It’s only now, nearly 24 years on from the Hillsborough tragedy that the victims’s families can truly being to mourn for their loved ones. And much of that is thanks to the courageous fight by campaign groups, including the Hillsborough Justice Campaign (HJC).
Now seasoned campaigner and HJC spokesperson Sheila Coleman has been appointed by Unite to be their new North West community co-ordinator. Community membership, at just 50p a week, gives anyone not in paid work a chance to join the union.
Sheila joined Unite Coleman after speaking to the Liverpool CASA branch earlier last year because, “ I felt the political climate is right for this type of trade union, as the demarcation between the employed and the unemployed is no longer so clear, and far too many people are out of work end effectively left without a voice.”
Being voiceless was was also the case in 1989 for Liverpool supporters, who found themselves being blamed for a tragedy in which 96 of them lost their lives at the home of Sheffield Wednesday during the FA Cup semi-final with Nottingham Forest.
Sheila, a life-long Liverpool fan, was determined not, “to allow Hillsborough to go down in history as a disaster caused by drunken ticketless Liverpool fans.” She attended many of the subsequent inquests and co-wrote the first critical report into the avoidable tragedy that resulted from a breakdown in police control. Although they often had “no news to talk about,” she and HJC members, families and survivors met every Monday for over two decades.
Numerous setbacks failed to prevent the ongoing campaign for justice and in September 2012 the Hillsborough Independent Panel - established by the previous Labour government to ensure the full story was finally told – confirmed much that HJC had been saying for decades.
The panel’s findings included that many junior police officers had their statements doctored to remove criticism of police operations. The cover up extended to police trying to blame Liverpool fans; and shamefully that 41 of the 96 who died could perhaps have survived if the police and ambulance service had responded more effectively.
David Cameron offered an apology and the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the Director of Public Prosecutions are now conducting the biggest ever investigation into police behaviour in the UK. This will take many years. Sheila says the HJC will continue as: “the cover up has shaken the nation and it goes to the heart of society if we can’t trust the police as an institution. We must keep up the pressure for everybody’s sake.”
In November, Sheila Coleman received, on behalf of the HJC, the ‘Long Walk’ award at Liberty’s Human Rights Awards. Shared jointly with the Hillsborough Family Support Group and Hope for Hillsborough, the award was presented “for unwavering dedication to seeking justice for the 96 victims, their families and the survivors of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.”
Sheila was: “delighted that our campaign was honoured with an award from fellow campaigners.” She now hopes to persuade many more people to become campaigners in their local communities by joining Unite, saying: “Saving a library, keeping the NHS public or fighting workfare requires collective organisation and campaigning. The advantage of being a community branch member is that you have union support behind you and this increases your bargaining power.”