Return to Transcripts main page


Long Fight for Truth in the Hillsborough Disaster; The Doctor Who Bore Witness to 1989 Tragedy; Egyptian Representation of Journalists Worse than Ever. Imagine a World. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired April 26, 2016 - 14:00:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN GUEST HOST: Hello, everyone. Tonight, the long fight for justice: nearly three decades after Britain's worst sporting disaster,

families of 96 football fans who died in the Hillsborough stadium tragedy finally vindicated about the police collusion and cover-ups.

We'll bring you a special report on how the tragedy unfolded. We'll also hear from a doctor who was there on the day.


DR. JOHN ASHTON, HILLSBOROUGH WITNESS: Can you imagine losing someone in a catastrophe that was avoidable, that happened because of negligence,

irresponsibility, on behalf of the football association, the police, the ambulance service, the football club, the engineers and then the lies and

so on?

How do you get to terms with that?


HOLMES: Also ahead, prominent Egyptian activist, Hassan Bahgat, on how the government is cracking down on freedom and democracy in that country.


HOLMES: And good evening, everyone, welcome to the program. I'm Michael Holmes, sitting in for Christiane tonight.

Now a fight for the truth that has taken 27 years, finally answers emerge from 96 lives were lost at a football game. After a two-year inquest, the

jury found that the Liverpool fans crushed to death at Hillsborough Stadium in 1989 were killed unlawfully.

They said police errors caused or contributed to the crush and they heard evidence that senior figures had misrepresented the facts to dodge the


It was an incident that changed football forever and resonated all around the world.

That game day in 1989 started off like so many others. But for 96 people, men, women and children, they would never go home. For the families, it has

been a long road to the truth. As CNN's Don Riddell reports for us now, losing their loved ones was only the start of their pain for these families

of the victims.



DON RIDDELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was their football ritual, the one thing their family always did together.

TREVOR HICKS, HILLSBOROUGH SURVIVOR: It was a beautiful spring morning. We traveled up. We had our picnic lunch with us.

JENNI HICKS, HILLSBOROUGH SURVIVOR: The girls were chatting in the back about who they thought were going to win.

RIDDELL (voice-over): Trevor and Jenni Hicks and their teenage daughters, Sarah and Vicki, were passionate supporters of the Liverpool football team,

until one day in 1989. The Hicks family had tickets to the FA cup semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. The Hillsborough Stadium was a

neutral venue in Sheffield.

JENNI HICKS: We had three tickets for the standing and one for the seating. And I desperately wanted to stand with the girls.

But as it turned out, it was the girls who said, "No, Mum, you're too little, you won't be able to see."

RIDDELL (voice-over): Jenni went to her seat while Trevor and the girls ended up on the terrace but something was wrong. The fans who were standing

behind the goal were packed in too tight; along with hundreds of other Liverpool supporters, Sarah and Vicki were being crushed. The game was

stopped after just six minutes and subsequently abandoned.

JENNI HICKS: I went to the Leppings Lane tobacconist to wait for Sarah and Vicki and Trevor coming out. It was just chaotic, really. And then more and

more fans came out. And then finally nobody came.

RIDDELL (voice-over): Jenni's worst fears were being realized. What she didn't yet know was that her husband had been trying desperately to save

their daughters' lives.

TREVOR HICKS: The people who were climbing over the fence were literally just collapsing on the pitch as soon as they got there, struggling for


I found Sarah and Vicki almost side by side. And we started doing mouth-to- mouth resuscitation, cleared the airways and all this type of thing. Obviously everybody was -- it was total chaos.

RIDDELL (voice-over): Trevor's efforts were in vain. And it was many hours before he and Jenni were reunited and she learned that both their girls

were gone.

Well, we arrived, it was the early hours of Sunday morning. And the first thing I did when we went into the hall, I went upstairs to look in the

girls' bedrooms --


JENNI HICKS: -- to see if they were there. None of this seems to make sense but it did to me at the time.

RIDDELL (voice-over): But this was only half the story. Even as the disaster was still unfolding, the police blamed what they called drunk,

ticketless fans, who'd arrived late at the stadium for causing the crush and the deaths of 96 fans.

At the point of identification back in Sheffield, Trevor, Jenni and everyone else had been interrogated. Victims became suspects.

TREVOR HICKS: They took blood alcohol levels from all of the victims, including the children. And it was obviously they were trying to start and

build up the story then, even within hours of drunken fans kicking gates down, which clearly wasn't the case.

RIDDELL (voice-over): In fact, the stadium was old and decrepit and the police themselves had lost control. Their fateful decision to open a large

exit gate, allowing 2,000 supporters to stream into the packed area behind the goal, proved fatal for many.

The families of the 96 victims assumed that the truth would emerge in an inquest two years later but the deaths were ruled accidental.

Trevor has devoted much of his life since, 27 years, to uncovering the truth.

TREVOR HICKS: It would have been an awful lot easier if responsibility had been faced up. And instead of people accepting their responsibility for the

disaster, as we all know now, you know, an absolute, you know, full-blown, smear campaign, dirty tricks campaign, call it what you like, was waged on

the families.

RIDDELL (voice-over): Against the police and the establishment, against all the odds, the Hillsborough families never gave up their fight.

Almost three decades after the fact, it took an inquest more than two years to pronounce what they'd always known: the fans weren't to blame. But it's

a hollow victory.

TREVOR HICKS: One of the biggest things that I see is the waste. They were good kids and I've never had the opportunity to see the time and the effort

we put into them come to fruition. And obviously that can never change.

But that's one of the things I have great difficulty in dealing with, because you can't wind the clock back.

RIDDELL (voice-over): Don Riddell, CNN.


HOLMES: Now among the people in the stands that day was Dr. John Ashton. And the very next day, he spoke with the BBC.


ASHTON: It was just total chaos. I had to assume control of the casualty situation myself and basically divide the people up into three groups,

depending on whether they were dead or not and whether they should have priority to go to hospital when the ambulances arrived.


HOLMES: Nearly 30 years on, Dr. Ashton still has not given up on his campaign for the truth. I spoke with him soon after the verdict came in.


HOLMES: Dr. John Ashton, thanks so much for being with us on the program.

You were there at Hillsborough with your sons and nephew, to see the game and you knew pretty soon something was wrong with crowd control, right?

ASHTON: Well, it was very difficult to get in. It was very squashed outside. We're football people. We'd been there the previous year and it

was bad that year. But it was much worse this year and it was so congested, I didn't want to go forward. I get claustrophobia in that kind of


But my nephew, Carl, who's 22, and two of my boys, Nick, who was 14, and Matthew, who was 16, they went on in without me. And I waited until it

suddenly eased off, which is when the gate must have been opened.

At that point, I went in and went over to buy a program from a program seller; I still didn't know that there was anything going on.

But the first thing that happened that really made me realize that this was something different was a man came running up to a policeman who was

nearby, who said, "You've got to do something, there's kids dying in there."

And I couldn't make progress down the aisle, because it was full of people; it was chaos. I had to climb over the seats to get down to the front. My

nephew, Carl, was helping to pull people up from the front -- you can see them on television images of people clambering up from below. And Carl was


I went and sat next to Matt and Nick and then it was immediately apparent the game had stopped. And people started being pulled out onto the pitch in

front of the goal mouth.

And I said to one of the boys, "That person I think is dead. And then that one that may be dead." And they had been laid out in front of the goal. And

this is probably 20 persons or so, 3:00 in the afternoon. And the Tannoy asked for doctors and nurses to go and help.

So I went downstairs, down to the area behind the Leppings Lane terrace. And I asked a policeman there who I should --


ASHTON: -- report to and he hadn't got a clue. So I just realized it was chaos.

HOLMES: I was going to ask you about that, when you're down there on the pitch, you're seeing this unfold in front of you, what's going through your


What is the atmosphere like?

I can imagine you could taste the fear.

ASHTON: Your medical training kicks in. Certainly did for me. I didn't do any resuscitation. It was a question of actually dispatching the ones as

quickly as possible.

I mean, there was no equipment there. There was nothing much we could do. You know, people were trying to do mouth-to-mouth and so but there were so

many casualties. What really had to happen, first of all, was to sort them out.

HOLMES: The families apparently were treated very badly. I was actually up there the day after, reporting on the story. And a lot of the families were

treated callously in many cases, indifference at best by some of the authorities.


ASHTON: They were moved around from pillar to post, they couldn't find their loved ones. Many of them never got the clothing back. The clothing

was incinerated. Trainers incinerated.

You know, if it had happened to you, you'd have wanted to get the clothes, you'd have wanted to smell the clothes. You'd have wanted to get their

clothes -- many of them never got the clothing back from their loved ones, who were deceased. It was very callous and cold and inhuman.

