In a mass panic in the stadium in 1989 die 96 football fans in Hillsborough. Thirty years later, the responsible police chief is now acquitted. The relatives of the victims are shaken.
Margaret Aspinall stood at the window of her house in Liverpool and looked out into the street. It was April 15, 1989, a friendly spring day, she remembers. Aspinall saw her son James stroll down the street. James, just 18 years old, wanted to travel by bus with a friend to Sheffield, just two hours away, to cheer on Liverpool FC in the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest. For the first time, James followed his favorite club to an away game. Margaret Aspinall looked out the window and thought, “I wish everyone knew that this wonderful young man is my son.” It was the last time she saw him alive.
On April 15, 1989, 96 Liverpool fans die in the Hillsborough football stadium, one of whom is James. It is still the biggest tragedy in European football, the saddest moment in England’s sporting history. And a trauma that many people in Liverpool have not overcome until today. Almost everyone knows someone who was in Hillsborough that day.
This Thursday, thirty years after the disaster, a court in Preston, UK has now passed sentence. The jury has acquitted the then Chief of Police and Operations Director David Duckenfield of the allegation of manslaughter. The prosecution had previously accused Duckenfield to have contributed to the misfortune by a mistake.
Caught in the stadium
On 15 April 1989, thousands of Liverpool fans were crowded in front of the football stadium, the kick-off was imminent, but the inlet faltered. The fans had to pass a needle eye from turnstiles and then a second bottleneck: a narrow tunnel leading to two sectors behind the gate. The sectors were delimited by massive metal grilles. To get the fans to the stadium in time for the start of the match, police chief David Duckenfield decided to open an emergency exit gate next to the turnstiles. Within five minutes, more than 2000 people pushed through the narrow tunnel into the two sectors that were already full. Fans were crushed between the metal bars, their friends, families and strangers. 95 people died on 15 April, a person succumbed later to the injuries.
Aspinall was shaken Thursday after the acquittal of Duckenfield. She has been working for the survivors and victims of the disaster for thirty years and chairs the Hillsborough Family Support Group. Fought in court and in the media to investigate the case more closely. She had hoped the jury would agree with the prosecutor’s opinion. This had accused Duckenfield, he had tried to cover up his own mistake. On the day of the disaster, Duckenfield had stated that drunken fans had entered the emergency exit. It was a lie.
The jury voiced Duckenfield freely. The defender had argued that Duckenfield had been overwhelmed at the time, that could not be accused him. For Duckenfield it was the first bet during a football game. Only 19 days before he had taken the leadership position.
After the verdict Aspinall spoke on Thursday in Liverpool to the media. In an energetic voice, she said, “I have not fought for justice in this land for thirty years to see my struggle for my son once again be ended by a one-sided trial.” She then added, “That’s a shame for our nation. 96 people have been killed, and yet no one is to blame. “Relatives wept.
Killed, not crashed
For Margaret Aspinall and the relatives of the victims, the acquittal of Duckenfield is a setback. Aspinall, as president of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, fought for thirty years to educate who is to blame for the disaster. In 1991, the investigations had been suspended for the first time on the grounds that Hillsborough had been an accident. Margaret Aspinall and other relatives then filed civil action against David Duckenfield. The lawsuit was rejected.
Only twenty years later, the case was reopened due to the vehement efforts of the Hillsborough Family Support Group. A new commission came to the conclusion in 2012 that the law enforcement officials had jointly blamed the accident and that testimony had subsequently been changed to accuse the fans. The Prosecutor General’s Office then resumed the proceedings.
On 26 April 2016, a jury in Warrington ruled: The 96 victims were not killed but “unlawful” killed. Aspinall was praised for her efforts, awarded prizes. And so she decided to go on fighting one last time, even though, as she said in an interview with the NZZ in the spring, she was “very exhausted.” Aspinall hoped Duckenfield’s conviction would help her let go – her son and work for the Hillsborough Family Support Group.