Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 13 July 2014

Video: Hillsborough disaster inquest scheduled for 'early 2014'

A new inquest into the deaths of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster will take place in "early 2014", a pre-inquest hearing was told today.

Lord Justice Goldring said he would not wait for the outcomes of two separate investigations before holding the fresh inquest into the disaster on April 15, 1989, during Liverpool's FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest.

He also said he would say where the inquest would be held next week, after hearing passionate submissions in favour of holding the inquiry in either London or the North West.

Lord Justice Goldring said: "The inquests will not await the outcome of the investigations.

"I don't think it would be sensible or indeed be a kindness to anyone to set an unrealistic date as to when they start.

"I will simply say they will start in early 2014."

He went on: "As far as the venue is concerned I want to think about it.

"I will hand down my decision next week."

The coroner promised the victims' families that his hearings would try to expose "any culpable or discreditable conduct".

About 40 families travelled from Liverpool to London's Principal Registry of the Family Division.

He told them: "The purpose of these inquests is to examine fully and fairly how each of these victims of this terrible disaster lost his or her life.

"The inquests will seek to ensure so far as possible that the full facts are brought to light, that any culpable or discreditable conduct is exposed and brought to public notice.

"However, it should not be forgotten that an inquest is a fact-finding investigation.

"It is not a method of apportioning guilt.

"There are no parties, no indictment, no prosecution and no defence.

"In other words, an inquest is not a trial but an inquiry to establish facts."

Last December verdicts of accidental death from the original inquest in March 1991 were quashed.

The action was taken after the Hillsborough Independent Panel studied thousands of documents and reported that there had been a huge cover-up of what happened at Hillsborough and its aftermath.

When the verdicts were quashed, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge applauded the families for their tireless fight for the truth.

Today, Lord Justice Goldring echoed his comments, emphasising the continuing personal tragedy for all families.

He said: "For all that has been, or will be, said and written concerning the disaster, nothing will remove or lessen the private individual grief for those intimately concerned."

But the judge warned everyone involved that the inquest was a massive task.

"The enormity of that task and the work involved must not be underestimated," he said.

"The very fact that these inquests have been preceded by a raft of earlier investigative processes means that there is a very large volume of documents, hundreds of thousands, which require collation and organisation in a form suitable for disclosure."

Britain's worst sporting disaster unfolded at Sheffield's Hillsborough stadium on April 15 1989 during Liverpool's FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest as thousands of fans were crushed in the ground's Leppings Lane terrace.

Relatives and friends are split into two groups: the Hillsborough Family Support Group (HFSG) and the Hillsborough Justice Campaign (HJC).

The HFSG wants the full hearing held in London but the HJC would prefer it to be held in the North West.

Christina Lambert QC, lead counsel to the Hillsborough inquests, said suggested venues range from "Newcastle to London and the North West".

She told the hearing that it had been suggested the inquests should not be held until the end of separate investigations by the IPCC and a criminal inquiry led by Jon Stoddart, the former Chief Constable of Durham.

But Ms Lambert said there was no rule of law that stated an inquest must be held after a criminal investigation.

Michael Mansfield QC, who represents 71 families from the HFSG, said animosity and rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester meant the inquests should not be held 25 miles down the M62 motorway in Manchester as some people have suggested.

The barrister said one of the large rooms in Westminster's Central Hall would be ideal and had housed previous inquiries such as the Bloody Sunday hearing when it sat in London.

A live link-up with Liverpool could be set up for those who could not travel to the capital, he added.

But Pete Weatherby QC, who represents around 17 families, said his clients want the inquests held in the North of England.

He said: "In terms of venue, the families I represent are vehemently against the inquests being held more than 200 miles from their homes."

He added: "We say, in essence, that the inquests should be held as close as reasonably possible to where the bereaved families live."

Lawyers for the inquest, families, Crown Prosecution Service and IPCC agreed that the inquests should be held as soon as possible.

But Paul Greaney QC, for the Police Federation of England and Wales, said they should not start until any possible criminal proceedings, and possible appeals, have finished.

That could lead to a delay of several years.

Acknowledging it was an "unpopular and minority" submission, Mr Greaney made his points to gasp of disbelief and shouts of "disgrace", and one woman walked out of the room.

Normally, inquests are not held if criminal investigations are under way; they are usually opened and adjourned.

Mr Greaney said this should be the stance now, stating that any person under investigation could refuse to answer questions at the inquests for fear of self-incrimination.

The barrister said the federation recognised the strong public interest in holding the inquests without delay - but they had to be fair and not be inhibited by witnesses refusing to take part.

He said it would be fundamentally wrong to hold an inquest on "partial and possibly flawed basis".

He stressed that evidence uncovered by the independent panel was only a starting point "and by no means complete".

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