The living nightmare that has no ending

'I've never craved to see those policemen thrown in jail. I just wanted that small piece of accountability provided by a guilty verdict' Yesterday the British legal system deal a further blow to Peter and Pat Joynes in their tortured efforts to come to terms with the loss of their son Nicholas at Hillsborough
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The Independent Online

Peter Joynes, a 65-year-old retired builder, felt a familiar tightening of his chest when the judge directed the jury last week in the manslaughter trial of two senior police officers in charge of the Hillsborough stadium on the day that lead to 96 fans dying. From his point of view - before the acquittal of one officer and the failure of the jury to reach a verdict on the other - the summing up was just another disaster, like the coroner's hearing in the wake of the tragedy in 1989, the reaction to the Government-ordered Taylor Report and Home Secretary Jack Straw's review of evidence.

Peter Joynes, a 65-year-old retired builder, felt a familiar tightening of his chest when the judge directed the jury last week in the manslaughter trial of two senior police officers in charge of the Hillsborough stadium on the day that lead to 96 fans dying. From his point of view - before the acquittal of one officer and the failure of the jury to reach a verdict on the other - the summing up was just another disaster, like the coroner's hearing in the wake of the tragedy in 1989, the reaction to the Government-ordered Taylor Report and Home Secretary Jack Straw's review of evidence.

"I found myself looking into the eyes of the jury," he relates. "They were working-class people like me and I was hoping against hope that they would be able to sift through all that evidence and see that something was so badly wrong, that there should be some accountability for all those lost lives.

"I'm not a member of a lynch mob," he continues. "I've never craved to see those policemen thrown into jail. I just wanted that small piece of accountability provided by a guilty verdict, so that my wife Pat and I could at last begin to mourn Nicholas - that after all this time some healing could begin."

Nicholas, an engineer, newly graduated from university and newly married, died in the crush of Hillsborough. With the other victims, he was carried to the makeshift mortuary, a gymnasium at the end of the ground. They died, blue-faced, gasping for breath in the spring sunshine that bathed a football pitch which had been turned into a killing field; and none of us who were there, who walked among the dead and saw the pathetic attempts of the survivors to tend the victims, tearing up advertising hoardings for stretchers, blowing futile kisses of life, screaming in rage and disbelief as the ambulances trundled on to the scene when most of the dying had been done, will be able to ever forget any of it. Least of all the sense of dread that consumed you before the first of the deaths, when the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough was packed beyond reason and a gate was eventually opened and the panic started and the dying began.

There were all kinds of horrors that day but the most pervasive was the overpowering sense that when it had mattered there was no one to help, that so many lives had been caught up in a fatal, irreversible tide.

I saw the Leppings Lane entrance about 20 minutes before kick-off. Already the crush was frightening, and when I asked how I might enter the ground I was told to walk to the other side, where the Nottingham Forest fans had been segregated from those of Liverpool. For those at the front of the crush there was no such solution. Groups of police officers stood inactive while a few mounted policemen attempted to push back the weight of fans at the turnstiles. The sense of foreboding was immense. When I eventually found my seat in the press box I turned to a colleague and said that I feared lives could be lost at Leppings Lane. It all seemed like a nightmare from which there would be no waking.

Later, there would be reports, based on police 'leaks', that some Liverpool fans had urinated on first-aid workers and that there was looting of the dead. I saw none of that when I walked on the field minutes after the first unfolding of the tragedy. Nor had I earlier seen "drunken", ticketless Liverpool fans rampaging at the gates. I saw much chaos and panic and though indeed there has been evidence that some Liverpool fans behaved badly, I could never be persuaded that such influence was central to the disaster.

What I saw then, and will always see, was a simple loss of control of a large number of people in a hazardously confined space - one which, as it happened, was not in possession of a current safety certificate from the local council.

The futility of it all was numbing. In the morning we saw the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, lay flowers at the gates of Hillsborough and talk of her sympathy, and the only thing that shook us out of the trance was a professional need to put it all on record, and for there indeed to be some accountability. That, Peter Joynes agrees, to some degree sustained the bereaved in their first agony.

But the years have been cruel to his hopes and those of the Hillsborough Family Support Group who, in what some feared was the last push for justice, raised the funds for the private prosecution which over the last five weeks has placed the men in charge of public safety that day, Superintendents David Duckenfield and Bernard Murray in the dock of Leeds Crown Court. The report of the late Lord Chief Justice Taylor had recommended disciplinary proceedings against the senior police officers, but Duckenfield retired for health reasons on a full pension - and soon afterwards took up the post of secretary of a local golf club.

From that point the rage of the families and friends who gathered in the Leeds courtroom has never been stilled.

