James Lawton: Relief and joy as Hillsborough families given shot at justice

The distinction of Hicks’s campaign on Hillsborough has been its great dignity

When the Lord Chief Justice yesterday quashed the Hillsborough inquest verdict, which for so long had rested like a bullet lodged close to the hearts of grieving families, the High Court was shook by cheers.

If we still value such things as justice and truth and honestly accountable public service they would have echoed into every corner of the land.

They might also have resounded most loudly when we considered the leader of the families, Trevor Hicks, whose contribution to the 23-year battle has been a consistent source of articulate, tough-minded argument.

On the pavement outside the court Hicks, who lost his daughters Sarah and Vicky when that river of avoidable death seeped on to the football field, and whose his marriage to Jenny collapsed under the pressure of the tragedy 15 months later, exulted in the legal statements that accompanied the decision and not least the declaration, "There has been a profound and palpable belief that justice had not been done." He said: "We couldn't have written it better ourselves."

Writing it is one thing, however. Making it happen with infinite determination and patience, believing that if you have hold of a truth it is the most valuable weapon of all, has been the supreme achievement of Hicks and his allies.

Over the years there have been many internal arguments, much agonising over strategy, and some outbreaks of civil war. At various times, Hicks was at odds with frustrated splinter groups questioning the vigour of the campaign but yesterday there was the crushing denouement of the scandalous attempts to cover up the facts.

Hicks's exhilaration was easy to understand. The recent report of the Independent Panel delivered shattering blows to those accused of conspiring in the cover-up. But if we saw the Prime Minister, David Cameron, at the dispatch box apologising on behalf of the nation, if there seemed encouraging evidence that some terrible wrongs might finally be put right, there was an old pull of doubt. Would that discredited inquest verdict really be put aside? Would there be new attempts to categorise, and apportion responsibility so long after many believed the traces of guilt had been brushed over for ever?

Yesterday the other shoe clattered to the floor of the Courts of Justice. After the apology, the action – and a superb vindication for Hicks, the man who always insisted that he would never rest until justice had been obtained.

With the announcement there was also a surge of relief, a cleaning of the air. No doubt you had to lose a loved one that spring day in Yorkshire to get the true measure of it, but if you were merely there, if you had walked on to the field and saw the desperate, even pathetic efforts of mostly untrained volunteers to save lives, make stretchers out of advertising hoardings, and then you saw and heard of the horrors of the makeshift mortuaries, the cold interrogation of distraught relatives about the amount of drink taken on the way to the game – Jenny Hicks, still not knowing the fate of her girls was questioned in this way – you too had the urge to throw a punch into the air.

Why? Because you saw the extent of the failures, for one reason or another but mostly indecisive leadership, of care, and then you went to give evidence to a police inquiry and a civil-court action and you felt the weight of the official reluctance to face up to the facts. You thought that justice delayed would peter away soon enough.

It might have done so but for the resilience of someone like Hicks and all those others who, in their different ways, railed against the fact that 96 innocent dead might always have a shadow over their reputations, one that was so hideously imposed by briefings that drunken louts robbed the dead and urinated over ambulance men.

Not the least distinction of Hicks's campaign has been its great dignity. If there has been an appalling sense of injustice, and often the fear, as one Home Secretary after another slammed shut the door with some finality, that the truth would always be obscured, the resolve has been steadfast.

It has brought a terrible pounding for the police and legal establishment. It has been a victory for persistent advocacy of that which is right and increasingly self-evident and yesterday, just as when the prime minister rose to make his apology, there was a strong sense here that there should be unusual reward for a man who would not be stopped when he kept coming in the fight not for vengeance but the good name of the country.

He might be given a knighthood not for his celebrity or a time-serving career in politics or the police or the civil service – where such honours seem to be just about mandatory – but standing up, year after year, for the innocent, the abused and his idea of an implacable truth.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
filmReview: In the face of all-round devastation, even Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson appears a little puny
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bright lights, big city: Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles by dusk
books
Sport
Harry Kane makes Paul Scholes' Premier League team of the season
footballPaul Scholes on the best players, managers and goals of the season - and the biggest disappointments
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

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor