The 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 Liverpool football fans died – marked with ceremonies in Liverpool and Sheffield yesterday – has a particular poignancy for psychologist Kevin Tasker, who helped the helpers in the wake of the tragedy.
Mr Tasker, a partner at The Centre for Crisis Psychology, helped to provide psychological support to social workers, psychologists and counsellors recruited by Liverpool City Council to support the injured and bereaved.
Kevin said: “My abiding memory of the days and weeks following Hillsborough is the way the whole of Liverpool came together to provide support and help for those affected. As someone who was not from the city it was incredibly moving to see this level of collective unity, which spoke volumes for the people of Merseyside.”
In the immediate aftermath of the event, Liverpool Council moved quickly, setting up drop-in centres and helplines as well as recruiting specialist support staff. They also called on Michael Stewart, the founder of Skipton-based CCP, to provide bespoke training and advice.
A former social worker, Mr Stewart had led the award-winning Bradford Council emergency response team which spent around two years counselling the bereaved and survivors of the Bradford City fire in 1985.
Kevin said: “By bringing Michael on board, they had direct access to an individual with unprecedented experience of similar tragedies. The focus on also supporting those providing the care represented a significant shift in dealing with the psychological aftermath of traumatic incidents.
“Historically, the focus had always been on those directly affected, be it family, friends or survivors. However it was equally important to support the counsellors and social workers who were hearing harrowing stories on a daily basis.
“When their shifts finished we were on hand to help them deal with this and we also made regular visits to drop-in centres, where groups and individuals congregated.”
With the latest inquests into the 96 deaths under way, Kevin said, the families would be suffering from repetitive trauma.
Although not a direct legacy of Hillsborough, the Civil Contingencies Act became law in 2004, which requires local authorities to have a plan in place for dealing with the period immediately following a traumatic incident.
Kevin said: ‘The act was a major step forward, however too many councils still place the emphasis on the practical aspects of an incident and ignore the need for psychological support which is equally, if not more, important.”
CCP has responded to 7,000 major incidents around the world, including the July 7 bombings in London, the Concordia cruise ship disaster, the Egyptian hot air balloon catastrophe and Typhoon Haiyan.