Steve Kelly, 68, was 35 when he lost his older brother Mike in the Hillsborough stadium disaster. Along with the families of the other 95 people who lost their lives, he’s spent the last 32 years fighting for truth and accountability only for it to have been denied again for the final time after two former South Yorkshire police officers and a former solicitor for the force, Peter Metcalf, were cleared of perverting the course of justice.
“I’ve given nearly half my life only to be beaten by a technicality.”
On Wednesday Mr Justice William Davis ruled that the accused had no case to answer because the police statements were altered before Lord Justice Taylor’s public inquiry rather than a criminal proceeding.
Kelly describes the acquittals as the “final dagger” after a number of failed prosecutions, including the trial of match commander David Duckenfield who was found not guilty of manslaughter in 2019.
After battling so hard, for so long, one might expect Kelly to have some difficulty accepting the verdict. But Kelly is not bitter. In fact, he’s already prepared to reflect on the major victories that campaigners were eventually able to win on behalf of their loved ones.
The most notable coming in 2016 when a jury ruled that the 96 (one died four years later) had been unlawfully killed in the face of a decades-long police campaign to blame supporters.
“To me, it’s the greatest victory in this country for the common man. The establishment and their lawyers fought so hard against and tried so hard to drag Liverpool fans and the whole city through the mud.
“Everything was so stacked up against us. We’ve pushed down so many walls to get this far. This was just one just one wall we couldn’t push down. The CPS have said there’s not going to be an appeal and to me that’s the end of it.”
Kelly is wearing a blue shirt emblazoned with “Hillsborough 96” and he is a diehard Evertonian although that never created a rift between him and Mike, “the Liverpool supporter in our house”. He says that in difficult moments over the years, fans of both the cities’ clubs have been an unwavering source of support.
“Whether you’re red whether you’re blue, we all come together. That’s where the police went wrong, in their arrogance they just thought we were a bunch of pisshead scousers but we loved the people we lost and that’s why we’ve fought all these years.”
Jenni Hicks lost her two daughters, Victoria, 15, and Sarah, 19, at Hillsborough. Sitting in the garden of The Elephant pub in Woolton Village, Liverpool, she says that throughout her three decades of campaigning – Hicks was the longest-serving committee member of the now-disbanded Hillsborough Families Support Group – the inadequacies of the British justice system have continued to shock.
“I naively had no problem with the police until I went to that football match. No way did I ever think that 32 years later there still wouldn’t be any accountability. It’s been a hard lesson to learn.
“It [Wednesday’s verdict] was a final shafting. The British legal system has let us down right from the 15 April 1989.”
Like Kelly, Hicks accepts that the personal quest for justice for her daughters is over now.
“We’re done. We’re snookered. It’s painful but I’ve got to learn to accept that no one will ever be held accountable. I’ve always had hope that someone, somewhere would see sense on this and maybe that jury might have done. We’ll never know.”
She admits to feeling sad and deflated standing outside the Salford’s Lowry Theatre yesterday but says that today “I feel revitalised because there’s still something good to be done in their name”, the “Hillsborough law” which would require public authorities to evince a “duty of candour” and provides equal funding to bereaved families for legal representation.
“I’ll never get that accountability for my daughters but we’re still fighting on behalf of Grenfell, Manchester Arena and other disasters that are bound to happen in future.
“What runs alongside the loss of my daughters is the knowledge that this is a country that’s prepared to accept this injustice and that’s why the system has to be changed. You can’t just say that’s it, that’s how it is. If something’s wrong you have to try and do something about it.”
As if on cue, a stranger places an arm on Hicks’ shoulder and to tell Hicks that she’s “always admired” her.
“That was nice wasn’t it?” says Hicks. “That’s what helps us keep going. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.”