(Previous Hillsborough blog: “‘B*****ks – no one would have been killed’ – the stridently, chillingly complacent riposte came from the then-chairman of Sheffield Wednesday, yet could have tripped from the lips of many more...”)
Families of football fans killed in the Hillsborough disaster are urging Theresa May not to ‘betray’ them by scrapping the Human Rights Act.
‘Justice for the 96’ campaigners are backing a new Amnesty International defence of the act, which proved crucial in securing a second inquest into how and why their loved ones died.
They told Metro how the government’s readiness to repeat the Act could prevent similar disasters from being properly investigated - and instead protect corrupt police and authorities.
They today backed Amnesty International’s new ‘Save The Act’ campaign - launching on Tuesday - to keep the Human Rights Act, which came into force in Britain in 2000.
The legislation includes Article Two upholding the ‘right to life’ - something denied to the 96 fans crushed to death at Hillsborough in April 1989 during an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
That mechanism strengthened the Hillsborough campaign’s demands for a second inquest which this April ruled the killings were unlawful, Liverpool fans were not to blame, and senior police had erred on the day and in a subsequent cover-up.
Steve Kelly, 63, who lost 38-year-old brother Mike, told Metro: ‘I’m quite surprised that the prime minister - who when she was home secretary gave such a powerful speech to Parliament supporting us - is now trying to repeal the act which was so vital for us.
‘Events like Hillsborough will happen again and people need somewhere to go to challenge those who’ve possibly let them down.’
Becky Shah, 44, whose Danish-born mother Inger died aged 38, said: ‘There seems to be an anti-human rights climate building.’
The Conservatives’ 2015 general election manifesto included a commitment to replacing the Human Rights Act - brought into law by Tony Blair - with a new Bill of Rights.
Laura Trevelyan, Amnesty campaign manager, said: ‘The Human Rights Act protects people when they’ve been let down by other avenues of justice and we mustn’t let politicians take those hard-won rights away.’
Mrs May has criticised the HRA, claiming it gives too much help to foreign criminals fighting deportation and too much power to the European Court of Human Rights which has over-ruled British judgments on whole-life sentences and barring prisoners from voting.
A Tory briefing paper on their proposals says human rights laws should be ‘limited to cases that involve criminal law and the liberty of an individual, the right to property and similar serious matters’.
The Ministry of Justice said: ‘We will set out our proposals for a Bill of Rights in due course. We will consult fully on our proposals.’
Barry Devonside remains haunted, 27 years on, by the moment he backed down and let his teenage son join friends in the ill-fated Leppings Lane end.
He and his son Christopher - a keen sportsman who wanted to become a journalist - had tickets for the Hillsborough clash and planned to sit in one of the side stands, rather than behind the goal.
Mr Devonside, 69 and from Formby, recalls the Thursday night beforehand: ‘Chris asked me three times if he could go in the Leppings Lane end with his mates.
‘I was telling him no, it’s not safe, it’s a massive crush. But the third time, I just said yes - I haven’t a clue why, I just don’t know.
‘I’m going to carry that for the rest of my life.’
Since then he not only attended every day of the two inquests but also came face to face during the second one with former Hillsborough commander David Duckenfield, the man who gave the fateful instruction to open the gates that day.
Mr Devonside recalled: ‘I didn’t plan to stop and talk to him outside, I didn’t confront him, but when he was coming out I walked up to him and asked: “Mr Duckenfield, why’s it taken you all these years to tell the truth?”
‘He said: “I’m sorry.”
‘I said: “Is that the best you can do?”
‘But whether he ever goes down or not, he’ll always have 96 deaths on his conscience.’
families are united by plenty, including the neglect, suspicion and contempt they faced from police officers even when learning about - and trying to identify - their lost loved ones.
All remember how quick police were to ask about whether their dead relatives would have been drinking before the game.
