters. The trauma of raking back through tragedy while 230 miles from home is too much, their QC's argument ran.

That issue is setting group against group and the coroner, Lord Justice Goldring, was wise to hold off his judgement until next week, when a written verdict can be delivered with cold logic. But while his decision cannot possibly satisfy everyone, the first signs are that this judge is a strong, decisive and empathetic leader. He was careful to address the families – about 40 of them were in court – and to speak directly to those listening in by video link from Liverpool. He displayed a sense of urgency, dismissing in the course of five minutes a Police Federation notion that the inquests might be delayed for at least three years, possibly six, until criminal proceedings are concluded.

He cited the case of Anne Williams, mother of Hillsborough victim Kevin, who died last week. "Her death is a powerful reminder that there is an urgency attaching to the commencement of the inquest hearings, as well as a need for that investigation to be as full as possible," he said.

He will require a lot more than empathy, and sometimes the judgement of Solomon. Probity and fairness must be afforded to other parties, too. The last inquest "was scarred by degenerating into a private battle," he said. "This will not happen in the new inquests." This felt like a good day for justice.

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
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

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine