19 Dec 2012

Hillsborough accidental death verdicts quashed

The original accidental death verdicts returned on 96 Liverpool fans are quashed, as a new police investigation into the Hillsborough disaster is announced by the home secretary.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, and two other judges in London ordered fresh inquests following an application by Attorney General Dominic Grieve.

Some of the families of victims who have campaigned to have the verdicts overturned were attending the hearing at the high court in central London.

Lord Judge said there were “good grounds” for the application made by Mr Grieve. Lord Judge described what happened in 1989 as “catastrophic”.

Referring to the families, he said there had been a “profound, almost palpable belief that justice has not been done and that it cannot be done without and until the full truth is revealed”.

‘Admiration and respect’

He said: “We must record our admiration and respect for their determined search for the truth about the circumstances of the disaster and why and how it had occurred, which – despite disappointments and setbacks – has continued for nearly quarter of a century.”

The ruling follows an announcement that the former Durham chief constable Jon Stoddart will lead a new inquiry, which will focus specifically on the deaths of Liverpool fans following the crush at the FA Cup semi-final in 1989.

The move comes after a damning report from the Hillsborough independent panel revealed a cover-up which attempted to shift the blame for the tragedy on to its victims.

Home Secretary Theresa May said: “I am determined to see a swift and thorough response to the findings of the Hillsborough panel to deliver justice for the 96 football fans who died and the families who have fought so hard on their behalf.”

The Liverpool supporters died as a result of a crush in the overcrowded stands at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium on 15 April 1989 where their team were to meet Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final.

Families’ campaign

The events were seen by millions on television as the tragedy unfolded and by many of the spectators at the stadium itself. But the findings of the original police investigations and inquiry were disputed by the victims’ families who were vindicated by the report of the independent inquiry.

Restrictions have been imposed on appointments for the new inquiry.

Mr Stoddart will be able to recruit investigators and staff to his team, but he will not be allowed to employ officers or former officers with any prior connection to the Hillsborough disaster or current or former members of forces involved in the original investigation and subsequent reviews.

Mr Stoddart will also work closely with the previously announced Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation into police conduct in the aftermath of the disaster.

He said: “I am aware of the great significance and personal responsibility which comes with leading this criminal investigation.

“My first priority is to meet with as many of the families as possible and to establish a working open relationship with them throughout the investigation.


“My role is to ensure that we determine exactly what happened in the lead-up to and on the day of the disaster and establish where any culpability lies.”

The Hillsborough independent panel report triggered a raft of apologies, including Prime Minister David Cameron and Kelvin MacKenzie, who was editor of the Sun when it ran a front page story blaming fans for the disaster.

It also ultimately led to the resignation of West Yorkshire Chief Constable Sir Norman Bettison, who was a chief inspector with South Yorkshire Police at the time and involved in the discredited original investigation.

The panel’s report found there were clear operational failures in response to the disaster and up to 41 fans who were alive after the initial crush could potentially have survived.

It also found the then chief constable of South Yorkshire, Peter Wright, and his officers, with the help of local Tory MP Irvine Patnick, sought to cover up the failing.

The Hillsborough ruling was welcomed by the victim's families (Getty)

A first step

The ruling was welcomed by the victim’s families. Anne Williams, 60, whose 15-year-old son Kevin died at Hillsborough, has cancer and attended the proceedings in a wheelchair.

She applauded Attorney General Dominic Grieve as “a man of his word”, adding that the process had been hard. “I am glad we never gave up.”

“I’d like a corporate manslaughter verdict in the inquest, it’s the least for what they have done.

“God willing, I will be here, it has been a long wait to see justice.

“I am so glad I could be here today to hear it for myself.”

Referring to the cover-up that shifted blame away from the authorities and on to the victims, she said: “I can’t forgive them the extremes they went to.

“Why didn’t they just give us the truth?”

Another relative, Jenni Hicks, who lost her teenage daughters Sarah and Victoria in the incident, said that the ruling is only the first step.

“After the truth we had on September 12, it has to be followed up with accountability, and I think today is the first step of that, which is brilliant.”

There was more good news for the families and campaigners with Mr Cameron’s backing a removal of VAT on the Hillsborough charity single released for Christmas by the star-studded Justice Collective.