In Depth

Hillsborough timeline: what has happened in 30 years since 1989 disaster

Commemoration in Liverpool to be muted due to ongoing criminal proceedings

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The city of Liverpool will today remember the 96 football fans who died at Hillsborough stadium, 30 years to the day since the disaster.

The anniversary “comes 12 days after a jury at Preston Crown Court failed to reach a verdict on the prosecution of the match commander, Ch Supt David Duckenfield, who was accused of gross negligence manslaughter”, reports The Guardian

Due to the ongoing proceedings relating to Duckenfield, and a forthcoming trial of two former South Yorkshire police officers and the force’s then solicitor on charges of perverting the course of justice, the 30-year memorial ceremonies will be muted.

The city’s council cancelled a planned outdoor commemoration event and instead will light 96 lanterns on the steps of St George’s Hall.

Flags will be flown at half-mast across the city, and the bells of the Town Hall will toll 96 times. There will be a service at the Anglican cathedral, and a minute’s silence will be observed at 3.06pm – the moment the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest was stopped as the scale of the disaster became apparent.

Here is how events have unfolded in the 30 years since the disaster.

15 April 1989: Tragedy at Hillsborough

The FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest ends in tragedy as a crush at the Leppings Lane end of Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium leads to the death of 96 Liverpool fans, with more than 750 people injured.

Despite having a greater following than Nottingham Forest, Liverpool’s supporters were allocated the smaller end of the stadium, Leppings Lane, so that their route would not bring them into contact with Forest fans arriving from the south. The entrance had a limited number of turnstiles, of which just seven were allocated to the 10,100 fans with tickets for the standing terraces.

By 2.45pm, thousands of people were pressing into the turnstiles and alongside a large exit gate. The funnel-shaped nature of the area “meant that the congestion was hard to escape for those at the front”, says the BBC. The turnstiles became difficult to operate and people were starting to be crushed.

At that point, Duckenfield gave the command to open another gate to the stadium and about 2,000 fans then made their way into the ground. But this influx caused further crushing inside the stadium, with fans at the front attempting to climb onto the pitch to safety.

Of the 96 people who were crushed, trampled or suffocated, 37 were teenagers, most still at school, many attending their first away game supporting Liverpool.

19 April 1989: “The truth”

The Sun newspaper publishes its infamous front page with the headline The Truth, blaming drunk Liverpool fans for the disaster and even accusing some of stealing from the dead and injured. The story prompts a boycott of the paper on Merseyside, still upheld by many today.

15 August 1989: Police to blame

Lord Justice Peter Taylor’s interim report into the tragedy puts the blame on South Yorkshire Police. “Although there were other causes, the main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control,” it concludes. The report also accuses police chief David Duckenfield, who was responsible for the match, of “blunders of the first magnitude”.

19 January 1990: The Taylor Report

The full report reinforces criticism of the police while its recommendations lead to the introduction of all-seater stadiums and the removal of perimeter fencing around grounds. 

18 April 1990: Inquests begin

South Yorkshire coroner Dr Stefan Popper begins the inquest process into the deaths, but only considers events up until 3.15pm on the day of the disaster, nine minutes after the match was stopped, so the role of the emergency services after the disaster does not come under scrutiny.

14 August 1990: No prosecutions

Allan Green, the director of public prosecutions, finds there is insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against any individual, group or corporate body.

28 March 1991: Accidental death

After the longest inquest in British history, lasting 90 days, a verdict of accidental death is returned by a majority verdict of 9-2. The ruling states that all the victims were dead by 3.15pm

29 October 1991: Duckenfield retires

Duckenfield retires on medical grounds, suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. This halts disciplinary proceedings being brought by the Police Complaints Authority.

3 March 1993: Judicial review

Hillsborough’s final victim, 22-year-old Tony Bland, dies after being taken off life support, pushing the death toll up to 96. Meanwhile, the families of six victims appeal for a judicial review application to quash the inquest verdict. It is rejected by Lord Justice McCowan in the divisional court.

5 December 1996: Hillsborough - the TV movie

As the families continue to campaign, ITV screens a drama about the disaster written by Jimmy McGovern. It fuels calls for a new inquiry and is later awarded a Bafta.

30 June 1997: The review

The new Labour government orders a review of the evidence by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith. But despite it finding that police evidence to the Taylor inquiry had been doctored, home secretary Jack Straw rules out a new inquiry.

August 1998: Private prosecutions

The Hillsborough Family Support Group mounts a private prosecution of Duckenfield and his deputy, superintendent Bernard Murray, for manslaughter. In July 2000, Murray is acquitted after a six-week trial. The jury fails to reach a verdict on Duckenfield.

15 April 2009: “Justice for the 96”

Labour MP Andy Burnham’s address to the 20th anniversary memorial service is interrupted by chants of “Justice for the 96″. Amid growing calls for transparency, the Hillsborough Independent Panel is set up.

12 September 2012: Hillsborough Independent Panel report

After three years reviewing 450,000 documents, including those relating to former prime minister Margaret Thatcher and Merseyside Police, the Hillsborough Independent Panel publishes its report and exposes the police campaign to blame Liverpool fans. It leads to a new criminal inquiry into the disaster and an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie apologises for the paper’s 1989 front page.

19 December 2012: Inquest verdicts quashed

The High Court quashes the accidental death verdicts and new inquests are ordered. A Hillsborough charity music single, a version of He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother, is confirmed as Christmas Number One days later.

31 March 2014: New inquests begin

High Court judge Lord Goldring chairs the new inquests in Warrington, which last more than two years and becomes the longest jury case in British legal history.

26 April 2016: Unlawful killing

The inquest jury finds that Hillsborough’s 96 victims were unlawfully killed and that Liverpool fans were not responsible for the disaster. The inquest blames police decisions and the layout of the stadium for the deaths. It also prompts calls for criminal action.

21 August 2018: Police chief charges dropped

Sir Norman Bettison, the former police chief constable accused of blaming fans for the disaster, has all four criminal charges against him dropped. He was initially accused of telling lies about the “culpability of fans” and his role in the event, reports the BBC.

The Crown Prosecution Service says changes in the evidence of two witnesses and the death of a third meant that there was “no longer a realistic prospect of conviction”.

3 April 2019: Trials and sentencing

A jury failed to reach a verdict in the case of David Duckenfield, the former South Yorkshire police chief superintendent and match commander on the day of the Hillsborough disaster.

He had originally been accused of the manslaughter by gross negligence of 95 Liverpool fans, but denied all the charges.

The Crown Prosecution Service has said it will seek a retrial, which Duckenfield is expected to oppose, at a hearing scheduled for 24 June.

The jury did, however, reach a majority verdict to convict Graham Mackrell, Sheffield Wednesday’s then-secretary and safety officer, of failing to take reasonable care of Liverpool supporters’ safety, by allocating only seven turnstiles for the 10,100 people.

Mackrell, who sought in his defence to blame Liverpool supporters for the dangerous congestion that developed at the turnstiles, will be sentenced on 13 May.

Three more defendants are still facing charges relating to Hillsborough: retired police officers Donald Denton, 80, and Alan Foster, 73, and police solicitor Peter Metcalf, 68, will all stand trial later this year.

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