The week before Christmas was a momentous one for the Hillsborough families.
The High Court told them that the evidence published by the Independent Hillsborough Panel had made it inevitable that the accidental death verdicts in the original inquests would be overturned.
On December 19, 2012, 23 years and eight months after their loved ones died at a football match, the families were finally told officially it was no accident.
People on Merseyside have always known that the accidental death verdict was a cover up for the failings of the police but for the families to finally hear it was further vindication that they were right to keep the fight going.
The 96 who died in April 1989 were not responsible for their own deaths and the lies and cover ups by senior police officers and by some sections of the media are now facing proper investigation as well. The Home Secretary has announced a further inquiry into the police actions on the day and in the aftermath.
And on the same day that the inquest verdicts were finally overturned, George Howarth, the MP for Knowsley asked the Prime Minister to waive the VAT on the Hillsborough CD, ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’. The Prime Minister confirmed that the VAT would not be charged and that the extra money would go to help the families. Then the next day, Angela Eagle, the MP for Wallasey asked the Leader of the House of Commons to confirm that the government would help the families with their legal costs for the new inquests. This request, too, was granted.
It has taken 23 years too long for justice to start to be done, but in the space of a week, a number of big steps have been taken. One of my constituents is Barry Devonside, whose son Christopher was one of those who died at Hillsborough. Barry told me that he was 42 years old when his son died. By the time that the new inquests have been held and all prosecutions carried out, he may be 70.
No one should have to wait so long for the truth to be recognised or for justice to be delivered. Barry will have fought for justice for Christopher for much of his adult life.
The same is true for all of the families. Anne Williams has fought for a new inquest for her son Kevin despite being turned down in a previous application to the court. Anne is very ill but she has the satisfaction of knowing that there will be a new inquest for Kevin. The Lord Chief Justice has called for new inquests to be held as soon as possible, hopefully next year.
The news of the new inquests was welcomed by the families and by their supporters but it was of course a bitter sweet victory. Nothing can bring back the 96 people who went to watch a football match and didn’t come home. But everything can be done now to ensure justice with new inquest verdicts and with prosecutions for those who contributed to the disaster and for those who covered up what happened on that April day so long ago.
These are tough times for most people, as austerity continues to bite especially hard across Merseyside. Next year will bring uncertainty and difficulties for many people. But at this time of year, I hope that people can find time to celebrate Christmas and to enjoy time with family and friends.
Can I therefore wish everyone in Sefton Central a very enjoyable festive season and a peaceful new year.