After nearly 40 years I thought I had seen enough things in court not to be surprised by very much. But then I hadn’t ever done a case quite like this one before. In 17 dramatic minutes between 11.05 and 11.22, the jury had returned conclusions fixing responsibility for the Hillsborough disaster firmly at the doors of the South Yorkshire Police, Sheffield Wednesday FC, Sheffield City Council, the Club’s engineers Eastwood & Partners, and, so far as the woefully inadequate rescue effort was concerned, South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service as well as SYP.
By the time the Coroner adjourned for the final time at 4.20pm, we had seen all the family members in court give the jury a standing ovation, richly deserved after two whole years of work on the case.
When the forewoman confirmed that the jury were sure that the 96 had been unlawfully killed, the families in the courtroom broke into excited shouts of joy and relief. For many of the families this was the holy grail: confirmation that the most senior officer on duty at Hillsborough had failed in his duty so grossly that it amounted to criminal behaviour.
But in that moment of euphoria, we knew there might yet be a sting in the tail. The next question asked whether the supporters had contributed in any way to the dangerous build-up outside the ground. This had been the focus of the whole case of the police teams - that it was all the fault of the fans, not the police.
The logic of the question was of course that those who died, who were all still alive when gate C was opened at 14.52 - and many of whom only entered the ground through that gate - had caused their own deaths and that their friends, brothers and sisters who did not die were in fact responsible for their deaths.
When the forewoman made it clear that the jury had unanimously rejected this disgraceful slur by the police, the courtroom erupted into wild cheering all over again. Finally, the fans had been exonerated and all the calumnies that had been heaped on the Liverpool fans over the years had been shown to be lies.
We had planned long for this day. We had written draft press releases expressing our families’ views at various conclusions the jury might reach - but when it happened, even I had not expected we might wipe the floor so comprehensively with the police and other institutions.
This is what total victory looks like. This is vindication of an extraordinary struggle by some extraordinary people who simply would not give up their fight for justice. The ramifications of this momentous day will take some time to resolve but let there be no doubt. This was victory at its sweetest. Pity it took 27 years to be achieved.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies