New inquiry launched into Hillsborough disaster

High court overturns accidental death verdicts and home secretary vows to 'deliver justice' in new probe after report points to police cover-up

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 December, 2012, 2:37am


A British court yesterday quashed accidental death verdicts returned after 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death at the Hillsborough football stadium in 1989, while police launched a new probe into the disaster.

Following a request made by Attorney General Dominic Grieve at a crowded courtroom in London, High Court judges annulled the inquest verdicts delivered in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy and called for fresh inquests to be held.

The move follows the publication of a damning independent report in September which concluded that 41 of the 96 people who died would have had the "potential to survive" if they had received medical treatment more quickly.

The fatal crush was caused by huge overcrowding in a terrace at Hillsborough Stadium in the northern English city of Sheffield prior to an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest 23 years ago.

It was the worst disaster in the history of British sport.

Lord Chief Justice Igor Judge said there were "good grounds" for Grieve's application and described the events surrounding the tragedy as "catastrophic".

He praised victims' families for campaigning to have the original verdicts overturned, saying: "We must record our admiration and respect for their determined search for the truth."

Lord Judge also expressed regret that the families' quest to uncover the facts of the case had been "so unbearingly dispiriting and prolonged".

The announcement that the verdicts had been quashed drew applause from more than 40 family members of the Hillsborough dead who had travelled to London for the hearing. Other victims' relatives watched the proceedings via video-link from a court in Liverpool.

Trevor Hicks, chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, expressed his joy at the decision. "The Lord Chief Justice, I think he used the term 'vindicated' yet again, so I think it is clear that justice is on its way," he said outside the High Court.

"We could come out with something like a small step for mankind, but it's a huge step for the families of the loved ones, so it's a happier Christmas."

In England, inquests are held to examine sudden or unexplained deaths. They set out to determine the place and time of death as well as how the deceased came by their death, but do not apportion blame.

Prior to the events at the High Court, British Home Secretary Theresa May announced the opening of a new police probe into the disaster, led by former Durham Chief Constable Jon Stoddart.

"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," said May.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel report, published in September, alleged police tried to divert blame for the tragedy onto the victims. It said 164 police statements had been changed, 116 of them to remove or alter "unfavourable" accounts about the police handling of the crisis.

The new inquest and police investigation are a resounding victory for the victims' relatives, who battled for years to bring the true facts of the case to light.

Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool manager at the time of the disaster and a supporter of the families' bid for justice, tweeted: "Two fantastic results today for the Hillsborough families."