After the original inquest ruled the deaths accidental, Mr Devonside would see officers hauling crates of beer, wine and spirits into an adjoining room then sneeringly slamming its door in his face.
The ‘smear campaign’ against Liverpool fans culminated in an infamous front-page of The Sun headlined ‘The truth’, falsely claiming supporters had behaved like hooligans, stolen from the dead and urinated on police.
Among the 14 verdicts given at this April’s inquest was one rejecting any suggestion Liverpool fans’ behaviour contributed to the disaster.
Mr Devonside said: ‘They were police officers who did do their level best on the day - giving CPR. But their seniors did nothing to help.
‘All they were interested in was protecting their own reputations, individually and collectively.
‘The cover-up started on the day. The police realised they had failed at Hillsborough and they had to do something very quickly.’
At least April brought tough-won vindication for the struggles since.
He said: ‘We were all holding hands as the jurors came back. When the forewoman came to ‘unlawful killing’, my wife Jackie turned to me and said: “She did say unlawful killing, didn’t she?”
‘I just couldn’t believe it because we’d been through so many years of fighting. But it was 14-0.
‘I was elated. There wasn’t much we could do for Chris but fight to achieve the verdicts we got.’
The IPCC is expected to rule imminently on 160 complaints they have received about police actions before, during and after the disaster.
Operation Resolve, the criminal investigation into Hillsborough police, should also soon announce whether any officers will face charges.
Potential charges being considered include gross negligence manslaughter, misconduct in public office, perverting the course of justice and potential breaches of the Safety at Sports Ground Act and Health and Safety at Work Act.
Mr Devonside declared: ‘What we want now is accountability - that’s going to be the hard part.’
More sceptical is the daughter of the only mother killed at Hillsborough.
Becky Shah ended up in care, lost her home and her family and is still wracked by post-traumatic stress disorder - and anger.
Of the looming inquiries, she told Metro: ‘Hopefully they’ll leave no stone unturned - however, given our previous experiences, optimism is extremely low.’
She was watching the alarming scenes from Hillsborough live on television knowing her single parent mother Inger, 38, was there with 13-year-old brother Daniel - who survived, but the pair are now estranged.
Ms Shah, 44, said: ‘I didn’t go in 1989 because my season-ticket ended in the wrong number so I missed out on the allocation - otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you now.’
She had attended the previous year’s FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough, also between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest and also marked by dangerous over-crowding - with tragedy avoided, but warnings left unheeded.
She recalled: ‘That was the worst crushing I’d ever known at a game. But nothing was learnt.
‘Watching it that day in 1989, they were talking about drunken hooligans, tanked-up and storming the gates.
‘But what I could see were very frightened and distressed people doing their utmost to help others.
‘You knew straight away it wasn’t a pitch invasion by the way people were walking.
‘I was aware of the cover-up right from the start.’
Ms Shah and her younger brother were taken into care after being left without a parent - her father had split from Inger some time previously and was not in the picture.
Over the years she and her brother have fallen out of contact, and her post-traumatic stress disorder has marred her life - while time spent campaigning cost her dearly, including her home.
She said: ‘My family has been totally devastated. My mum was our only parent, we were both at school and we both had to go into care as a result.
‘It changes you as people. We’re no longer the same people we were before that day.’
She had been sceptical ahead of the April second inquest verdicts, which did ultimately rule the supporters were unlawfully killed and bore no blame for their own deaths.
She said: ‘I wasn’t sure whether they were just giving us a little something to shut us up and make us go away, as they’d tried to do so often in the past.
‘It was very difficult for us families to put any faith and optimism in the second inquest after all that had gone before.’
And even the rulings in their favour provided only restricted respite.
Ms Shah, now living in Anfield in Liverpool, said: ‘It was a monumental day - although one which should have come a lot sooner, and there will always be an anger about that.
‘Since then, it’s been a wave of total exhaustion. It just completely overwhelmed me.
