Hillsborough: Hoping that the truth will out and justice will prevail

Today, the Hillsborough Independent Panel will publish a report on the hundreds of thousands of documents related to the 1989 stadium disaster in Sheffield that it has spent the last two-and-a-half years scrutinising.

After 23 years, the survivors, the families of the victims and everyone affected by the events of 15 April 1989 will, hopefully, have a greater idea of not only what happened that day but what authorities did afterwards to cover for their dreadful inadequacies on that fateful day.

We will know, perhaps just what senior government figures really thought about what happened at Hillsborough and we will know just what could have been done to avert the awful death toll if the coroner did not impose the 3.15pm cut off point which has effectively meant that in one case the strong evidence assembled by Anne Williams about her son, Kevin, and his survival until nearly 4pm day that has never been officially recorded.

For anyone affected by the disaster it can only be hoped that today marks not the end but the beginning of the end and that the fight for justice will be greatly enhanced by the evidence that will be put before the world to see. At long last.

Remembering Hillsborough 22 years on

I doubt it gets any easier for people like Anne Williams.

She still fights for justice for her son Kevin and when you meet her, her face bares all the emotional scars of that fight. Her voice and the way she speaks to you gives you just a sense of the anger she still feels towards those who caused her son’s death.

Last year, after the memorial service for the 21st anniversary, I interviewed Anne and found out a little about her story as part of a package I put together for JMU Journalism. Here is the interview in full:

Two years ago, Hillsborough was national news, I remember it led all news bulletins and the barracking that the Anfield crowd gave Andy Burnham was memorable and powerful and prompted action.

Action came in the form of a panel, the one Williams mentions sceptically, to comb through the unreleased state documents pertaining to Hillsborough in the hope of finding answers as to why no one has ever been held to account for the death of 96 football supporters at a football ground.

Today, Hillsborough will hardly be mentioned but the pain for those who lost family and friends and those who survived will go on and the city of Liverpool will pause to remember the 96 who never came home from a football match.

Gary Curtis was one of those who did come home but who lives with the trauma of the day everyday. Last year, I interviewed him as part of my package for JMU Journalism.

His journey to Anfield was the first time he had been back in a football ground since 1989. Speaking to him beforehand, you could hear the fear in his voice but thankfully he made it through the service and hopefully that, in someway, has helped his suffering.

Here’s the interview in full (the other questions come from Andy Downton from Heart FM):

I have no link to Hillsborough but as a Liverpool fan for all my life and someone who has lived and fallen in love with the city over the past four years I do feel a certain attachment to the events of 15 April 1989.

My thoughts are better encapsulated in this blog I wrote two years ago on the eve of the anniversary and as I contemplated doing my dissertation on the subject. In the end I didn’t for other, unconnected reasons.

My package in full for JMU Journalism on the 21st anniversary service can be heard here:

All that’s left to add is Justice for the 96. Please visit this website, learn and pass it on. To educate one, is to educate a thousand.

News Picks: Egypt and America’s duplicity, Obama and Reagan, Torres

Just a quick one this weekend…

Egypt

America’s duplicity in Egyptian crisis – Events in Egypt are moving very fast indeed. Last week we were being told that what had happened in Tunisia was unlikely to unfold in a similar way in Egypt. Yet here we are with thousands taking to the streets in defiance of curfews and President Hosni Mubarak’s regime looking decidely shaky.

Amidst it all America is playing a fine line between encouraging reform but not explicitly calling for the overthrowing of Mubarak. This is demonstrated beautifully by two stories that have come out this weekend.

One is about tear gas canisters, bearing the label “Made in U.S.A” being fired at protestors in Cairo whilst on the other hand the Daily Telegraph reports that the American government has secretly backed leading figures in the current uprising.

They speak for themselves.

US Politics

What Obama can learn from Reagan – President Barack Obama is learning a lot from an unlikely source, former two-term President Ronald Reagan. He took a biography of Reagan on holiday over Christmas and in trying to set the tone for the second half of his term in office, Obama sees “the Gipper” as a “point of reference.”

Torres

Sale won’t be popular but could be best for Liverpool – Liverpool fans are generally quite angry at the news of Fernando Torres handing in a transfer request following Chelsea’s rather cheeky bid for him last week. Liverpool rejected the bid and rejected the transfer request, being perfectly within their rights to do so.

However Sam Wallace in The Independent argues that the sale of the Spaniard may be in the best interests of the club as well as the player. He argues the tipping point has been reached in much the same way it had been with Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United and Thierry Henry at Arsenal.

Arguably, Torres can justify the decision. He has won nothing since moving to Anfield three years ago having left his hometown club to do exactly that. But the timing is awful and Chelsea, perhaps still laden with money, are an ageing team in need of a big restructuring whereas Liverpool’s has already begun with the impending arrival of Luis Suarez.

One thing is for certain is that Torres will probably get his way either by Monday or in the summer. Having being adored by all Liverpool fans since his arrival he has chosen a rather undignified way to end it all.

Anything is news at this time of year

In the ‘industry’ as journalists and those of us aspiring to be journalists the summer months and particularly August are generally considered a rotten time when it comes to news stories.

Parliament is in recess, everyone’s on their holidays and very little new is happening. So news organisations generally tend to fill newspapers, radio programmes, TV news bulletins and websites with just about anything they can eek out and dress up as ‘news’ when they’re running a few columns or a few minutes short.

In some cases they’ll send their presenter on a pointless exercise in a Spitfire. In others they’ll report the most trivial things as breaking news. Look, for example, at Sky News’ ever bright yellow ticking breaking news bar which yesterday reported: “AP news agency: The US recall of eggs amid a massive salmonella outbreak is expanded to half a billion eggs”.

