The Head, Nicola Huggett

A few thoughts on... Forgiveness

I am sure it won’t have escaped your notice that last week the longest inquest in British legal history came to an end. The jury concluded that the 96 Liverpool fans who died in the Hillsborough stadium disaster in 1989 were unlawfully killed.

This event, which has been much in the news, was Britain’s worst sporting disaster ever. The terrible events occurred during the FA cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield, on 15th April 1989, long before any of you were born. Hillsborough, home ground of Sheffield Wednesday, was selected as a neutral venue for the match and thousands of fans travelled from both cities to watch. As a result of various factors, a crush occurred in the spectator areas in the Leppings Lane stand, allocated to Liverpool fans. Steel fencing between the spectators and the playing field prevented victims from escaping the overcrowded western stand and suddenly a family day out for excited football fans became a terrifying ordeal that ended with 766 people injured, in addition to those 96 who lost their lives. It was believed later that as many as 58 may have been saved with more effective medical treatment that could not reach them quickly enough. 37 were teenagers and the youngest victim was 10 years old.

The original inquest held in 1991 gave a verdict of accidental death, but there was continual pressure from the brave families of the victims to re-open the case and in 2012, it was agreed that a new inquest would be set up. More than 500 people gave evidence over two years and the verdict of unlawful killing was, in the end, the answer that the families seemed to feel represented justice at last. Now there will be other investigations to see who should be charged with this and the South Yorkshire Police are under close scrutiny.

What is perhaps the important lesson to be learned from events like this, which might well seem to you to be from another era, is the need for forgiveness. I cannot even imagine the difficulty the families of those football fans must have had in living their ordinary lives since that day, or whether indeed they will ever be able to forgive those who contributed to the loss of their loved ones.

However, I am always amazed by the capacity of some people in the most difficult circumstances to forgive. That strength of character is something we can all learn from and seek to emulate. I read a quote recently from a book by Marion Partington whose sister was tragically killed by Fred and Rosemary West. She said “Forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past”. In some ways, wanting to change the past is what often stops us getting on with life after something difficult or tragic has happened. So I hope, as I am sure all of us do, that the past can indeed be put behind those who have suffered for so long in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster, and that we also learn to look to the future and make the best of what we have, rather than dwelling on what might have been, but that we cannot change.