NUJ tribute to Dan Kay

  • 26 May 2023

Joe Thomas leads the tributes after the death of the award-winning journalist who fought for truth and justice over the Hillsborough disaster.

There is a saying within the Hillsborough justice campaign that ‘Unity is Strength’.

The declaration is just three words, but it is a phrase of power and poignance that so neatly encapsulates the role Dan Kay played in the lives of the many, many people who knew and loved him.
Dan’s friendship was a blessing and a privilege and the support he offered to his family and friends, his colleagues, the communities he fought for and the strangers he helped made each and every one of them stronger. Unity with Dan truly was strength.

Born in 1977, Dan was largely brought up by his grandparents Edna and Jack, upon whom he doted until their passing. His formative years were spent at Kingsmead School in Hoylake and then Clifton College, a boarding school in Bristol. His attachment to Liverpool was never broken while he was there - not only was it his home, but it was also host to his beloved Liverpool Football Club, the team he travelled the world to watch compete for glory.

Dan’s education was completed on Merseyside with an English and IT degree from Liverpool Hope University. In 2003, he joined the Liverpool Echo and began a career that would see him write and fight on behalf of the city for 20 years. Dan's interests influenced his rise as he grew to become a senior member of the newsroom respected by all departments but particularly in sport, where his love of all things Liverpool FC shone through in his writing, but his respect and appreciation of Everton earned him the nickname 'Purple Dan'.

There was little Dan did not know about the Reds. His work crossed generational divides and his insight made the club's rich history accessible and relevant to both those who experienced it and those who wished they had. His awareness of the Blues was equally as substantial. This breadth of knowledge was best displayed by his final pieces for The Echo - articles that offered insight into the experiences at Liverpool of Nigel Clough and Stephen Warnock and of Tony Cottee at Everton. Three separate articles, the content of which spanned three decades and two clubs. In a fitting tribute in the seventh minute of Liverpool's home game with Aston Villa on May 20, the first match at Anfield following his passing, the stadium erupted into applause in his memory. Dan's favourite player was Kenny Dalglish, who famously wore the number seven.

Aside from his valued contribution to the pantheon of work on Liverpool FC, as well as his detailed coverage of Everton, Dan was a pioneer of online journalism who helped lead the emergence of the ECHO into the digital age. He rose to become Head of Web, scooping regional and national awards in the process. Dan was named North West Digital Journalist of the Year in 2012 and was instrumental to The Echo twice winning Website of the Year at the Regional Press Awards.

That critical acclaim reflected Dan's most important work on the subject about which he was most passionate - the fight for truth and justice over the Hillsborough disaster. The tragedy and the campaign for answers that was a sad necessity following the failure of so many before and during the disaster, and the abhorrent cover up that then sought to protect those responsible, was a defining part of Dan’s life. A schoolboy when the horror unfolded it resonated with him both personally and professionally and he stood alongside relatives and friends of the innocent men, women and children who died, survivors and campaigners. He was a valued source of support through the many difficult years before the landmark report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel in 2012, which started the process that would finally lead to the true narrative of the tragedy being made clear to the world in the fresh inquests in Warrington: That the 97 Liverpool supporters who died as a result of the disaster, the survivors and the many more also deeply affected by the events of April 15, 1989 were failed by those tasked with keeping them safe and that the fans who made the journey to Sheffield for the FA Cup semi-final bore no responsibility for the horror that unfolded at the Leppings Lane end.

He continued to be a crucial part of The Echo's coverage in relation to the disaster beyond the inquests and through the criminal prosecutions that followed. Of all Dan's work, his visual production 97 Candles Burn Bright is amongst his most significant, his tireless compilation a powerful memorial to those he fought on behalf of. Following his death earlier this month, aged 45, his work was noted in Parliament by Wirral South MP Alison McGovern, who paid tribute to Dan for, among many things, his "extraordinary, pioneering contribution to journalism".

For Dan, who had a hatred of injustice and was a friend to all those who fought it, the legacy of the battle for the truth was as important as the hearings inside the courtrooms of Preston, Warrington, Salford and elsewhere. It was not enough to challenge for answers. People needed to know the pain caused by the failures over Hillsborough and the inspirational stories of those who battled to eventually overcome it - what could be more powerful in the bid to prevent similar suffering being inflicted upon others? Nowhere was this more pertinent than Dan's work to highlight that of Anne Williams, whose son Kevin was among those unlawfully killed. Dan co-wrote With Hope in Her Heart with Anne's daughter Sara, a book which documented the courageous work of a mum from Merseyside who stopped at nothing in her quest for truth. More recently, Dan also worked on the ITV drama Anne, which portrayed her story to millions of viewers and led to Maxine Peake receiving a BAFTA nomination for best actress.

Though it was a significant part of his life, to only talk about work would not do justice to the friendly, outgoing and playful personality those who knew Dan were lucky to experience. His love of the beautiful game extended to playing it and, from Tranmere Rovers' Prenton Park to Liverpool's Anfield, there are few hallowed pieces of turf on Merseyside that Dan did not grace - typically in support of a good cause. He was a determined sportsman known for suddenly emerging from the shadows to slot in a goal in five-a-side and an avid runner who, with close friend Steve Kelly, would often be seen clocking up the miles in the parks of south Liverpool and on the many fun runs and charity events held across Merseyside over the past decade.

Religion was another core strand of Dan's being and his beliefs were fundamental to his approach to life. Of the many voluntary roles he took on, which included distributing food parcels to isolated people during the pandemic and helping in soup kitchens on Christmas Day, Dan was also honorary secretary of Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation at Princes Road Synagogue. He was twice a charitable trustee and credited with helping to bring professionalism to the work of the organisation. Dan's Levaya was held under the sunshine at Broadgreen Jewish Cemetery on May 12. The huge turnout, which included friends who had travelled from across the country to pay respect and gratitude, was a fitting tribute to a person who meant so much to so many.

Chris Morley, Northern and Midlands senior organiser, said:

“Dan was an amazingly talented journalist who achieved massive respect and credibility not only from his peers and colleagues in the profession, but also widely on Merseyside where people truly care about quality journalism. His work covering the Hillsborough justice campaign was a mark of his journalism with integrity so I think it was of little surprise that Dan’s care for others and matters of principle translated into being a staunch NUJ member for nearly 20 years. He was always a committed member and could always been seen attending Echo chapel meetings and supporting his colleagues and collective solutions.”

Joe Thomas

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