‘From ordinary folk, we saw the very best of humanity. But from the police and authorities, the very worst’: Nothing captures the unimaginable horror of Hillsborough more vividly than the account of JENNI HICKS who lost her two beautiful teenage daughters
In the first extract from her heart-breaking new book, Jenni Hicks recounted in yesterday’s Daily Mail how her two teenage daughters were crushed to death at Hillsborough. Here, in the second instalment of our three-part serialisation, she describes the aftermath and her anger at officialdom’s callous behaviour.
The bodies were laid out in bags on the floor of the gymnasium at Hillsborough. Rows and rows of them. I had just identified my daughters from a gallery of blurry photos posted outside the room, and I was completely numb.
‘Do you want to see them?’ a police officer asked, bringing me back to reality.
‘Yes,’ I said. Of course I wanted to see my beautiful girls.’
‘Together or separately?’
‘Together,’ I replied.
My husband Trevor and I were in the worst of all imaginable situations, yet so far there had been not one ounce of compassion towards us from anybody in authority. Not one.
Earlier that day, Saturday, April 15, 1989, we had set out from London with our adored girls Sarah, 19, and Vicki, 15, to watch a game of football, as we had done countless times before.
And now we were about to drive back alone, leaving our daughters’ bodies behind us in a dirty gym miles from home. Why did nobody seem to care?
Adored: Vicki, left, and Sarah Hicks. They were 15 and 19 when they died in the crush at the Hillsborough stadium on April 15, 1989
We were directed to stand behind a screen where two body bags were wheeled to us on small trolleys, very low to the ground.
Two CID officers stood with us while another unzipped the bags. My heart was broken in pieces, but oddly I felt overwhelming relief at seeing my girls again. I dropped to my knees on the floor.
Vicki was on my left and Sarah on my right. I got down between the trolleys and I lifted Vicki up and hugged her, and then I did the same with Sarah.
Vicki was ice-cold and wearing a white hospital gown, while Sarah was still in her clothes: jeans and a T-shirt. Her shoes and jacket must have got lost in the chaos.
But as I hugged Sarah, a feeling of total disbelief came over me. She was still warm. Sarah was as warm as toast – completely the opposite of Vicki.
I looked up and said to the police officers: ‘Are you sure she is dead? Because she’s really warm. Can you get somebody to check if she is really dead?’
Jenni Hicks (pictured): ‘[My husband] Trevor and I were led to a large wooden table. We were told to sit on one side of it while a policewoman and a policeman sat facing us as if we were about to be interviewed. Which I soon found out we were’
I’ve always had this feeling – even now – that I should have insisted a doctor was brought to see Sarah. She should not have been as warm as she was, especially as it was now after nine o’clock at night – more than six hours after the horrific events at the game had unfolded.
I wished I had pursued it further, and I still do.
I stood up and watched as my daughters were zipped up and wheeled away to another part of the gym. There are no words to describe how I felt.
Trevor and I were led to a large wooden table. We were told to sit on one side of it while a policewoman and a policeman sat facing us as if we were about to be interviewed.
Which I soon found out we were. ‘What time did you leave home?’ they asked. ‘What did you have for breakfast?’ ‘Which route did you drive?’
I couldn’t understand it. Surely, we should be the ones asking them the questions.
‘Did you have any alcohol?’ ‘Did you stop on the way for alcohol?’ ‘Did you have a bottle of wine with your lunch?’ The questions continued. Everything was about alcohol. We had only just seen our daughters in body bags and that was all they were talking about.
‘Even though I was struggling to be kind to myself, Trevor and I experienced extraordinary warmth and generosity from strangers. Within days of the tragedy (above), our young postman stopped putting our post through the letterbox and began knocking on the door with great big grey sacks full of mail,’ says Jenni
During what must have been over an hour of questioning, they got us to make statements which would later be used against Trevor.
