Hillsborough scars will take a long time to heal

If you think our safety-conscious culture has gone too far - remember that 23 years ago dozens upon dozens of people were left to die because no one really cared


The world has changed so much in the past 23 years that, today, when we read about the Hillsborough tragedy, we can scarcely believe it possible that people who wanted nothing more than to watch a football match could be treated in such an inhuman way.

These days, we hear a consistent refrain from citizens complaining about the tyranny of health and safety regulations or moaning about the overweening power of the nanny state. Well, recall the circumstances around Hillsborough in April 1989, and see what the alternative looks like: people treated like animals, lack of proper safety procedures, a callous disregard for human life from the authorities, followed by institutional collusion to prevent the true facts from emerging, and a campaign to smear the victims.

It is worth recounting the basic facts: 96 people – of whom half were less than 21 years old – lost their lives in the terrible crush on those terraces that day. Hillsborough changed football for ever, ushering modern all-seater stadiums where multimillionaire players could strut their stuff and middle-class spectators could find a decent Chablis.

But it changed more than just our national game. As the truth became clear about the institutional failures, there was a realisation that a fundamental responsibility of the state is to keep its citizens safe. The dignity and tenacity with which the families of the Hillsborough victims have prosecuted their fight for justice – leading to yesterday's release of hitherto classified documents – has done a huge amount to change a corporate mindset where the need to defend an authority position is balanced by an understanding of the rights of the individual.

You may well find the safety regulations in modern life excessive. You may think it's mad to stop children playing conkers unless they're wearing goggles. But it would be as well to pause, and think about where we have come from. It's only 23 years since dozens upon dozens of people were left to die in a football ground because no one really cared.

Liverpool has changed dramatically, too, a beneficiary of New Labour's largely successful policy to reinvigorate the great provincial cities of Britain. But it still carries the wounds of its past, none more deep than Hillsborough. So it must have been a source of dismay and anger to Liverpudlians when they heard Boris Johnson being cheered to the skies the other day.

The Mayor of London, now riding a wave of popularity, is remembered on Merseyside for what he said in 2004 about "Liverpool's failure to acknowledge, even to this day, the part played by drunken fans at the back of the crowd who mindlessly tried to fight their way into the ground".

Yes, the world has changed, but some scars will take a long time to heal.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Good old days? Social justice had real meaning for those who lived through the war  

Social justice is political pie in the sky

DJ Taylor

Street harrassment: There are some things only a man can explain

Katy Guest
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam