IT’S been a long and weary battle for Tony Goggins and his wife Paula – 27 years in fact.
They, along with members of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, had been campaigning all this time to clear the names of the 96 people who died in Hillsborough at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, in 1989.
So when the findings from the recent inquest exonerated the fans, it was finally closure for all the families and especially for Tony, whose cousin Joe died on that fateful day.
‘We’ve had a long, long battle and 27 years is far too long to fight for justice. They covered it all up, they knew what they had done was wrong and they lied and lied,’ Tony told The Southern Star.
‘We’ve been through so many courts and we were kicked out all the time and told to go away and stop whingeing. They told us we killed our own fans. We fought and fought and then an independent panel got access to government papers and they discovered that there was a major cover-up involved.’
Born in Mohonagh in Skibbereen, Tony moved to London when he was 17 to live with his father’s sister, Anna McCarthy, her husband Sean and their two sons Jeremy and Joe.
It was while he was living there that he got to know Joe as they both had a passion for Liverpool.
‘Joe was a couple of years younger than me, but we all hung out together. He was always up for a laugh and a great guy and was very intelligent and he attended Cardinal Vaughan school in Holland Park, a prestigious Catholic school. He then went on to study at Sheffield University.’ That fateful day, Joe managed to get a ticket for the FA Cup Semi Final as his beloved Liverpool were playing against Nottingham Forest. Tony and Paula were at a wedding the same day when word came through about the tragedy unfolding at the match and then they received the news that Joe was among the dead. Joe’s parents were on holidays at the time, and Jeremy had to break the tragic news to them.
‘At the time we didn’t know what happened, but it later emerged that they apparently pulled Joe out of the pens and put him on the pitch. No one checked him for a pulse and they just left him there. Even a police officer who was next to him did nothing to help Joe.’
Because Joe’s body was with the coroner on that Saturday, they had to wait a full week before they could see him.
‘That was a horrible day, going up to identify his body and what we found was that they were quizzing us as they were compiling more evidence against us. At the time we didn’t realise it, we thought they were nice, but as the years went on, we knew what was really happening,’ added Tony.
What followed after the deaths upset all the families even more. Allegations and counter allegations as to the cause of the disaster led to a major cover-up by the South Yorkshire Police.
‘People believed the lie and that’s the worst bit. People still believe it, even now after two years of an inquest, after all that evidence with the cover-up and the fact they fed the press the stories. It’s really frustrating,’ said Paula.
‘People used to say how dare we take on a well-known police organisation like the South Yorkshire Police. But I didn’t care,’ she added.
The struggle to deal with Joe’s death, coupled with the lies and cover-ups, obviously took their toll on the family.
‘The only thing I feel sorry for is that Joe’s dad, Sean, died not long after it happened, and he was a broken man. Jeremy, too, had a tough time afterwards and Anne had a stroke in 2011. It made a mess of the family and it wasn’t just them, either, because it affected loads of families. We ourselves have had plenty of arguments, it nearly drove us apart several times,’ said Tony.
Joe’s mum, Anna, was one of the founding members of the Hillsborough Family Support Group that campaigned vigorously to get the truth out about how Joe and the other football fans died.
When the inquest was re-opened into the tragedy, Tony was able to give a family portrait of Joe to the court.
‘That was a hard thing to do for a person from West Cork to stand up in an English Court with over 250 people and talk about Joe, but I’m glad I had the chance to talk about him.’
Paula said that Tony did really well in the circumstances.
‘It’s pretty nerve-wracking especially with all the barristers there, but Tony did really well and stood up and gave his statement. Our barristers were so on the ball we knew we were going to win,’ said Paula.
They believe that it’s something that Joe would have been proud of – having his cousin speak about him at the inquest. For Tony and Paula, their long fight for justice is finally over.