HOLMES: And then, of course, afterwards, very soon after this all happened, the lies began, the victim-blaming. I think we have got a copy of "The Sun"

newspaper and the front page there, expressing what turned out to be utter lies about who was at fault.

ASHTON: Well, you know, nobody's bought that newspaper in Liverpool or Merseyside ever since then. That's not a paper -- the shops don't stock it.

That's nearly 30 years ago, that you can't buy that paper in Liverpool.

HOLMES: There were even attempts, as you tried to tell your story to authorities, there were even attempts to tarnish your reputation, right?

ASHTON: Well, they made out I wasn't a proper doctor, I was a public health doctor, you know, even though I'd had a lot of clinical experience,

including a lot of emergency experience.

They tried to make out that I was a publicity seeker because I went into the radio studio in Liverpool and I got home that evening and immediately

told the story, the truth about the story, because I knew what was cooking up already.

HOLMES: As we've seen today, everything you said, vindicated.

I'm wondering, Doctor, how have you dealt with over the years with what you saw, what you experienced, both on the day and also living, knowing those

lies had been told and were -- continued to be perpetrated, that the victims had been being blamed?

ASHTON: Well, the first thing was, you know, I, as a professional, as a middle class person, felt a responsibility to speak on behalf of the

ordinary working class football supporters, who were being vilified. And I've always tried to support the families, because this is about them. It's

about their terrible, terrible loss, you know. That's where I've been from.

I mean, yes, I was damaged professionally by that. And I had to live with that for 25 years, until the Bishop Jones' panel report three years ago

actually said that what I'd said was correct.

The families have always said they want truth and justice. So this has been the journey to get the truth out onto the table and then the justice comes

next. It's not about vengeance. It's about justice.

And the people who have lied all these years, the people who were responsible, who didn't put their hands up when they made the mistakes,

it's the justice for them that comes next.

HOLMES: Dr. John Ashton, want to thank you very much for coming on and talking about that extraordinary and that tragic day and your part in it.

Thanks so much, Doctor.

ASHTON: Thank you for inviting me.


HOLMES: Painful memories brought back to the surface in Hillsborough. But it is a feeling shared on the other side of Europe and Ukraine and Belarus,

near Chernobyl, where they're marking 30 years since the nuclear disaster, April 26th, 1986.

Of course, it killed thousands and caused deformities and diseases, like leukemia, over the decades since the explosion.

When we come back, we face a crisis in the present. Egypt takes aim at dissent. That's next.





HOLMES: Welcome back to the program, everyone.

Egypt's president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is determined to stop all major protests against him. And so far, it looks like he is succeeding in that.

Security forces have been crawling all over Cairo, quashing any attempt to demonstrate against the government. Police even fired tear gas on a small

group on Monday.

Now while Egypt has largely been out of the international spotlight of late, repression there is worse than ever. That is the assessment of Hossam

Bahgat, a widely respected journalist and human right activist. Bahgat is accused of illegally receiving foreign funds for his former NGO and other

things as well.

He is banned from leaving Egypt but he joins me now from Cairo.

Hossam, you have your own legal issues and we'll get to that in a moment. But first, we've seen continued crackdowns on any protest, any dissent.

How much worse have things become in recent months?

HOSSAM BAHGAT, JOURNALIST: Well, yes and no, in terms of the human rights situation, of course, what we're living under now is the worst we've ever

seen. In fact, even older generations tell us this is the worst they've ever seen since really living memory.

Now of course, I lived and worked under Mubarak rule, under the Muslim Brotherhood rule. I actively campaigned against and (INAUDIBLE) those

regimes. But really what we're seeing right now is a significantly different scale in terms of the numbers of political prisoners, the numbers

of deaths in custody, for disappearances.

And then, of course, the severe restrictions, unprecedented limits on press freedom, on the work of civil society organizations and on the right to

protest, as you saw yesterday.

Now I need to qualify that because, what we are seeing right now, especially this month, is that young people, people who are even too young

to have participated in the 2011 Egyptian uprising, are getting increasingly fed up with those restrictions.

And as we saw this month, twice already, they have been taking to the streets, fully aware of the high cost on their liberty or safety or even

lives, for daring to come out on the street and protest against the regime.

And just the mere announcement of yesterday's protests two weeks ago led to what we saw yesterday, for the first time, not just the civilian police but

the armed forces took to the streets to patrol squares and streets, not just in Cairo but throughout the country, for fear of a return of protests.