The police must have known that they should never have taken those statements from us without us having a solicitor present. But we were too traumatised to even think about it. So they took advantage of the state we were in.
Even when I asked to go to the ladies’, a police officer escorted me and then accompanied me back again as if I was a suspect.
And then it was back to the interrogation, all about alcohol again. My daughters were teenagers, and one was still at school. So all this talk about drink made no sense.
After midnight, when the questioning was finally over, a doctor arrived at the gym and offered me a sedative.
I refused it. Looking back now, I often wish I’d said: ‘Would you please go and have another look at Sarah, because she’s still warm.’
And so began the long drive home from Sheffield to London. I was no longer a mum.
In those first days and weeks I survived mainly on bananas, chocolate and Weetabix. I couldn’t bring myself to sit and eat at the table, or bother with anything that required a knife and fork.
Jenni: ‘When I asked to go to the ladies’, a police officer escorted me and then accompanied me back again as if I was a suspect. And then it was back to the interrogation, all about alcohol again. My daughters (above) were teenagers, and one was still at school. So all this talk about drink made no sense’
I especially couldn’t face the thought of any of the food that Vicki and Sarah had loved best. How could I enjoy it when they were no longer able to?
But even though I was struggling to be kind to myself, Trevor and I experienced extraordinary warmth and generosity from strangers.
Within days of the tragedy, our young postman stopped putting our post through the letterbox and began knocking on the door with great big grey sacks full of mail.
People sent flowers and letters to us from every corner of the world, often with nothing more written on the envelope than ‘To Sarah and Vicki’s Mum and Dad, London’.
We were seeing the best of humanity from ordinary people, and sadly, from the police and the authorities, the very worst.
Trevor and I had not yet been told when our daughters’ bodies would be released for their funerals, but I had a strong idea about where I wanted them to be buried.
About a fortnight before Hillsborough, Sarah had said to me as she sat in the kitchen: ‘Mum, when I finish at uni, I’m going to stay on in Liverpool.’
I wasn’t surprised. I knew she loved it there: the university where she had made so many friends, the city and, of course, Anfield. Although we lived in London, Liverpool was where her heart was.
Sea of flowers: The fans’ spectacular floral tribute to the Hillsborough victims covers the pitch at Anfield
Now I started to think, how can I bring her back to London to be buried when she so recently told me she wanted her future home to be somewhere else?
Trevor had already made all the funeral arrangements in London, but I asked him one morning to drive me to Liverpool. Although I didn’t know the name of the place, I knew exactly where we were going.
I had seen this lovely cemetery we used to go past on our way to Anfield. It was on a very beautiful tree-lined road, and Vicki would often say as we passed: ‘I love it round here. It’s gorgeous.’
When we got to the cemetery that day, Trevor and I went in and found the manager. We told him who we were, and I said: ‘We would just like our girls to be buried here, please.’
He looked at us for a moment and then he went towards his van. ‘Get in your car and follow me,’ he said. ‘I know exactly where the girls can go.’ And it was as easy as that.
Trevor said: ‘You do know that we’re from London? We don’t live here.’
But this kind man showed us a lovely spot, under a majestic, tall evergreen monkey puzzle tree, and he said: ‘This will be perfect for your girls. They would love the tree.’ I don’t know how he knew that, but he was right. They would absolutely love it.
He asked us the name of our undertakers in London, and then he said: ‘OK. Leave the rest to me.’
So we didn’t have to make any arrangements. I couldn’t believe something so complicated was made so easy by this lovely stranger – the complete opposite of the people we had dealt with at Hillsborough only a few days earlier.
‘All the talk about alcohol when the police interviewed us in the gym at Hillsborough had begun to click into place. It was becoming obvious to us that they were trying to shift the blame on to the Liverpool fans by suggesting they had killed their own,’ says Jenni. (Above, the aftermath of the tragedy)
As we were driving out of the cemetery, we heard on the radio that Liverpool Football Club had opened up Anfield for people to pay their respects. We agreed that we’d like to go and place flowers on the spot where Sarah and Vicki had always stood to watch Liverpool play.
