My dad died at Hillsborough. I will never stop fighting for justice

Charlotte Hennessy

I was six years old when my Dad was unlawfully killed at Hillsborough.

My dad was Jimmy Hennessy. He worked as a plasterer specialising in Artexing and was due to start working for himself before his untimely death. We lived in Ellesmere Port and I went to school there. My dad was a good man, respected and well liked. He was a man of few words but he was always kind and to the point, with the occasional witty joke. Going to watch Liverpool play was as normal for dad as going to work each day.

Saturday 15 April 1989 was the day our lives changed forever. My dad never returned home and was not identified until the following day.

My mum tells me that I was at a friend’s birthday party that day, however, I do not recall it. There are many things about my childhood that I do not remember. Friends, hobbies, favourite toys: the majority of happy times have been wiped from my memory and replaced with trauma and extreme devastation. I do not remember my dad’s voice, his smell, his laugh. I wish I could recover them.

Within four months of his death we moved to North Wales, hounded by press for weeks on end to the point where my mum had to take me into school late and collect me early to avoid them. My mum wanted to protect me and allow us to grieve in peace.

I grew up knowing snippets of information about Hillsborough although it was when I became a teen that I began to research more in depth. Reading the Lord Taylor Report gave me so much clarity, but it was soon quashed and replaced with further confusion when I came across the Stuart-Smith scrutiny as well as other coverage.

Looking back I realise that I spent my childhood as a lost soul, always emotional, and my teen years were spent in anger. As an adult I am diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and severe anxiety.

When I gave birth to my first son, Liam-James, I was so overcome with love and the realisation that my dad had felt that same love for me was instantaneous. With the help of my maternal family I knew that I had to do something.

We had never been told how my dad had entered the stadium, if he was helped or accompanied and my biggest fear was that he had died alone and frightened. Back then it was very difficult to know where to start and after years of writing letters and having doors slammed in my face I was told to contact Anne Williams, mother of Kevin Williams, who was also killed at Hillsborough. Anne welcomed me with open arms. She introduced me to the Hillsborough Independent Panel and her solicitor and guided me as much as she could for the very short years that I knew her.

When the Hillsborough Independent Panel released their report, I spent three years piecing together statements, timelines, footage, sightings and even made the decision to do a public appeal in the hope that I could trace my dad’s steps. I never for one second expected to be left in the absolute devastation of finding that my dad was alive when found on the pitch.

For 24 years I was told that my father’s death was due to traumatic asphyxiation, however at the Judge Goldring inquests (2014-2016) it was proven that this was not the case and in fact, my father had died as a result of “inhaling copious amounts of stomach contents”; he was left without medical treatment and to die.

Home life: Charlotte and her dad, Jimmy (Charlotte Hennessy)

That has been the most difficult part of this whole process, knowing that he was one of the 96 who could have survived and was potentially alive until 4.09pm, 54 minutes after the original inquests had ruled a cut-off point of 3.15pm declaring that all individuals were beyond medical help by that time.

While trying to process all of this new information, deal with the stress, fresh trauma and grief, I have been trolled and told countless times to “move on” and “let it go”. Most recently I was accused of “living off the back of my father’s death”. However, ask yourself, if your loved one walked out of your house this morning, attended a public event and then returned tomorrow in a body bag, with only a handful of information that was completely irrelevant to their death, would you settle for that?

I could not.

You cannot grieve if you do not have the knowledge and the tools to do so.

You cannot move on when you are stuck at a dead end.

Having the evidence there in your hands yet not having anyone to believe in you is like standing in a room full of people and screaming at the top of your lungs, yet no one hears your cries.

You keep living, existing almost, but you always end up back at the road you were left on 29 years ago.

I had a choice to make. I either let the Hillsborough disaster continue to consume me or I stood up for the truth that I had in black and white and I became my dad’s voice. I didn't want my three sons to have the childhood grief that I had, nor did I want them to learn to give up and be dictated to.

So, I did what I believed was right for my dad and I have absolutely no regrets in doing so.

Today marks another huge point in history. Judge Sir Peter Openshaw recently spent two weeks hearing submissions arguing that Hillsborough police commander David Duckenfield should not stand trial for his professional role and/or failings on the day of the disaster; however, after taking into consideration the legal arguments, Judge Openshaw has ruled that Duckenfield should stand trial for 95 accounts of gross negligence manslaughter, 10,667 days after the disaster.

I welcome this ruling.

This fight has never been about revenge. It was simply about truth. Learning how our loved ones went to a football match and never came home, if there is accountability to be held for that, then so be it.

We are all responsible for the words we speak, the decisions that we make and the actions we take. And for as long as there is evidence to be heard and truth to be told, I will continue to fight for my dad, as well as the 95 others who needlessly lost their lives, and the hundreds of survivors who stood stood tall when fingers were being pointed at them. For the families who fought when I was too small too and the family members, like Anne Williams, who laid the down the pathway to truth but who never got to see this moment. We owe it to all of them to uncover the truth and let the victims rest in peace once and for all.

As I write this I am pregnant with my fourth child. I only pray that the future holds closure and a life where I don't have to keep explaining to my children why their grandfather’s death is still being spoken about on the news.

Justice for the 96.