Today is the 24th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, marked over the weekend by the unveiling of a new memorial in Liverpool city centre listing the names and ages at the time of the tragedy of those who died. I hope it doesn’t appear too trivial a thought, but my immediate reaction on seeing a picture of it was that the responsibility for getting those details absolutely correct must have lain very heavily on whoever was brave enough to give the final go-ahead – a thought perhaps prompted by a local news story about the distress which a misspelling on a memorial can cause.
I also watched the recent BBC2 documentary on the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel – something I probably would have done anyway, but the fact that Accuracy Matters had copy-edited and proofread the document and the website made it a must-see. Although we didn’t tell anyone at the time that we were working on it (in the interests of confidentiality – standard practice), it ceased to be a secret once the report was published, and my eldest wondered whether we had been name-checked during the programme. Perhaps if it had been a feature film we’d have got a credit along with the accountants and the caterers, as the closing soundtrack moved on to the second song and the staff cleared up the spilled popcorn. But of course TV’s not like that (and you certainly don’t go into proofreading for the glory).
In a sense, our role on the Hillsborough report was no different from any other project – to ensure, as best we could, that the finished product was as good as it could possibly be so that the audience wouldn’t be distracted from the subject matter by annoying mistakes and inconsistencies. But there were a number of factors which made this one a bit different. For a start, deadlines famously concentrate the mind, but the knowledge in this case that Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral had been booked for the date of publication and that the families were being invited made the thought of the report not being ready in time unthinkable. And, as it became clear that there would be all sorts of ramifications, legal and otherwise, the importance of complete accuracy in, for example, the consistent naming of those involved came to the fore, not always easy considering the passage of time since the disaster (although we did have some previous experience of this type of issue, having proofread the Bloody Sunday Inquiry report, where the events-to-publication time lapse was greater still).
It’s also rare to work on something with such resonance – I can recall the day itself with a clarity lacking from my general memories of the 1980s (Griffin Park, watching Brentford beat my team Bristol Rovers 2-1, and feeling down about Brentford’s late winner, something which soon seemed pretty inconsequential) and my next visit to Hillsborough, sitting above the by then disused Leppings Lane terrace (lost 2-1, again). And I’m just a fan of another team from another place, at the opposite end of the league tables.
Quite where the report’s findings will lead remains to be seen – its job was to present the evidence, a task in which, it seems to be generally agreed, it succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations. It was a privilege to have been a part of it.