When the quest for justice more closely resembles naked revenge

A courtroom and the scales of justice

When does justice become revenge?

David Duckenfield, the police match commander at the Hillsborough tragedy nearly 30 years ago, is to be prosecuted for manslaughter by gross negligence – and I have to wonder why?

It won’t change anything that happened, it won’t bring back the dead, it won’t restore the lives of the bereaved: in fact it won’t change anything at all.

On the day, faced with fans being crushed up against the gates to try and get into Sheffield Wednesday’s ground for an FA Cup tie, he made a decision to open the gates leading into it.

It turned out to be the wrong call, the fans piled in and the crush happened inside the ground instead, and 96 people died. David Duckenfield killed nobody that day, he simply made a wrong judgement.

And yet, from the outset there were calls for “justice”, so often a thinly disguised call for revenge.

We see it when somebody in the NHS makes a wrong judgement or mistake.

There is no justice in hounding a retired policemen who made a tragic error of judgement 30 years ago. The past is the past, nothing we do now will change it.

Or, awful as it sounds, is this not about justice but about revenge, that most malign of human emotions? It’s time to forgive an honest mistake and move on – but not to forget.

There is no doubt, however, that those deaths changed the way football is watched. It has ensured nobody else has died the same way: that is the memorial of those 96 deaths!


  1. The purpose of the prosecution is quite simple and plain to see. It is so that in similar situations in the future, senior police officers faced with a choice between the safety of a crowd and control of that crowd choose safety, even if it means losing control of the situation.


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