Hillsborough: Former police chiefs face charges

Match commander David Duckenfield charged with manslaughter, while Sir Norman Bettison faces four counts of misconduct

hillsborough
(Image credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Hillsborough inquest: 96 victims were unlawfully killed

26 April

After a 27-year campaign, the families of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough tragedy have finally received "justice", with an inquest jury ruling they had been unlawfully killed.

The inquiry also absolved Liverpool supporters of blame for the tragedy at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest, laying the blame at the door of the police and organisers, who allowed the fatal crush to develop at the Leppings Lane end of the ground.

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Today's verdicts mark the end of the long quest for justice by the friends and relatives of those who died.

The jury was asked to answer 14 questions in relation to the disaster, after the longest hearing in British legal history. The key questions were six and seven, which asked if the victims had been unlawfully killed and whether Liverpool fans were to blame for the crush.

A majority verdict of seven to two ruled in favour of unlawful killing.

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The inquests were called in 2012, when the original verdicts were overturned following the Hillsborough Independent Panel report highlighting police failings.

"This has been the greatest miscarriage of justice of our times. But, finally, it is over," said Liverpool MP Andy Burnham, who has campaigned on behalf of the families.

"The sense of relief we feel is tempered by the knowledge that this day has taken far too long in coming. The struggle for justice has taken too great a toll on too many. But the Hillsborough families have at long last prevailed and finally their loved-ones can rest in peace."

The result "finally brings to an end 27 years of accusations waged against Reds fans", says the Liverpool Echo. The paper notes that the verdicts could now pave the way for criminal action as former police chief David Duckenfield has been found "responsible for the manslaughter by gross negligence" of the victims.

The verdicts were greeted with joy in the courtroom and by leading figures in the world of football and beyond.

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Hillsborough inquests: Jury retires to consider its verdicts

6 April

The jury at the Hillsborough inquest has retired to consider it verdicts, more than two years and 800 witnesses after the hearing began.

The seven women and three men, who have taken part in the longest jury hearing in British legal history, have been told their deliberations must answer 14 questions, five of which relate to the policing of the 1989 FA Cup semi-final clash between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at which 96 people died.

Question six asks: "Are you satisfied, so that you are sure, that those who died in the disaster were unlawfully killed?" The jury was told that in order to answer "yes" they would have to be satisfied that David Duckenfield, the match commander on the day of the tragedy, was responsible for the manslaughter of the victims by gross negligence.

"The jury will also consider whether there were errors or omissions by South Yorkshire police, and by the South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service, in responding to the crush, including whether their officers were slow to appreciate the scale of danger and did not organise an adequate rescue operation," reports The Guardian.

Another question asks whether the behaviour of fans "caused or contributed to the dangerous situation".

The hearing was called in 2012, when the High Court quashed the original inquest's verdict of accidental death from 1991.

The case is "the culmination of a legal fight spanning more than a quarter of a century for the families of Hillsborough victims", says the Daily Telegraph, which notes that the hearing "has run a year longer than expected".

Coroner Sir John Goldring told the jurors they must "resolve the conflict" between the accounts of Liverpool fans and police and "work together in the interests of justice". He also warned them to "put to one side any personal issues... [to] discuss the evidence together in a civilised manner".

He added: "We are conscious that you have devoted a very large part of your lives to these inquests."

Around 150 relatives of the dead were at the coroners' court in Warrington to hear Sir John's final remarks.

Hillsborough: Police chief admits he lied

12 March, 2015

The police chief in charge of crowd control on the day of the Hillsborough disaster has admitted he lied in the wake of the tragedy.

Former chief superintendent David Duckenfield, the match commander at the game, stunned relatives at the official inquiry into the disaster when he explained what happened on April 15, 1989.

At 3.15pm, as 96 Liverpool fans lay dead or dying on the Leppings Lane terrace at the start of the club's FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest, Duckenfield told the then chief executive of the Football Association, Graham Kelly, that fans had forced open exit gate C and swarmed on to the terrace.

In fact he had ordered it to be opened following several requests from Superintendent Roger Marshall who was on duty outside the Leppings Lane terrace.

On Wednesday afternoon Christina Lambert QC, on behalf of the coroner, asked Duckenfield at the inquiry in Warrington, Cheshire: "Do you consider now that you told them a lie?" He replied: "Yes, ma'am."

He continued: "It was a grave mistake and I apologise profusely. Everybody knew the truth, the fans and police knew the truth that we'd opened the gates."

According to Sky Sports, Duckenfield's confession drew "gasps from the victims' families". "I was probably deeply ashamed, embarrassed, greatly distressed and I probably didn't want to admit to myself, or anyone else, what the situation was," Duckenfield added.

On the afternoon of the disaster, Duckenfield, now 70, was positioned in the elevated police control room that was linked to closed-circuit television.

Marshall, on duty outside the ground, made several requests for exit gate C to be opened to ease the growing congestion as fans arrived in time for the kick-off. Duckenfield said that a message came through on the police radio informing him that "If we don't open the gates someone's going to get killed".

When gate C was opened at 2.52pm an estimated 2,000 fans streamed into the ground in the space of five minutes, all making straight for the tunnel leading directly to the two central pens behind the goal, which were already packed with spectators. No police officers or stewards were on hand to direct the crowd to the less crowded pens on the flanks.

Telling the inquiry his lie was one of the "biggest regrets of my life", Duckenfield conceded: "I was overcome by the enormity of the situation and the decision I had to make and as a result of that, this is probably very hard to admit, as a result of that I was so overcome probably with the emotion of us having got into that situation that my mind for a moment went blank."

Describing himself as "an honest person" who doesn't lie, Duckenfield told the hushed inquiry: "I deeply regret what happened that day. It was a major mistake on my part. I have no excuses. I apologise unreservedly to the families and I hope they believe it is a very, very, very sincere apology… I set high standards, nobody can understand my behaviour, least of all me."

Duckenfield, who retired in 1992 having avoided disciplinary action for neglect of duty, is due to give further evidence today.

Hillsborough 25 years on: what do we still not know?

15 April, 2014

LIVERPOOL will today mark 25 years since the Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 people died during the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

Bells will ring out from Liverpool's Anglican cathedral, town hall and churches around the city at 3.06pm, the moment the match was halted on 15 April, 1989.

Even after a quarter of a century, the spirit of rememberance will be mixed with anger. Many in Liverpool believe that official accounts of the tragedy do not reflect what happened on that day.

Three new investigations into the disaster have now been set up, including fresh inquests which got underway in Warrington at the end of last month. They are due to take a year to complete.

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 will happen at the inquests?

The fresh inquests, led by Lord Justice Goldring, began on 31 March with the selection of 11 jurors. After families of the victims read out “background statements” about their loved ones, the hearing was adjourned until 22 April for lawyers to consider new pathological evidence about how each of the 96 victims died, says the BBC. Jurors are expected to hear evidence about stadium safety, crowd management and the response of the emergency services. They are also likely to visit the scene of the tragedy and examine previously unseen video footage from the day.

What are the other two investigations looking at?

Two separate inquiries are running alongside the inquests. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is 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 Midlands Police, which initially investigated how the South Yorkshire force dealt with the tragedy. This is due to be completed by October 2014. Thirteen retired and serving police officers have been interviewed under criminal caution so far, some on suspicion of perverting the course of justice and misconduct in public office. Others have been interviewed on suspicion of manslaughter. 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 feed into the inquests and could lead to criminal charges for anyone deemed responsible for the disaster.

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