LONDON: Two significant steps forward have been taken today in support of the campaign to achieve justice for the 96 victims of the Hillsborough Disaster writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
First Home Secretary Theresa May announced a new police inquiry into the disaster at an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the Sheffield Wednesday ground on April 15, 1989.
Then, in the High Court, Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge quashed the original inquest verdicts in response to a formal request from Attorney-General Dominic Grieve based on a report establishing that 41 of those who died might have been saved.
May said the new inquiry would be led by former Durham Chief Constable Jon Stoddart and would focus specifically on the deaths of Liverpool after they were crushed within two pens at the Leppings Lane terrace.
She said she was “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.”
Stoddart will be able to recruit investigators and staff to his team but is specifically barred from employing officers or former officers with any prior connection to the Hillsborough disaster or from the West Midlands, South Yorkshire or Merseyside police forces.
He said he was “aware of the great significance and personal responsibility which comes with leading this criminal investigation . . . My first priority is to meet as many of the families as possible and to establish a working open relationship with them throughout the investigation.”
In the High Court, the Attorney General said the “horrific” events at the stadium were well known and “were seen by millions on television as the tragedy unfolded and by many of the spectators at the stadium itself”.
Grieve said the application was being made as a consequence of the Hillsborough Panel’s report published on 12 September this year, which he said was a “remarkable” document.
He said that Dr Bill Kirkup, the medical member of the panel and a former associate chief medical officer at the Department of Health, had explained that, of the deceased, 58 “definitely” or “probably” had the capacity to survive beyond the 15:15 cut-off time.
That new evidence formed the “essential basis” for the High Court application because it “undermines the coroner’s summing-up at the inquests.”
The original inquest verdicts angered many of the bereaved families who were told at the 1990 hearing that all Hillsborough’s victims had been injured by 15:15 on the afternoon of the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
Evidence covering the response by the emergency services after this time was also not heard at the original inquest.
Andy Burnham, Labour MP for Leigh, who set up the panel, thought it a “bittersweet” day for the families.
He said: “Those families shouldn’t be coming to London to find out they’re back where they should have been 23 years ago. Some of the families said to me: ‘We never heard what happened to our son and my dad died not knowing’. No family should ever be in that position in this country.”
The panel’s findings showed police and emergency services had made “strenuous attempts” to deflect the blame for the disaster on to the fans.
More than 160 police statements had been altered – 116 of them to remove or change negative comments about the policing of the match.
On Tuesday, in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Liverpool Walton MP Steve Rotheram said he was concerned the families of the victims may not have the finances to support any new legal cases.
In response, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: “I think it might be helpful to say that my department is very mindful of the financial pressures faced by the Hillsborough families.
“We all recognise the very difficult circumstances they have been through and they are certainly in our consideration.”