‘I couldn’t do anything for weeks afterwards. I felt completely smashed. I’d given everything I could to the inquest.
‘At the time I’d lost my job, my flat and my family as a result of all this.
‘There was a feeling at the inquests that all this has taken years off my life, whereas there are people in authority who’ve got off far too easily.’
But she tries to cling to what positives she can, including the mass of support that has gradually grown over the years.
She said: ‘I don’t think any other city would have put up a justice campaign like Liverpool has done - such is the strength and solidarity in this community, to not take this lying down but to stand up and fight.
‘It’s been helpful to realise that most people across the country now see Hillsborough the way we do - although for certain sections of our society that has been a long time coming.
‘There’s been a smear campaign from various different sections of the government, the authorities, the media, to turn minds against us over the years.
‘But I think these verdicts make it much, much harder for them to do that now - especially as the verdicts were unanimous.’
Steve Kelly finally discovered his brother Mike was among the Hillsborough victims when a police officer hurled him a Polaroid showing the body ‘like dealing a playing card’.
At that brutal moment, the last of the 95 fans killed on the day was identified - but it was only when this year’s inquests vindicated those killed and Steve felt he could ‘take his brother home’.
After spending the Saturday night as a taxi driver ferrying traumatised supporters back home, Everton supporter Steve spent much of the Sunday searching for his Liverpool fanatic brother.
At last one officer brusquely revealed 38-year-old Mike was among the victims in a makeshift morgue, before swiftly shifting to asking about fans drinking.
Steve, 63, from Croxteth, told Metro: ‘We were just an ordinary family - we’d never had any dealings with police and these were people you just believed in.
'But I found I was doing their dirty work for them, answering questions about whether Mike liked a pint - would he have had a few bevvies before the match?
‘That’s hurt over the years. They were building their case right from the start, setting up the cover-up.’
He recalled: ‘My mum was ill with breast cancer at the time, my sister was distressed and I decided to be the man of the house.
‘I told my sister to concentrate on our mum and I’ll deal with the police. I also started attending meetings of the Hillsborough family group that was set up.
‘It became clear we were all being treated the same way - all being asked about drink and how the fans behaved.
‘There were 25,000 Liverpool fans there that day - no one was stealing from the bodies, no one was p***ing on the police or the dead, no one was stoning the cops.
‘But it dawned on us that the police were blaming our lads and girls, whereas it was them who lost control. They’re trying to pin the blame on the fans here.
Even on her deathbed Mike’s mother Jean was asking whether her lost son really had been a hooligan, as a smear campaign claimed.
Steve said: ‘What a worry for a mother to take to her deathbed and what a final conversation, defending your brother from such allegations.
‘I promised my mum and my sister, who died in 2000, that it would turn out right.
‘I wouldn’t let my sister down, I wouldn’t let my mother down, and I certainly wouldn’t let Mike down.’
Despite supporting Liverpool’s city rivals – elder brother Mike insisted early on he would be the only Red in the household - Steve has become a fervent member of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, spreading the word to fellow Toffees fans at the Goodison Park club shop.
He said: ‘This whole thing transcended Liverpool FC, and even the football community as a whole which embraced the “Justice for the 96” chant. So many people realised: this could have been us.’
But it took some time even for April’s unlawful killing verdicts to sink in.
He said: ‘When we went outside to this mass of cameras, I just seemed to wander around on my own - like in a fog, just drifting.
‘I was trying to gather my thoughts then all of a sudden I felt a hand on my shoulder - Matt Walker, from LFC TV - who asked how I felt and what I was going to do now.
‘I broke into a smile, told him I felt wonderful about the right result and then: “Now I’m going to take Mike home.”’
His next ports of call were the graves of his sister Joan and their parents Jean and Patrick.
Steve said: ‘I spoke to them all and told them the result.
'For 27 years Mike had been in a sort of limbo.‘Now I felt like finally my brother was going home to his mum.’