Obviously, a salmonella outbreak isn’t good times, but egg-scuse me if I’m not really too bothered about how many eggs have been recalled, I certainly don’t need it interrupting my news bulletin.

And yet in their thirst for constant breaking news left, right and centre, Sky News know no boundaries when it comes to defining what exactly breaking news is. It used to be major events like 9/11 or the invasion of Iraq now it can be the England football squad getting on a bus. But that is for another blog…

In some cases, news outlets will just rehash old news like the proposed demolition of Ringo Starr’s old house on Madryn Street, Liverpool. This has been due for demolition for years now under the controversial Pathfinder initiative. But no harm in reminding us and finding someone whose outraged about it to fill some space.

I also find the coverage of the dreadful floods in Pakistan interesting. For example (and only because this is the news bulletin I catch most evenings) Channel 4 news have been reporting on an almost nightly basis on what’s been happening in the region and fair play to them for doing so. No doubt it is helping the appeal for aid, but the cynic in me wonders if we’d be hearing as much from the region were it another time of the year. We all forgot about Haiti pretty quickly didn’t we?

Of course this could all just be the major cynic in me but I have been part of putting together a programme at the BBC this week and that has been a struggle given the dearth of news and the dearth of people around to talk about any stories that are happening.

Unlike those who wish this relatively warm, if not sunny, weather would remain, journalists are wishing time away so as that parliament can return, politicians can say and do stupid things and elsewhere there’s news aplenty.

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Follow me on Twitter: @oconnellhugh

Circus Clegg comes to Liverpool

So the choice was clear, a day doing dissertation in the library or a sunny afternoon in Penny Lane stalking Nick Clegg as he met locals, and did countless interviews, including taking a brief question from yours truly.

There was a certain thrill and excitement in the air as the nations media descended on the Penny Lane Development Trust Centre for the visit of the Liberal Democrat leader.

He’d spent the morning and early afternoon branding Gordon Brown and David Cameron as “corrupt” amongst many other things before descending on Liverpool Wavertree, where he’s hoping his party’s candidate Colin Eldridge can win the seat from Labour.

The media surround Nick Clegg in Penny Lane, Wavertree on 7 April 2010

There was my first exposure to a proper media scrum as TV cameras, photographers and the journalists all crammed for a shot of Clegg speaking to youngsters at the community centre. I even got my ugly mug on Granada last night. (After about 30 seconds in if you’re interested!)

Clegg was smooth as you like, he knew how to work the community centre people and then work the media as he was dragged left, right and centre for various interviews. Sky News even made him wait three minutes while they finished interviewing Yvette Cooper. The cheek!

And when it was all over, he jumped back on his bus, adorned with his face and that of the party’s much lauded Treasury spokesman Vince Cable, and departed Wavertree.

It was sunny, it was brief but my word, it was all very exciting for this political journalism novice!

“This is the end…”

As I come to the end of my final year at Liverpool John Moores University it’s hard not to be sad particularly when I know that myself and the people who I have worked closely with over the past few months (you all know who you are) in developing our fantastic website will all be going their seperate ways come May/June time.

We will meet again for graduation (I hope!) in July and then that will be it. Some already have jobs lined up in the industry, some are going on different career paths, and some, like me, just aren’t quite sure yet.

In the short term I have a placement lined up at BBC Manchester for a month in May and I keep threatening to fill out the daunting application for BBC North but until I do that and start applying for journalism jobs elsewhere I am left contemplating how amazing these past three years of my life have been as well as cracking on with my dissertation.

I am also now doing some blogging on the general election for Sky News’ website. I posted my first entry today about the exciting election battle in Liverpool Wavertree. Do please check it out and feel free to comment.

I’ll probably spend more time procrastinating on job applications and dissertation by replying and attempting to engage in a lengthy debate!

As well as listening to morbid songs such as this…

Meeting Michael Shields

CIMG0335Last week I interviewed Michael Shields, the Liverpool fan wrongly jailed in Bulgaria four and a half years ago in the aftermath of Liverpool’s unforgettable Champions League victory in Istanbul.

His story is well known in Liverpool, the UK and beyond. It is a story of grave injustice and of the determination of the campaign to win his freedom that ultimately succeeded.

But at the end of the day he’s just like you and I.

He was 18-years-old when he was jailed for up to 15 years for the attempted murder of waiter Martin Georgiev whilst holidaying in Bulgaria after the game.

He spent the early part of his sentence in Bulgaria before being transferred back to the UK where eventually, Justice Secretary Jack Straw released him last month after being convinced of his innocence, something the majority of those who looked at the case early on became convinced of almost instantly.

Shields has clearly been affected by his time spent behind bars. Physically he looks totally different. He is four stone lighter and  his face looks older.

His shyness is something he has probably exuded all his life and it’s no surprise that when facing the camera as he was in the interview he was more than a little bashful.

But his opinions on his case are strong and full of conviction. You can sense his anger about having been away for so long for a crime he didn’t commit.

You can sense that he still has fight in him, he wants to clear his name but he is up against a questionable Bulgarian legal system that in his words tried to “kill him off”.

This fight is continuing but for now he is back home in Liverpool attempting to put his life back together. He’s just getting used to leading a normal day again, keen to put a stop to the interviews, even suggesting his one with me may be his last.

I hope it is, not for my own self satisfaction at having scooped the last ever interview with Michael Shields, but so that he can just get on with.

So he can do the things normal 22-year-old lads like myself do, play FIFA 10, have a laugh, go the gym, go out and get drunk and enjoy your youth while you still have it.

After all he has been through he deserves that at the very least.