Reflecting on the Hillsborough anniversary


As the city marks another anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy our Director of Communications reflects on how his connections with the cathedral led to a greater understanding of how what happened deeply affects us all

I have a memory that I listened to the unfolding of the Hillsborough disaster live. It may be a false memory but I had a habit of listening to the radio football commentaries on a Saturday so it’s likely. However, as a young lad living in the south, it all seemed remote and easy to dismiss. And with nothing to offer a counterbalance, it was easy to get swayed by the dominant media narrative that it was all the fans' fault. Part of the culture of football hooliganism.

Two things changed my perspective.

One was simply through moving to Liverpool, getting to know people, and getting to understand the impact that Hillsborough had, has, on so many people’s lives. The number of personal stories from people who were there. Or knew someone there. And the effect that has on those lives – not just the direct family and friends of the 96 but the thousands who witnessed and suffered in a myriad of ways. By talking and listening to friends over many years I came to understand.

Then there was the Hillsborough Independent Panel. As media adviser to Bishop James, the Bishop of Liverpool I played a very small insignificant role in the process. But I was there helping to manage the media – the greatest amount of media I can remember – as the Panel revealed the truth contained within the documents it had examined.

I saw the absolute determination of the Bishop to be accurate and truthful in the report that was written. To ensure, as he said it, that the documents speak for themselves and to make them available in the archive.

I saw the dignity and courage of the relatives of the 96. Looking in the eyes of the campaigners it was not hard to see their determination to have the story they had been telling for many years properly validated mixed with the grief that they carried for their loved ones.

Bishop James was determined that the cathedral was a true and fitting place for the Panel to report to the world. A safe place. A building for the people fulfilling one of the many roles it was created for. A building where those most affected by the testimony they heard could find space to deal with the outpouring of emotion. Where they could find peace and solace surrounded by a compassionate cathedral community.

And I witnessed this and I listened to people and I understood.

To me, this entering into the story feels very much how I like to connect to God’s story. We are not far from Holy Week where Christians follow the story of Jesus from the triumphal entry of Palm Sunday to the agony of the cross and then the joy of the resurrection. By immersing myself in that story I feel I understand what God has done for me. And I feel strengthened and emboldened in my faith.

For in that Easter story I encounter love. The love that Jesus had for the world. And in the Hillsborough story, I see love. The love of the relatives so cruelly bereaved supported by the love of a church and community rallying together.

While Anfield was being rebuilt we had the privilege of hosting the eternal flame. And I would often pause there to reflect and pray. Reflect on the privilege that being part of a cathedral meant I could in some small way show love and support for a community. Pray that all those affected continue to receive the love they need to sustain them.

That prayer is relevant today when in so many different and quiet ways people remember the 96, the struggle for justice and the love that underpins it all.

Rev Canon Stuart Haynes
Director of Communicatons

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