12 Sep 2012

Forty-one Hillsborough victims had ‘potential to survive’

Forty-one of the 96 people who died in the Hillsborough football stadium tragedy 23 years ago had the “potential to survive”, the panel investigating the deaths said today.

The Liverpool supporters died after a crush at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium on April 15, 1989, where their team were to play Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final.

Dr Bill Kirkup, a member of the Hillsborough Panel which has been examining documents around the disaster, said that 41 people had the potential to survive after the crucial time of 3:15pm.

The original inquest into the deaths said that the 96 Hillsborough dead had suffered traumatic asphyxia, which would have meant they were unconscious in seconds and dead within minutes. This had led to the claim that beyond 3:15pm no actions could have been taken to change the fate of those killed that day.

Read more: Hillsborough report key findings

However, the new report said medical evidence shows that 28 who died in the crush did not have any obstruction of blood circulation and that 31 had evidence of lungs and heart continuing to function after 3:15pm. This meant that they may have had reversible asphyxia, and therefore more lives could have been saved.

In total, according to Dr Kirkup, 41 people had the “potential” to be saved after 3:15pm. The report said that a “swifter, more appropriate, better focused and properly equipped response had the potential to save more lives”.

Catalogue of errors

The damning report has also criticised a number of organisations including the police and other emergency services, the media, and the original coroner.

The panel, which is led by the Bishop of Liverpool, Reverend James Jones, has published 450,000 pages of documentary eviodence, which can be accessed here.

The documents have shown that police and emergency services made “strenous attempts” to deflect the blame for the disaster onto innocent fans.

Speaking to the House of Commons, the prime minister said the safety of the crowds had been “compromised at every level” and emphasised that today’s report showed that Liverpool fans “were not the cause of the disaster.”

However, the report had found that 164 statements had been “significantly amended”, including the removal of 116 negative comments about the leadership of the police to push the blame for the tragedy onto the fans.

Mr Cameron said that the Attorney General would now consider the new evidence as quickly as possible. Families of the victims have long called for the inquests into their loved ones to be re-opened.

The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve QC, said today: “As I have promised, I will now begin my consideration of whether there is evidence sufficient to support an application to the High Court for any fresh inquests into the deaths of Hillsborough victims.

“In the interests of justice, and mindful of what has been endured by so many people since 1989, I will do this as quickly as I can. However the process will inevitably take some time.”


Trevor Hicks (pictured right), leader of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, said today at a press conference that the families felt vindicated.

“We have been accused of being vengeful, spiteful, of looking for compensation,” he said. “All of which was a load of rubbish. We feel for the first time in an awful long time that we are on the brink of a breakthrough, in truth I think we have reached a breakthrough.”

He said the group would use “any avenue” in the pursuit of justice. He said: “We are not looking for scape goats, we are looking for accountability.”

He added: “The truth is out today, justice begins tomorrow”.

Margaret Aspinall, chairwoman of the group, said: “The journey is over for the fans now, they can go away, they’ve got nothing to feel guilty about but can be proud of themselves.

“Our journey now, we’re still going to, obviously on another journey, so ours is not quite over, we’ve still got more to do. And I know they will be there to support us on that journey and I can’t thank all of them enough. And our way to thank them is fighting on their behalf and I think we’ve achieved what we set out to do on that today.”

Profoundly sorry

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Cameron said the Hillsborough families had suffered a “double injustice”, both in the “failure of the state to protect their loved ones” on the fateful day and in the “indefensible wait for the truth”.

He said: “With the weight of the new evidence in this report, it is right for me today as prime minister to make a proper apology to the families of the 96 for all they have suffered over the past 23 years.

“On behalf of the government – and indeed our country – I am profoundly sorry for this double injustice that has been left uncorrected for so long.”

Andy Burnham MP, who as culture secretary formed the Hillsborough panel, said today that there had been a “monumental cover-up” over the tragedy, and a “campiagn of vilification against the victims”.

“It comes far too late for many of course but finally the full horror of Hillsborough has been revealed,” he said. “A catalogue of negligence, appalling failure and sheer mendacity. A tragedy that should have been prevented, lives that should have been saved.

“A monumental cover-up and a sickening campaign of vilification against victims, grieving families, traumatised survivors and the city in shock.”

Smearing the reputation of the dead

The report also found that police officers had actively tried to “impugn the reputations of the deceased” by carrying out police national computer checks on the dead.

South Yorkshire Police came under particular criticism in the report. David Crompton, chief constable of South Yorkshire Police said he was “profoundly sorry” for his force’s actions in the aftermath of the disaster.

He said in a statement: “In the immediate aftermath senior officers sought to change the record of events. Disgraceful lies were told which blamed the Liverpool fans for the disaster.

