Relatives of 96 Liverpool fans who died in the UK's worst football disaster 22 years ago are a step closer to finding out why they were targeted in a campaign of vilification instead of receiving sympathy from the authorities.
The relatives' long campaign to find out what happened in the days that followed the tragedy at the Hillsborough Stadium, in Sheffield, on 15 April 1989 achieved a political breakthrough when MPs were told all the documents relating to the tragedy are to be released.
It was the first time that a debate had been held in the Commons in response to an e-petition. Nearly 140,000 people backed a petition on the Downing Street website calling for the release of all the relevant documents.
The lingering anger about the tragedy was intensified by rumours spread afterwards which blamed the deaths on yobbish behaviour by the fans. This was reported in several newspapers, most notably in The Sun, which ran the rumours under the headline "The Truth". But they were dismissed outright in the official report by a High Court judge, Lord Taylor, which squarely blamed mistakes by the police. It has never been established who was behind the rumours. Trevor Hicks, president of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, who lost two teenage daughters on that day, said he believed a political decision was made on the Sunday morning afterwards, when Margaret Thatcher met South Yorkshire Police to attribute blame to the Liverpool fans because it fit the government's law-and-order agenda. "We believe that was the start of the attempt to slide responsibility on to the fans," he told a Westminster press conference.
Steve Rotheram, Labour MP for Liverpool Walton, who survived the tragedy, told MPs yesterday that the fans were subjected to "a co-ordinated campaign to shift the blame", which he attributed to "cowardice and deceit of the highest order" on the part of "those desperate to save their own skins".
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, promised that no relevant government documents will be kept secret and apologised to the families that the Government's response to a BBC request for publication of the documents had caused distress in Merseyside.
Some 300,000 documents will be passed to the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which is likely to publish its findings in 2012.