The Justice for the 96 campaign will be the recipients of the damages Russell Brand won from The Sun newspaper for defaming him. The Sun newspaper is loathed by most of the citizens of Liverpool, and with this award coming on the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy, the Scousers could not be more appreciative of the eccentric entertainer’s support. Brand has called it, “a tiny piece of justice.”
Russell Brand said that The Sun “lied about me and my bird” referring to his girlfriend Jemima Khan. They had published an allegation he had cheated on her. He announced on twitter that he would make a donation to the #JFT96 campaign. He also told Sheila Coleman, one of the leaders of the group, by email, and told her how he was inspired by their “courage and tenacity.”
Yesterday, April 15, saw the moving memorial service at Anfield as thousands gathered to remember the 96 who died when the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield was allowed to become dangerously overcrowded during the Football Association (FA) cup semi-final in 1989 between Liverpool and Nottingham. In those days, a neutral ground was always chosen, but the stadium was not big enough, and when crush barriers began to give way, there was a terrible catastrophe, with fans unable to escape.
Initially, the fans themselves were held to blame, and it was only after the 20th anniversary and the formation of the Hillsborough Independent Panel that the focus switched back to the the police. The families of the 96 have never given up on their fight for justice and were not satisfied with the findings of the official 1990 inquiry the Taylor Report, that led to the abolition of standing terraces. Papers withheld at that time have now been scrutinised to reveal that police had altered statements to try to fit with their version of events. The failings of emergency services on the day led to at least 41 lives lost that could have been saved with medical attention at the scene. Many died of compression from being crushed in the pens.
The reason The Sun is so reviled, and not available for sale in almost any part of Liverpool is the headline the paper chose to run with after the disaster. On April 18 1989 the editor Kelvin McKenzie used the headline “The Truth” and statements were made that the fans had urinated on police and victims, picked the pockets of the dead and dying and beaten up an officer attempting to give the kiss of life. It was alleged the fans were very drunk. The reports were all the more scurrilous as the fans had been instrumental in tearing down hoardings to make stretchers, and in giving first aid, and far from acting like hooligans, they had done all they could in the circumstances to help their injured friends and family members.
McKenzie later blamed his boss, Rupert Murdoch, for making him run the story. He has given, but then retracted, a personal apology, more than once. When the fans were finally exonerated in 2012, he finally made a proper apology but most considered it far too little and too late.
Any amount of “sorry” money from The Sun therefore has a poignancy, as once again they have to admit they have made a judgement of error.
As yesterday’s ceremony came to a moving end, the Liverpool anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone was sung as 96 balloons were released, one for each of the victims. Many of the survivors of the day still need counseling and psychological support and will continue to do so. Russell Brand’s donation and support will assist in these and other essential ongoing support networks.
The reception of the announcement from Brand was summed up by Charlotte Hennessy, who lost her dad James at Hillsborough. As she tweeted her thanks to the comedian, she added, “We all appreciate it.”