Legacy and lessons from Hillsborough

As a victims’ charity founded by the bereaved, RoadPeace is more familiar with loss and struggle than celebration. But the Hillsborough inquest verdict last week gave us reason to hope as it was a reminder that justice is possible, even if it does require over a quarter of a century of struggle.

And there was much that our members could empathise with. More families bereaved by a road death end up at the coroners’ court than the criminal court. Coroners continue to play a decisive role in all road deaths as they decide when the body of the deceased can be released and this varies too widely due to second post mortems.

Pauline Fielding, RoadPeace North West Local Group co-ordinator,said

“As a fellow Liverpudlian and a mother still looking for truth and justice following my son’s death in a road crash 22 years ago, I am encouraged by the achievements of the Hillsborough families. Let’s hope that their campaign will be seen by history as a turning point in victims’ struggles for truth and justice and also a warning to “professionals” to always be honest, open and to do their jobs thoroughly. The verdict shows we should never give up on the search for truth and justice. ”

Not just numbers but loved ones 

We welcomed the press seeing the victims not just as numbers but remembered as family members.

Those who died ranged in age from 10 to 67; 37 were teenagers. Three pairs of brothers, one pair of sisters and one father and son, Thomas Howard Sr and Jr, died together. Twenty-six of those who died were parents; 58 children lost a parent. Many of them have, as adults, attended the inquests almost every day during its two-year duration. It is by far the longest case heard by a jury in British legal history.  

Government gratitude for the families’ campaign

As acknowledged by the Home Secretary

“For 27 years the families and survivors of Hillsborough have fought for justice. They have faced hostility, opposition and obfuscation, and the authorities that should have been trusted, have laid blame and tried to protect themselves instead of acting in the public interest. But the families have never faltered in their pursuit of the truth.

Thanks to their actions, they have brought about a proper reinvestigation, and a thorough re-evaluation of what happened at Hillsborough.

That they have done so is extraordinary. I am sure the whole house will want to join me in paying tribute to their courage, determination and resolve. And we should also remember those who have sadly passed away while still waiting for justice.

No one should have to endure what the families and survivors have been through. No one should have to suffer the loss of their loved ones through such appalling circumstances, and no one should have to fight year after year, decade after decade, in the search of the truth.

I hope that for the families and survivors who have been through such difficult times, yesterday’s determinations will bring them closer towards the peace they have been so long denied.”

Impact on families and campaign legacy

Julie Fallon, sister of Andrew Sefton, who was killed at Hillsborough, wrote about the impact on the families. She poignantly noted that “We no longer have any idea of the people we might have been without the influence of this disaster”.

She also wrote about the legacy of their campaign, stating

the truly astonishing fact that we as a support group – a mixed bag of bereaved, devastated family members, thrown together 27 years ago – are still standing here at all. We were not meant to be and if others had their way, we wouldn’t be. This is also our greatest achievement…

So, how on earth are we still standing here, then? We are still standing here because we are decent, ordinary people placed in extraordinary circumstances of someone else’s making. In order not to be cowed whatever the cost, we have had to find within ourselves skills and attributes we never knew we possessed. We are an example of the very best this nation has to offer; dignified, resilient, honourable, compassionate, fair-minded and driven by a determination to have the truth exposed.

And there lies our real legacy, our real headline in history: “Hillsborough – the real truth”. We have paved the way for other ordinary, decent people in this country, who also find themselves in extraordinary circumstances of someone else’s making, to tread the path to truth and justice. We have swept the road before you, heaved boulders, checked for mines, swallowed dust, buried our dead at the roadside and, at times, crawled on our hands and knees, so that the path is now a little easier for you to walk on.

That is the significance of us still standing here after 27 years, and it is what the Hillsborough families should be ultimately remembered for, that we, at a very dear cost to ourselves, have given a measure of power and hope for what is possible, back to the ordinary person.

Lessons for RoadPeace

And whilst we take hope, power remains elusive. Hillsborough has also been a painful reminder that road crash victims regularly “walk alone”. There are no family forums or independent panels provided for them by the justice system. The call for a public advocate to represent the bereaved is limited to cases of mass disasters and will do nothing to help the vast majority of bereaved families who end up in the coroner’s court.  And this includes the majority of families bereaved by crashes.

The Home Secretary was just one of many to praise the determination and the resolve of the Hillsborough families. Their solidarity was credited with being a key reason that justice was achieved.

Similar solidarity is needed amongst road crash victims. And the need is great. The Hillsborough disaster represented a week’s road death toll in 1989, with 5373 killed on Britain’s roads that year. Since Hillsborough, over 85,000 sons and daughters have been killed in crashes in Britain.

As Lord Blunkett noted when debating the Public Advocate bill in the House of Lords,

“At the very moment when people are hurt the most—in one sense disabled the most from being able to be advocates on their own behalf and for those loved ones they have lost—we need to assist them to be able to articulate that hurt and to seek redress. More importantly than redress itself is to be able to investigate and put right those aspects which can be identified as having gone very badly wrong so that others do not have to suffer in that way. Therefore an advocate is needed most at the moment of greatest hurt.”

For over 24 years, RoadPeace has been an advocate for road crash victims. And just as the Hillsborough families’ campaign for justice is not over, neither is RoadPeace’s.

 

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