WARRINGTON:The jury in the second inquest into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster has decided that the 96 people who died in 1989 were unlawfully killed and that Liverpool fans were not to blame for the worst disaster in the history of British sport.
Further, the jury – in announcing verdicts on each individual – ruled that 95 of the victims died, or could have died, after the 3.15pm cut-off point imposed by the original coroner.
The 96 fans died and hundreds were also injured in a crowd crush at the Leppings Lane end of the Sheffield Wednesday stadium in April 1989 just at the start of an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest.
Today’s verdict represented a vindication for the bereaved families who have fought for 27 years against South Yorkshire police claims that misbehaving supporters caused the disaster, as well as against the 1991 verdict at the original inquest of accidental death.
The jury, in deciding that the behaviour of Liverpool fans did not contribute to the dangerous situation that developed outside the ground, thus rejected claims by South Yorkshire police which the families and survivors of the disaster had denounced relentlessly as a cover-up.
Dissatisfaction with the original inquest and subsequent revelations about the actions of the police and emergency services eventually prompted a new inquest which has taken two years, considered the death of each individual victims and heard from more than 500 witnesses generating 4,000 documents over two years.
The coroner, Sir John Goldring, sent the jury out on April 6 under instruction to answer a general questionnaire of 14 questions as well as record the time and cause of death for each of the Liverpool fans who died in the disaster on April 15 1989.
These questions concerned police planning before the game, stadium safety, events on the day, the emergency services’ response to the disaster and whether the fans were unlawfully killed.
Last Wednesday the jury indicated that unanimous decisions had been agreed on every question apart from No6 which asked: “Are you satisfied, so that you are sure, that those who died in the disaster were unlawfully killed?”
The jury was told it could answer “yes” only if members were sure that match commander Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield owed a duty of care to those who died in the disaster, and that he had been in breach of that duty of care.
Thirdly, they would need to be satisfied that his breach of duty caused the deaths and, fourthly, that it amounted to “gross negligence”.
The jury of six women and three men indicated yesterday that they had reached a unanimous verdict on all issues bar one and the corner said he could accept a decision of 7-2 – as it was to be – or 8-1 on the outstanding issue of whether the fans had been unlawfully killed.
A postponement was then ordered by the coroner until today so that all family members could have time to arrange to be present.
The inquest is not the end of the matter. The Independent Police Complaint Commission is investigating the aftermath of the disaster as well as managing elements of the Operation Resolve investigation related to the actions of the police.
Any prosecutions which result from the inquests or investigations will be the responsibility of the Crown Prosecution Service.
The South Yorkshire police force responsible for the stadium said: “We unequivocally accept the verdict,” while apologising for its failings to families who have spent 27 years campaigning for the police to be officially blamed.
The main points:
Liverpool fans were unlawfully killed;
Fans were in no way to blame;
There were “major omissions” in police planning and preparation for the semi-final;
Police response to the increasing crowds at Leppings Lane was “slow and uncoordinated”;
Errors by commanding officers contributed to the crush on the terrace;
Commanding officers failed to recognise pens were at capacity;
Design and layout of the crush barriers in pen three and four were not fully compliant with safety regulations;
Ambulance officers at the scene failed to ascertain the scale of the problem and the failure to call a major incident led to delays in responses to the emergency;
A lack of communication, coordination and command and control by police.