So this is a regime that is paradoxically both very authoritarian, very brutal, in its repression of any form of dissent but, at the same time,

very shaky and fully aware of how elusive public opinion is.


HOLMES: -- I think Egypt now officially -- I think Egypt now is the second biggest jailer of journalists in the world after China, by some counts. And

so the crackdown is there. But governments in Egypt and in the region --


HOLMES: -- in general say they are doing a lot of this in the name of national stability, that they're fighting terror, El Sisi himself

referencing what he called an evil plot against Egypt several times over the last few months.

What do you say to these claims that this is all about stability, security, fighting terror and fighting evil plots?

What do you say to that?

BAHGAT: Look, we've been there before, you and I. This is what Mubarak sold to Egyptians and to the world for many years. And this was a bargain that

Sisi made when he was first elected two years ago or when he had removed the former president of the Muslim Brotherhood three years ago.

The bargain was, give me your liberties and forget about this democracy talk and I will make you safe and I will make you prosper.

And on both of these counts, the regime has failed badly. And it's exactly a repeat of the Mubarak story. You know, when a regime tries to present

itself as the keeper of abilities through bloody repression --


HOLMES: And so the question I suppose is whether repression is effective in Egypt; as representation has grown, so, too, has dissent. I'm wondering if

you think El Sisi is approaching a breaking point of sorts when it comes to popular support. As you said, he promised stability, security, prosperity

and hasn't delivered.

BAHGAT: No, of course, three years later, terrorism -- the number of terrorist attacks is at an all-time high. ISIS is now bombing inside the

capital. Of course, the downing of the Russian airplane after a few months of their mistaken killing of Mexican tourists by army planes has decimated

the tourism sector.

Tourism this year, in the first quarter of this year, has decreased by about 80 percent compared to the same quarter last year and the Egyptian

pound continues to drop against the dollar. And people are feeling for the first time that this bargain they made three years ago was not the right


Now, internationally, there is also a change in how the outside world views this regime and especially after the brutal killing of Giulio Regeni, the

Italian student, as well as the increased repression that we saw over the past few months.

Where is this going to lead us?

It is unclear but something has started moving again in Egypt. And if you come to Cairo now, you'll feel this palpable anger, especially among young

people. But we're not yet at the point of crisis. But I'd keep an eye on Egypt over the next few months.

HOLMES: Hossam, we've only got a minute left; I said we'd touch on your cases and we must; two cases over your reporting and also accusations over

a case involving foreign funds and NGOs.

Very briefly, do you expect you'll get fairly treated by the judiciary?

BAHGAT: No, I definitely don't. One of the casualties of this state we live in or this republic of fear that's been established two years ago is that,

of course, the judiciary has been pulled into this wave of repression.

So the military case against my journalism work is still open and the civilian, criminal prosecution against my human rights activism, as well as

that of a number of other activists and organizations, continue.

And without even an indictment, we are under travel bans and requests for asset freezes. But, like I said, what is happening in Egypt now and what is

about to develop over the next weeks or months is much bigger than my individual case.

HOLMES: OK, Hossam, we've got to leave it there. Hossam Bahgat, journalist, human rights activist, our thanks. The situation in Egypt precarious in the

eyes of many.

Coming up here on the program, imagine a world where a lost dream rises from the ashes of an Olympic flame. It's one we run into when we come back.





HOLMES: Finally tonight, we imagine a dream realized after years of strife, as the Olympic flame was carried through an Athens refugee camp today. It

was the bearer, not the torch, who became a beacon.

Ibrahim Al-Hussein was selected by the Olympic committee to raise the torch for refugees all over the world. As a swimmer, Ibrahim had dreamed of one

day competing in the Olympics. But as war took hold of his country, those goals faded into the chaos and the violence.

He lost the lower part of his right leg after a 2012 bombing. He did escape to Greece in 2014, where he continues to swim and compete, all despite

working long night shifts in an Athens cafe.

Now he says he is carrying the Olympic torch and fulfilling a lifelong ambition.

And good for him. That torch relay will leave Greece for Brazil on Wednesday, when our Christiane Amanpour will be in the heart of that

country for an exclusive interview with Brazil's embattled president, Dilma Rousseff in the capital, Brasilia. That's later in the week.

And that is our program for tonight. Remember, you can listen to our podcasts, see us online at, follow me on Twitter @HolmesCNN.

Thanks for watching, everyone. Goodbye for now from the CNN Center.