On April 15, 1989, Jenny and Trevor Hicks’ two teenage daughters left home to watch a football match. They never came back.
Sarah and Vicki were among the 95 Liverpool fans killed following a crush at the FA Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough stadium.
A 96th person, Tony Bland, died in 1993 of injuries sustained in the Hillsborough disaster.
On Thursday, Sarah and Vicki’s grief-stricken mother found it difficult to hold back her emotions after former police superintendent David Duckenfield was found not guilty of gross negligence manslaughter in the deaths of Sarah and Vicki and 93 other fans.
“Whenever we’ve had disappointments in the past we’ve always had somewhere else to go,” said Jenni Hicks.
“Today we haven’t, we have nowhere else to take this. This is it — we’re gonna have to live the rest of our lives with this injustice.”
At a press conference at the Cunard Building in Liverpool on Thursday, Margaret Aspinall, chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, said: “I blame a system that’s so morally wrong within this country, that’s a disgrace to this nation.
“When 96 people, they say 95, we say 96, are unlawfully killed and yet not one person is accountable. The question I’d like to ask all of you and people within the system is who put 96 people in their graves, who is accountable?”
Duckenfield, now 75, was the match commander on the day of the match and after hearing more than six weeks of evidence, a jury returned the not guilty verdict after nearly 14 hours of deliberation at Preston Crown Court.
Duckenfield’s solicitor, Ian Lewis, said the former superintendent was “relieved” to have been found not guilty by the jury.
“However, his thoughts and sympathies remain with the families of those who lost their loved ones,” he said in statement. “He understands the public interest in this case, but would ask that his privacy and that of his family is respected, and will not be commenting further.”
Duckenfield was not charged in Tony Bland’s death.
This was the second time Duckenfield has faced trial over the disaster, which occurred at the home ground of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club. A jury was unable to reach a verdict earlier in 2019.
Liverpool Football Club, which has offered constant support to the families of the victims and their 30-year fight for justice, said it shares their “reactions and frustrations” following the verdict.
“Liverpool Football Club would like to commend the bereaved families, survivors and campaigners for the remarkable courage, dignity and resilience they have shown during the past three decades,” the club said in a statement.
“We also reiterate that the inquests in April 2016 concluded that the behavior of Liverpool supporters did not cause or contribute to the Hillsborough disaster. We were disappointed that the allegations were raised again in this process.
“We have immense admiration for the Hillsborough families, survivors and campaigners for what they have achieved and our thoughts remain with them and those 96 Liverpool supporters who went to watch their team and never came home.”
The Liverpool Echo, the city’s local newspaper, wrote on Friday: “Not guilty … but the ghosts of the 96 will always haunt Duckenfield.”
There have been a number of inquiries into the Hillsborough disaster, including the 1990 Taylor Report, the 2012 Hillsborough Independent Panel Report and the 2016 Hillsborough Inquest.
The jury’s findings at the 2016 Hillsborough inquest included:
— The 96 Liverpool fans who died in the Hillsborough disaster were unlawfully killed, jurors concluded by a 7-2 majority.
— Duckenfield’s actions amounted to “gross negligence” due to breach of his duty of care to fans.
— Police planning errors caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that developed on the day of the disaster.
— The 96 victims were killed due to crushing following the admission of a large number of fans through an exit gate.
— Fan behavior did not cause or contribute to the tragedy.
Referring to the findings of the 2016 inquest, Guardian journalist David Conn, who has followed the Hillsborough disaster closely, said Thursday’s verdict raised questions about how justice worked in the UK.
“The hole in the heart of these proceedings, the question about the British legal system looming over every miserable day for the families, was why it allows and requires this: established truths, determined by a jury on comprehensive evidence given on oath in front of a senior judge, erased and up for grabs again.
“They were in the hands of the legal establishment, watching a stripped-down framing of another new set of truths, as if nothing had ever been decided or admitted before, in 30 years.”
Only one person has been found guilty of any criminal offense relating to the Hillsborough disaster.
During the first trial, the jury found Graham Mackrell, former secretary of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, guilty on a separate charge of breaching his safety duty.
Mackrell, who was a safety officer for the club’s Hillsborough ground at the time of the disaster, was fined £6,500 (about $8,300).