“I am profoundly sorry for the way the force failed on 15th April 1989 and I am doubly sorry for the injustice that followed and I apologise to the families of the 96 and Liverpool fans.”

Mr Hicks called for Mr Hicks also called for the former South Yorkshire chief constable, Norman Bettison, who is now chief constable of West Yorkshire Police, to resign.

Mr Hicks said: “If he is anything of a man he will stand down and scurry up a drainpipe somewhere.”

The original inquest into the deaths was also criticised in the report for trying to draw a link between blood alcohol levels in the victims and their deaths. The coroner in the inquest took blood alcohol levels from all the deceased, including children.

Today’s report said that the levels of blood alcohol were “unremarkable and not exceptional for a social or leisure occasion”, and that trying to draw such a link was “fundamentally flawed”.

23 year wait

Family members were given first access to more than 400,000 pages of reports from 80 organisations including the government, South Yorkshire Police, Sheffield City Council, the South Yorkshire coroner and the fire and ambulance services who attended the tragedy.

Some relatives say they hope the new evidence of what happened on the day of the disaster will finally put an end to the “myth” – repeated in reports by several newspapers, notably The Sun – that the fans themselves bore some responsibility for the fatal crush. The report had also alleged that fans had stolen from the dead during the tragedy.

Today Kelvin MacKenzie, who was the editor of The Sun at the time of the Hillsborough tragedy and who wrote the headline The Truth above a story which deflected blame for the diasaster on the fans and accused them of urinating on police whilst they tried to resuscitate victims, offered his “profuse apologies to the people of Liverpool for that headline”.

He added: “It has taken more than two decades, 400,000 documents and a two-year inquiry to discover to my horror that it would have far more accurate had I written the headline The Lies rather than The Truth. I published in good faith and I am sorry that it was so wrong.”

Current editor Dominic Mohan said: “Twenty-three years ago The Sun newspaper made a terrible mistake. We published an inaccurate and offensive story about the events at Hillsborough. We said it was the truth – it wasn’t.

“The Hillsborough Independent Panel has now established what really happened that day. It’s an appalling story and at the heart of it are the police’s attempts to smear Liverpool fans.

“It’s a version of events that 23 years ago The Sun went along with and for that we’re deeply ashamed and profoundly sorry.”

Two of the country’s best-known lawyers, Michael Mansfield QC and the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, will advise the victims’ families on the legal implications of the disclosed documents.

Read more: Five unanswered questions on the Hillsborough disaster

Margaret Aspinall (Getty)

Fresh inquests?

The main inquest into the deaths proved controversial when the coroner, Dr Stefan Popper, limited its scope to events up until 3.15pm, just minutes after the game was halted and the crowd began to come on to the pitch.

Many relatives of the victims feel that this prevented scrutiny of the actions of the emergency services after that time, amid allegations that some victims may have survived the initial crush but died much later of their injuries after the authorities failed to provide adequate medical care.

They did not all die by 3.15pm or sustain all the injuries that would have killed them by 3.15pm. Margaret Aspinall

Margaret Aspinall, chairwoman of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, who lost her 18-year-old son James in the disaster, said: “They did not all die by 3.15pm or sustain all the injuries that would have killed them by 3.15pm. They did all not die in an accident and it’s absolutely ludicrous to suggest that.”

A report by Lord Justice Taylor in 1990, found that the main reason for the disaster was a failure of “police control”. But no individuals or organisations have been officially censured or have issued an apology.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel was formed to oversee the release of official documents in 2009, on the 20th anniversary of the tragedy, after a long campaign by activists calling for “justice for the 96”.

The nine-member panel is chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones. Members were briefed with ensuring the “maximum possible” disclosure of documents relating to Britain’s worst football disaster.

The release of the documents will be accompanied by a report from the panel outlining what the papers reveal about the tragedy and its aftermath.

It’s hard to calculate the effect that this – the deaths of 96 people – had on those involved, those who lost relatives and also those who witnessed the perishing deaths and survived, and for fans who have been wrongly blamed for the tragedy. Steve Rotherham

Liverpool Walton MP Steve Rotheram, whose constituency includes Anfield and who was lord mayor of the city at the time of the 20th anniversary, said: “It’s hard to calculate the effect that this – the deaths of 96 people – had on those involved, those who lost relatives and also those who witnessed the perishing deaths and survived, and for fans who have been wrongly blamed for the tragedy.

“If you look back at what happened during the memorial service in 2009, the thousands who turned up at Anfield and the chorus of ‘Justice for the 96’, there was a clear message that there should be some further inquiry looking into what happened that day.”

Raju Bhatt, the legal representative on the Hillsborough Panel, said today, though making an recommendation over criminal prosecutions was not in the remit of the panel, he felt that “there is sufficient new evidence that cries out for proper examination by the proper authorities, who will decide whether that evidence is sufficient for then purposes of a prosecution.”