Lane clash is important but it isn’t life or death

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THE 126th meeting between Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday takes place this weekend.

But 24 hours after these two great rivals lock horns at Bramall Lane, an event is scheduled to take place which, in terms of its sheer importance, renders the outcome a complete and utter irrelevance. Combined with the appearance of Sheffield’s ‘Women of Steel’ before kick-off, it brings a welcome sense of perspective to the whole derby shebang.

On Monday, in the ornate surroundings of Westminster Palace, Members of Parliament will debate whether government papers relating to the Hillsborough disaster should be released into the public domain.

The answer must surely be an unequivocal ‘yes.’

Online petitions, introduced by Her Majesty’s Government to allow members of the public an opportunity to influence policy, vary from the reactionary - “London rioters should lose their benefits” - to the downright mundane - “Allow Liverpool Cruise Terminal full ‘turnaround’ facilities.”

But the one demanding full “disclosure and publication of all documents, discussions and reports” relating to that terrible April afternoon in 1989 was neither. Indeed, around 140,000 people - 40,000 more than is required to trigger such consideration - logged on to the internet to support the call for Cabinet papers recording a variety of opinions, including those of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, to be released.

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has already thrown his weight behind the demand following a request by the BBC.

In normal circumstances, they would be kept sealed for 30 years. And, in one sense, it is easy to understand why the Cabinet Office, which has sought to keep these notes private, is concerned about setting a precedent.

Contemporaneous confidentiality is necessary for full analysis of a number of sensitive issues, including matters of war and national security, to take place behind the scenes. Compromising such a principle would cause harm and alter the way ministers do business forever.

But Hillsborough is a special case. Especially as many of those campaigning to know the full story behind how 96 people came to lose their lives attending an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest feel as if they have been dealing with half-truths ever since the original coroner’s inquest imposed a 3.15pm cut-off point for consideration of evidence.

The very least the bereaved deserved is transparency.

The late, great Bill Shankley once famously insisted football wasn’t a matter of life and death. To paraphrase him, it was much more important than that.

As those who lost friends and loved ones that fateful afternoon can testify, he could not have been more wrong.