Hillsborough Q&A: what next in families' quest for the truth?
Lawyer calls for independent examination of police video evidence when inquests begin in March
POLICE video evidence of the Hillsborough tragedy may have been deliberately edited, a pre-inquest hearing has heard. Pete Weatherby, the barrister representing 21 of the bereaved families, asked that an independent expert be appointed to examine police film footage during the new inquests, due to begin in March next year. It is yet another area that is likely to be re-examined, 24 years on, as part of three investigations into the tragedy that killed 96 people. Here is what has happened so far...
What happened at Hillsborough?
On 15 April 1989, a crush on the steel-fenced terraces of Sheffield Wednesday's stadium at the start of an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest resulted in the death of 96 Liverpool fans and left hundreds more injured. At the time Liverpool fans were blamed. Four days after the disaster, The Sun published a story under the headline ‘The Truth’, which claimed that fans had picked the pockets of victims, and attacked and urinated on police and rescue workers. The story provoked an intense backlash, with the newspaper boycotted by most newsagents in Liverpool. The 1990 official inquiry into the disaster, the Taylor Report, concluded that “the main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control”. But more than 24 years later, the families of victims are still campaigning for the whole truth to be told.
What did the original inquests rule?
Inquests in 1991 returned a verdict of accidental death for the victims. However the coroner, Dr Stefan Popper, limited the scope of the inquests up to 3.15pm on the day of the disaster, on the grounds that all the victims were either dead or brain dead by this time. But this meant that the response of police and other rescue workers after that cut-off point were not examined. Many of the victims’ families disputed the findings and began to campaign for a fresh inquiry.
Why are the inquests being reopened?
A damning report from the Hillsborough Independent Panel, published in September 2012, led to the High Court quashing the original inquest verdicts last December. Following a three-year examination of documents relating to the disaster, the panel found that police had deliberately altered more than 160 witness statements in an attempt to blame Liverpool fans for the fatal crush. Crowd safety was "compromised at every level", it said, and 41 of the 96 who died could have survived.
Has anyone ever been criminally charged?
No. In August 1990, the director of public prosecutions decided not to bring criminal charges against any individual, group or body on the grounds of insufficient evidence. The Hillsborough Family Support Group brought private manslaughter charges against the police commander on the day, Ch Supt David Duckenfield, and his assistant, Supt Bernard Murray. But after a six-week trial, a jury found Murray not guilty of manslaughter and failed to reach a verdict on Duckenfield. The judge refused a retrial, saying that a fair trial for Duckenfield would be impossible.
What happens next?
The fresh inquests, led by Lord Justice Goldring, will begin on 31 March 2014 in Warrington. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is also carrying out a criminal investigation into Hillsborough – one of the largest in UK history. It is looking at whether there was a criminal cover-up by South Yorkshire Police and is examining the role of West Midland Police, which initially investigated how the South Yorkshire force dealt with the tragedy. This is due to be completed by October 2014 but the IPCC will issue an update ahead of the inquest hearing. Meanwhile, Jon Stoddart, former chief constable of Durham, is conducting Operation Resolve, a police investigation, which also falls under IPCC management. His team of 170 investigators, also based in Warrington, will decide whether or not the 96 fans were killed unlawfully. They will examine the actions of a range of organisations, including Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield City Council and the Football Association. His findings will also feed into the inquests and could lead to criminal charges for anyone deemed responsible for the disaster. ·