Andrew Warshaw: After “indefensible wait to get to the truth” more must be done to secure justice for the Hillsborough victims

Andrew Warshaw_IWF

A huge stone has been unturned and a whole lot of worms have been found crawling about underneath.

This is just one of a number of emotion-packed remarks I have heard on radio and television in the wake of the new Hillsborough stadium disaster report that revealed such a monumental cover-up and which has rightly made worldwide headlines.

So overwhelming was the stench of corruption uncovered by those who admirably and painstakingly produced the stomach-churning fresh evidence that some of the relatives of the 96 fans who died at Hillsborough are reported to have fainted when reading about the slurs on their sons and daughters, fathers and mothers who, in all innocence, went to watch an FA Cup semi-final and who not only never came home but were even blamed for their own deaths.

In the days before compulsory seating, I frequently found myself as a fan pushing and shoving my way into a position on the terraces from where I could get the best view. You were squeezed in like sardines and did not always feel totally comfortable but you went to support your team. Never did you feel you wouldn’t get out alive.

Then, just as today, you sometimes enjoyed a drink before the game. It was, and still is, part of the occasion, part of the experience, part of the fun. Of course, as regular football supporters, we have all experienced occasionally being surrounded by fans who have one too many and are not totally in control of their emotions. Some of us, if we are honest, may at one time or another even have fallen into that category!

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Don’t get me wrong. There is still the need at times for strong policing to make sure the minority do not spoil everything for the majority. That, however, is a far cry from the authorities disgustingly laying the blame for what happened at Hillsborough on allegedly drunken lunatics who knew no better; a far cry from the sickening inference that the fans themselves caused the mayhem that unfolded around them; a far cry from those in charge systematically and cynically covering up for one another, denigrating the dead and elaborately diverting responsibility for the crush that strangled the life out of so many young lives on to everyone but themselves.

Because of the reputation of football fans at the time, how easy it must have been to use them as scapegoats. Like many journalists who covered the Hillsborough disaster, I was unaware of the horrifying smear campaign that has now been exposed. Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the true facts is that a cover-up of such magnitude could take place in a so-called Western democracy. The sheer scale of it – the lies, the deceit, the illegal doctoring of official documents – almost defies belief. So appalling, in fact, it would seem out of place in totalitarian regimes where corruption routinely forms part of the fabric of society and where police collusion is rarely if ever suppressed.

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Thankfully, society and football have moved on in Britain since then. Thankfully, too, the truth came out because of the public release of documents that might not have seen the light of day in less accountable, tolerant countries.

What happens now is intriguing to say the least. If we take the view that all public servants should be brought to book, will the perpetrators of such callous dishonesty who thought they could get away with it be named and shamed? An “indefensible wait to get to the truth” was how Prime Minister David Cameron described the new evidence. It would be equally indefensible if nothing more is done about it – which surely will not be allowed to happen.

Andrew Warshaw is a former sports editor of The European, the newspaper that broke the Bosman story in the 1990s, the most significant issue to shape professional football as we know it today. Before that, he worked for the Associated Press for 13 years in Geneva and London. He is now the chief football reporter for insidethegames and insideworldfootball. Follow him on Twitter.