When I looked out on to the pitch, at a sea of flowers that reached all the way to the halfway line, I sobbed and sobbed. I’d never seen anything like it.
A Salvation Army man came over and asked if we were a bereaved family, and then told us the club had set up a private area for relatives.
He showed us to the players’ lounge, where we found members of the clergy, players and their wives. We met Marina Dalglish, wife of the Liverpool manager Kenny, and she sat with us. It was still only four days after the girls had died.
We decided before driving back to London we would go to Sarah’s hall of residence and collect her things. It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.
A porter let us in. When he opened that door, I expected to see Sarah standing there, as she always had been when we drove up at weekends to take her to a home game.
But not today. She wasn’t there. Nor would she ever be again. The pain was unbearable.
There is not a single part of that final trip to Sarah’s room that I don’t remember, although trying to explain how I dealt with it is an entirely different matter. The number of people who have said to me: ‘I don’t know how I would cope if it happened to me. How on earth did you manage?’
The answer is, I don’t know. I know that the love of my daughters has helped me.
But I think when most things in life come along, no matter how unimaginably difficult and appalling, you just somehow have to find your own way of getting from one moment to another.
Trevor was on the phone to the coroner’s office several times a day, trying to find out when we could collect our daughters and finalise the funeral arrangements. But nothing was forthcoming.
I hated the girls being in Sheffield on their own, in a cold, clinical environment where they knew no one. I began to go and sit in their wardrobes where, pulling the sliding doors to, I would cuddle and smell their clothes. It was the closest I could get to giving them a hug.
Jenni: ‘Sarah and Vicki (above) were buried in Liverpool. We didn’t know anyone in the city, and I didn’t expect there to be many people there, apart from close friends and family. But as we approached the cemetery we saw to our astonishment that crowds and crowds of people had turned out to line the streets, bowing their heads in respect as we passed by. It was surreal’
Trevor wouldn’t know where I was at first and possibly struggled with it. But I had to do whatever brought me closer to my daughters, and might help ease the pain.
On Friday, April 21 we finally got the news that we’d been waiting for. The coroner was releasing the bodies and the girls were coming back home to London.
At our local chapel of rest, the undertaker’s wife dressed Sarah and Vicki in their favourite clothes. I couldn’t wait to welcome them home from their terrible ordeal and to have them back with me, in their own surroundings again.
I think our undertakers would have preferred the girls to stay with them until their funeral. But I told them no. All Sarah and Vicki did was go to a football match and now they had to come home.
So the next morning, exactly one week after we had all set out for Hillsborough that terrible day, I looked out of the window and saw two hearses arriving. Although this was one of the saddest days of my life, I was also excited to have my daughters home.
‘The girls are back!’ I called upstairs to Trevor. ‘The girls have come home!’
We asked for them to be taken up to their bedrooms, where their coffins were opened. I then lifted my beautiful daughters up, first Sarah and then Vicki. I hugged them and kissed their gorgeous faces.
Then I did their hair and make-up for them, as I knew how they would have liked it. I noticed one of Sarah’s hands was black from her knuckles down to the ends of her fingers.
Later, when the post-mortem results came in, I asked my GP to explain this to me. He said that this must have been from where her blood circulation had been cut off as she’d desperately tried to hold on to Vicki during the crush.
On a videotape I was to view of the match, at the second inquest held in Warrington 25 years later, this was found to have been from 2.45 that afternoon, 15 minutes before kick-off. It must have been agony for Sarah, battling to keep Vicki from going under in the crowd.
I gently tucked Sarah’s elegant, blackened hand under the sleeve of her jacket. I knew that even if she had had a chance of getting out of that crush, she would never have left Vicki to save herself.
Soon afterwards, word got round that the girls were at home. Many of their friends and their parents arrived at the house and were going up and down the stairs throughout the day to pay them love and respect.
