Hillsborough: Search for truth ends with horror

A scene from the Hillsborough disaster, which left an indelible mark on the psyche of English football
A scene from the Hillsborough disaster, which left an indelible mark on the psyche of English football
Alex Stevenson By

Shocking revelations about the "deeply distressing" failures that led to 96 deaths in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster have prompted an apology from both David Cameron and Ed Miliband, leaving many MPs in the Commons close to tears.

The prime minister said he was "profoundly sorry" for the "double injustice" which had occurred after revealing how the reputations of the victims had been muddied by completely unjustified accusations of hooliganism. Miliband said the fact it had taken Britain 23 years to get to the truth "shames us as a country", before apologising for Labour's part in that failure.

Some police officers carried out national computer checks in an attempt to "impugn the reputations of the deceased", it has emerged. In fact, as new documents have shown, the safety of the Hillsborough crowd was "compromised at every level" by inadequate safety standards, turnstiles, overcalculated ground capacity and unsafe crush barriers.

"The new evidence that we are presented with today makes clear that these families have suffered a double injustice," Cameron told MPs - and the country.

"The injustice of the appalling events - the failure of the state to protect their loved ones and the indefensible wait to get to the truth. And the injustice of the denigration of the deceased – that they were somehow at fault for their own deaths.

"On behalf of the government – and indeed our country – I am profoundly sorry for this double injustice that has been left uncorrected for so long."

Bishop James Jones of the Hillsborough independent panel said the prime minister's statement had been "well-received by the families", who watched the Commons together in Liverpool cathedral.

Three people among the victims' families had fainted when they heard the report's findings.

Trevor Hicks, the leader of the family support group, said afterwards: "We are vindicated in our search for the truth."

MPs called for criminal charges against those who had changed their witness statements between a private inquiry and the official Taylor inquiry, which - as it did not have full access to all the information - concluded the deaths were the result of a police control failure.

In all 164 statements were "significantly amended", while 116 explicitly removed negative comments about the policing operation.

Earlier in parliament, Labour MP Alison McGovern of Wirral South spoke through tears as she called for apologies from all those who had misled the victims' families from the truth.

Labour backbencher Steve Rotherham called for the original inquest, which concluded on the advice of its pathologist that it need not consider what occurred after 15:15 on the day, to be quashed.

Analysis of post-mortem reports has confirmed that 28 of the victims did not have obstruction of blood circulation, while 31 had evidence of heart and lungs functioning after the crush.

That clashes with the original belief that victims had suffered traumatic asphyxia leading to death within a few minutes.

Dr Bill Kirkup, a member of the panel, told a press conference in Liverpool: "In total, 41 people had evidence they had potential to survive after the period of 3.15."

He said the panel could not make a definitive judgement on how many lives of the 96 could have been saved, however.

Downing Street said Cameron spent around an hour with the findings of the Hillsborough independent panel's report, which had analysed hundreds of thousands of pages of official documentation relating to the disaster, before addressing the Commons.

The prime minister said attorney-general Dominic Grieve would have to decide whether to apply to the high court to get the original inquest quashed.

"In this capacity he acts independently of government. And he will need to examine the evidence himself," he explained.

Twenty-three years after the fatal crush at Sheffield Wednesday's ground, the independent Hillsborough panel explained the findings of its report to family members at the Anglican cathedral in Liverpool this morning.

It had spent the last year-and-a-half analysing masses of documents released in 2010, following an e-petition signed by over 139,000 people.

MPs' decision to release the papers earlier than usual followed intense pressure from Liverpool fans, who had sought to blame either the design of the ground or the conduct of the police for the disaster. Cameron told MPs today: "The families were right."

Public frustrations have also focused on the 1991 inquest verdict of 'accidental death', which concluded that all the victims had died before 15:15 - 15 minutes after the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest had begun.

The Sun is still barely read in Liverpool after it suggested hooliganism was to blame under the headline: "The Truth." Former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt sparked outrage in 2010 when he hinted at the same.

The source for what Cameron called "despicable untruths" was a Sheffield news agency and Sheffield Hallam's then MP, Irvine Patrick, News International claimed.

Liverpool Football Club said in a statement: "Today, the world knows what we have always known, that Liverpool fans were not just innocent on that terrible day but that there was reprehensible and hurtful misrepresentation of the truth."

Kelvin Mackenzie, the editor of the Sun at the time, offered his "profuse apologies to the people of Liverpool for that headline".

All-seater stadiums and the removal of barriers at the front of stands were both results of the disaster.

Then prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who it has emerged was briefed on the "close to deceitful" behaviour of senior South Yorkshire police officers, wanted the chief constable to resign but did not act.

"Governments then and since have simply not done enough to challenge publicly the unjust and untrue narrative that sought to blame the fans," Cameron said.

Today, the world knows what we have always known, that Liverpool fans were not just innocent on that terrible day but that there was reprehensible and hurtful misrepresentation of the truth."


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