Joynes, a conservative golf-lover himself, far from the stereotype of the average football fan, has expressed that outrage with a consistent eloquence, and his perspective, and that of his wife - who for 11 years has slept only with the assistance of sleeping tablets - comes from a particularly biting familiarity with grief.

Some years before their son Nicholas's death at Hillsborough, they lost another son, Mark, as the result of proven medical negligence after a car crash in South Africa. "The doctor concerned," says Joynes, "was reprimanded, which meant that we were able to grieve for Mark in the normal way. It was terrible, of course, but there were no unanswered questions about his death. Responsibility had been assigned, and so there could be some healing down the years. We've never had this with Nicholas."

Joynes has a recurring nightmare. "Always I am going back to the ground and getting Nicholas out. He was a great joy to me."

Ironically, the Joynes are transplanted natives of Sheffield and their family links with the city contributed to a twist of the emotional horror of the day that Nicholas died.

Patricia was working her part-time job at Marks and Spencer in Liverpool when she first heard there was a problem at Hillsborough. "At first," she recalls," I wasn't too bothered. In those days there always seemed to be a bit of trouble at football but I never worried about Nicholas. He loved football, he had played for Bootle Boys with Tommy Caton, who went on to play for Manchester City."

But by 3.30 Patricia Joynes's first confidence was breaking down. The first dead had been counted and the first ambulances were seen on the field. She called Peter and asked him to drive her home. He had an emergency number to call, but it was permanently engaged.

They bombarded their Sheffield relatives with calls, hoping that one of them would tell them that Nicholas had made his way to a safe place away from all the horror and was perhaps drinking a cup of tea. The next few hours passed in a torment of indecision about whether to drive to Sheffield or wait by the phone, but at 6pm there was relief. A friend called to say that Nicholas had been sighted. He was safe. Suddenly the Joynes felt very hungry. Patricia cooked a meal and Peter went round to the off-license and bought a bottle of wine. He remembers that part well: it was St Emilion and the bottle is still untouched.

Another call: the report was false. Nicholas had not been seen, after all.

It was then that they drove to Sheffield, with Nicholas's father-in-law Jim, and a friend, Ian Price. They went to the hospital and looked at lists. Price was escorted through the intensive-care unit to check on 14 victims who had made it to the hospital. Nicholas was not among them. Peter Joynes was told to follow a social worker who was driving back to Hillsborough and the improvised mortuary. The Joynes still shudder when they recount the hellish scene. The bodies covered the floor. On a noticeboard there were Polaroid pictures of the dead, and from time to time there were screams when the body of a loved one was recognised. Eventually, a family friend told Ian Price he had seen Nicholas's picture. Patricia Joynes insisted on identifying the body. When Mark's body was flown home from South Africa the coffin had remained closed because of custom regulations, and because of that she had never quite believed her son had died. "I wanted proof this time," she says. "Maybe it was irrational but at the time it seemed like the most important thing."

For the last 11 years the Joynes have lived under the shadow of that moment. From time to time they have been caught up in the elation of believing that they were close to achieving that elusive moment of accountability. When Jack Straw ordered a review of evidence, and put it in the hands of Lord Justice Stuart Smith, they, along with the rest of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, believed a moment of breakthrough had been achieved. But Peter Joynes was discouraged by his meeting with Smith and a few days before Straw followed the path of his Tory predecessor Michael Howard and announced that the file was closed, he went public with his doubts.

He declared, "I want our feelings on the record now because I think the public which has shown us so much support - especially after the recent docu-drama by Jimmy McGovern which showed all the fatal mistakes made that day - needs to be warned about what is likely to happen when Jack Straw makes his announcement. I don't think our basic demands will be met."

There was a similar dwindling of optimism in the Leeds courtroom this week, a feeling that any kind of atonement for all those crushed lives was as far away as ever. "What will we do now?" Joynes wondered. He is still grappling with the question. No doubt he will comfort his wife and support her in a life which for so long has had a terrible emptiness at its core. "At first I supposed," he said, "we would go on exploring legal avenues, seeing what could be done. It just didn't seem possible to put it all away, and say, 'well, it's time to get on with the rest of our lives'. You see, it had become our life and to deny it now would not be just to betray Nicholas and all those others who died needlessly. We would also be betraying ourselves."

By yesterday, though, when the judge ruled there would be no retrial, Peter Joynes could see that a point had been made, one which the police and the legal establishment would be unlikely to ignore. He said, "We have sent some huge messages to the Home Secretary Jack Straw and the police: we have exposed the changing of evidence, and surely, after this, no Home Secretary will ever permit one police authority to be investigated by another. When you look at it like this you can say that our son didn't die entirely in vain. Nothing was ever gong to bring him and the others back, but we had to fight for justice. Justice failed us in many ways, but not completely. We got certain things on the record and maybe we'll have to settle for that."

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