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The Hillsborough Report

A reflection from Merseyside Baptist Church leader and lifelong Liverpool fan, the Revd Phil Jump. Had he not been getting married the following Saturday, Phil would probably have been at the Hillsborough semi-final, as he had been the previous season.

Phil led the final prayer of blessing at the Hillsborough vigil with Roman Catholic Bishop Tom Williams - the Auxiliary Bishop of Liverpool. They wrote the prayer together once the key findings of the report were made public. Phil offers this reflection which expresses some of the sentiments more fully.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things." [Philippians 4:4-8]

If there is one word that has become indelibly attached to the Hillsborough 96, it would have to be justice. Justice has been the heart-cry of this city ever since that tragic day in April 1989; it has echoed around its streets and civic offices, it has transcended every barrier and difference in our communities.

The crowd that gathered at Wembley a few tragic weeks after this awful event was thoroughly partisan in its support of the only two teams that could have played out that final, but equally united in its support for the families, the victims and its desire to know the truth. Their cry for justice, instead of being quelled by those who should have acted honourably, has instead been fuelled by inactivity, deception, cover-up and prejudice.

I felt that personally when I had the privilege of leading prayers at the 20th anniversary memorial service, and heard that anguish unleashed as 20,000 voices simply cried out for justice, before falling back to a dignified silence so that the service could continue. A silent waiting that should not have needed to last for 23 years.

Today we may feel that justice has been done, and yet at the same time this has only been possible because injustice has been finally fully revealed. And as those injustices emerge and their reality now dawns, so they will spawn new pain, new questions, new heartaches.
Justice can easily remain undefined when it is simply a cause, and I suspect that it is only now that we will begin to fully recognise the many different expectations that have become attached to our common cry.

We have yet much to discover about how justice feels, the degree of pain that it is able to ease, and also the anguish that it simply cannot erase. The findings of this report do not mean an end of this deep shadow that we call Hillsborough, but we will live with that shadow in a different world. It may mean for many, that only now can new milestones be discovered on the journey of grief, and they will bring their own challenges.

But whatever justice might mean, however it might be experienced and whatever might be its consequences, through generations of human experience, we have learned that justice is a reality that is deeply entwined with truth and peace. Truth is a vital ingredient in the search for justice, and peace will always elude us when justice is not present.
Peace is more than simply a cessation of hostility, the resolution of difference or the calming of a storm. In fact as a song we often sing reminds us, sometimes peace can be found in the midst of a storm, when the right people walk with us through it.

Peace is that inner sense of well-being, security and calm that these external realities can bring about within the human spirit.

Truth, knowledge and understanding can often be key contributors to our sense of peace. Even if we cannot change events, even if the outward circumstances that disturb us remain, understanding what and why and how can often make them easier to bear.

We can learn to live at peace with that which might otherwise disturb us, when we understand. But we also have to embrace the reality that understanding does not always in and of itself bring about peace.

Sometimes knowing and understanding is simply not enough, and we may yet discover that truth we have longed to hear, does not bring the release we had hoped for.
Sometimes knowing and understanding may reveal to us things that cause us more pain and distress and fuel our anger and outrage. That too is a reality that we have now to bear.

I doubt if anyone can have yet fully taken in everything that has been disclosed on Wednesday so there is much to discover about how it will eventually affect us. And that will be especially true for those who were, and remain closest to those who died.

If we seek peace through a process of understanding alone, we will never be satisfied. The peace of which this ancient writer speaks is not something that can be engineered or legislated; it is a gift, a gift from God.

This is a peace that I sense we must choose to seek in our desire to move forward. Wounds will have been re-opened in recent days, and perhaps even new ones inflicted.

Understanding will have come at a cost. As the quest for truth subsides, only now will other scars become evident.
An important milestone in the journey of disclosure and understanding has been reached. This is also a moment to seek from God the gift of peace - peace that transcends and even defies what we now understand.

For all that has been done to the people of this city, for all that has been said, for all that has been implied, we are a people of dignity.

It is a city that I am proud to have been born in and to call my home. We have shown our dignity - even the cry for justice which at times has been toned with anger, has not be one of self-indulgence, but made on behalf of those who can no longer speak for themselves.

We are a people of passion and zeal, a reality that is often unleashed on the stands of our football stadia; it is that which often brings out the best in us, but we would have to acknowledge that there are moments in this city's history when it has not.

For the last 23 years this passion has driven forward that common quest for justice, it has energised our pursuit of that noblest of causes. But as the landscape begins to change, what now will be our common endeavour?

I sense that we would do well to hear the words that follow "whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things."
As we come to terms with what has been said and what has been done; as we respond to those whose actions have been found wanting; as we continue to absorb the pain - this is an opportunity for our true spirit to emerge, for the full depth of our character to be revealed.

Our focus has and must always be the 96 who died and their families, but what followed was an attempt to denigrate the whole people of this city, and in particular those supporters of Liverpool who were on the terraces of Leppings Lane that terrible afternoon.

Now the extent of that injustice and dishonesty has been fully revealed, our challenge is to move forward with dignity, and to further prove the lie of those allegations by the behaviours and attitudes that we now seek to display.

The families of the 96, supported by the whole of this city, have not simply exposed the harm done to those caught up in the Hillsborough disaster, their tenacity has revealed a culture of dishonesty and deceit on a breath-taking scale that any decent holder of public office would be thoroughly ashamed of.

Today this city has unleashed a message of hope to every victim of injustice throughout the world.

There is a poignant irony in the fact that on the day the truth of Hillsborough has finally been revealed, families in Karachi are mourning the needless loss of loved ones, penned up in a blazing factory, every safety regulation disregarded despite the dangers being known.

Let this city become a beacon of hope to all those who yearn for justice, let us continue to relentlessly speak out against those who hide from their responsibility, and whose neglect destroys the lives and wellbeing of others.

And may God grant us that peace which defies what we now know and the injustice that our city has had to absorb and bear for far, far too long, so that we may indeed walk on with hope in our hearts.

Final prayer of blessing from the Hillsborough vigil

God of justice and peace, we thank you that dignity has been restored. That truth has been unwrapped from deception, and that justice and peace can begin to be found.
Give us grace to walk on with dignity, in the light of the justice that has finally begun to emerge, and the injustice that has been exposed in its pursuit
Help us to live lives that bear testimony to our true character that has now been acknowledged.
Bless O Lord this day
Bless the families, the survivors, the supporters and all who feel the pain of these events.
Bless the panel, that their endeavours may indeed bear the fruit of justice
Bless our city and those throughout the world who suffer injustice



The Revd Phil Jump is the regional minister team leader of the North Western Baptist Association.
This reflection was first posted on the NWBA website (www.nwba.org.uk) where there is more of Phil's writing

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