It helped Trevor and me to be occupied. We all reminisced about Sarah and Vicki, and it lifted my soul to hear how much they were both so loved.
People were eating food and drinking tea, although I hadn’t a clue who was providing it. It was all just happening around me.
The girls’ funerals took place the following Monday at North Harrow, near our home.
The little Baptist church where they had both been regulars was packed, including 50 students who’d come down on a coach from Liverpool University that morning. There were so many people that they had to stand in side rooms where the girls used to go to Sunday school, and even outside.
I knew my daughters were popular, and this was a wonderful testament to them.
I looked at the coffins placed side by side in the church – my girls were still together, even now – and as I listened to their music playing, all of their fun and laughter came back to me. How I missed that. But I didn’t cry. I was in too much pain.
The girls were carried out to the Liverpool anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone. Nothing could have been more fitting.
The following day Sarah and Vicki were buried in Liverpool. We didn’t know anyone in the city, and I didn’t expect there to be many people there, apart from close friends and family.
But as we approached the cemetery we saw to our astonishment that crowds and crowds of people had turned out to line the streets, bowing their heads in respect as we passed by. It was surreal.
‘Who are these people?’ I asked Trevor. But he had no more idea than I had. Later, we were told people had come from all over the city and beyond, Liverpool fans and others who had read about us burying our girls and had come out to support us.
Quite a few people who had attended the service the day before in London also travelled to Liverpool. We were surprised and so deeply touched by the wonderful outpouring of love for our daughters. We really weren’t walking alone.
As the cortege went up the driveway to the cemetery, hundreds more people were lining the way and others were standing by the open graveside.
Marina Dalglish was there, alongside the Liverpool striker and local hero John Aldridge, who was one of the players on the pitch on the day of the tragedy.
At the graveside before the burial, Trevor thanked everyone for coming, and, again, to our surprise, the crowd burst into applause.
Marina and John stood side by side with me and Trevor as Sarah and Vicki were lowered into the ground. I don’t know how I stood there and watched that, but I think I was just totally numb by then.
Suddenly it got all too much for John, who picked me up and squeezed me so tightly I could hardly breathe. John was sobbing and declaring football was never worth this.
He had been so affected that he had even spoken about giving up his playing career. I stressed to him that neither Sarah nor Vicki would want him to do that. I told John that if they knew he was thinking like that, it would make them very sad.
I still count John and his beautiful wife Joan as very good friends. Although it must have been very difficult for him, he attended the funerals of many of the victims. It was during one of our trips to the cemetery that we saw a woman standing by our daughters’ graves looking at the flowers and tributes.
She told us her name was Doreen Jones and that she had lost her son Richard, along with his lovely girlfriend Tracey Cox. Both were in their early 20s and had science degrees from Sheffield University.
Doreen came across as a very dignified lady, but I could see the pain she was in – I could see it on her face. Her son was buried just six graves along from our daughters.
We talked about the lies that were circulating in some sections of the media, suggesting that drunken, loutish Liverpool fans without tickets had turned up late to the Hillsborough game and pushed their way in, contributing to the fatal crush – lies that had blackened the names of our children and the other victims who died or were injured that day.
All the talk about alcohol when the police interviewed us in the gym at Hillsborough had begun to click into place. It was becoming obvious to us that they were trying to shift the blame on to the Liverpool fans by suggesting they had killed their own.
This was the start of the rot – the covering up of the truth to protect the police and their catastrophic decision-making that day.
We went back to Doreen’s house and spoke to her husband, Les. It seemed that we were of the same mind – that the bereaved families were about to be completely betrayed.
© Jenni Hicks 2022
Adapted from One Day In April: A Hillsborough Story, by Jenni Hicks, published by Seven Dials, priced £14.99. To order a copy for £13.49, visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937 by April 3. UK p&p free on orders over £20.
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