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Hillsborough inquests conclude 96 people killed unlawfully and fans not to blame for disaster

Prime Minister describes verdicts as 'long overdue justice'

By Jonny Bell

The 96 Liverpool fans killed in the Hillsborough disaster were unlawfully killed and fans played no role in the tragedy, an inquest jury has found.

Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to the "extraordinary courage" of the Hillsborough campaigners describing the jury's verdict into the 1989 disaster as "long overdue justice".

South Yorkshire Police "unequivocally" accepted the ruling and findings that police failures led to the 1989 Hillsborough disaster which killed 96 football fans.

Chief Constable David Compton added: "As I have said before, I want to apologise unreservedly to the families and all those affected."

Labour MP Andy Burnham, who has supported the families' campaign, said: "This has been the greatest miscarriage of justice of our times.

"But, finally, it is over."

Families of the 96 Liverpool fans declared that justice had finally been done as the inquest jury concluded that the tragedy was caused by the police and the victims had been unlawfully killed.

Margaret Aspinall's 18-year-old son James was killed in the tragedy.

During the inquests she heard how her son could still have been alive when a police officer laid his tunic over his head as he lay on the pitch, before being carried on an advertising hoarding to the gymnasium which doubled as a mortuary.

Following Tuesday's verdicts, she said: "I feel as if this jury has taken everything in - it has not been easy for them or the families.

"What came out over the past two years I didn't know myself.

"My own son's pathology.... that day almost killed me because I did not know that nobody helped James.

"I knew that someone put a coat over his face... He could have been saved, but 96 should have been saved."

She said that following the verdicts she prayed to her son James and the other victims.

"He is going to have a good sleep now," she added.

Trevor Hicks' daughters Sarah (19) and 15-year-old Victoria died in the tragedy.

Speaking to Sky, he said: "We felt it was the just verdict, we were a little doubtful it would fall a little bit short as it was a majority verdict.

"It's not the end of the road by some distance, but it's the end of the road driven by us. We achieved what we set out to do in getting the original inquest verdicts quashed which we felt were a travesty.

"Also today hands over to the CPS and IPCC in terms of the second disaster and the lying, cheating and stealing - bearing in mind we still don't know who stole the CCTV tapes from the supposed crime scene.

"We hope the rest of this justice process will prevail - if not we may well have to step in again."

England's Crown Prosecution Service said it would consider potential criminal charges.

Sue Hemming, from the CPS said: "Following the inquest's determinations the CPS team will continue to work closely with Operation Resolve and the IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission) as in due course, the CPS will formally consider whether any criminal charges should be brought against any individual or corporate body based upon all the available evidence, in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

"We would ask that everyone is mindful of the continuing investigations and the potential for future criminal proceedings when reporting or publicly commenting on the inquest's conclusions."

While the stadium's structural engineers - who were found to be partly responsible for the deaths - apologised.

“We would like to say sorry on behalf of the company at that time and to add our deepest sympathies to all those affected by this tragedy," said Eastwood & Partners managing director Philip Richardson.

The case brings to an end over two years of hearings over 300 days.

The jury in the inquests had to be convinced that overall match commander Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield owed a duty of care to those who died in the disaster, and that he was in breach of that duty of care.

Jurors also needed to be satisfied that his breach of duty caused the deaths and that it amounted to "gross negligence".

The jury of six women and three men concluded it was unlawful killing by a 7-2 majority.

The conclusion was greeted with sobbing and cheers at the hearing in Warrington.

The jury answered 14 questions over the 1989 disaster.

Fans and Sheffield Wednesday staff - whose ground the FA Cup tie was being played - were also cleared of causing or contributing to the tragedy.

Following the rulings on Tuesday, Everton Football Club said: "Everton salutes the Hillsborough families and their total vindication as Fighters for Justice.

"Theirs is the greatest victory in the history of football.

"RIP, the 96. Good night, God bless.

"From us across the Park."

The Hillsborough disaster unfolded during Liverpool's cup tie against Nottingham Forest on April 15 as thousands of fans were crushed at Sheffield Wednesday's ground.

Mr Duckenfield gave the order at 2.52pm to open exit Gate C in Leppings Lane, allowing around 2,000 fans to flood into the already packed central pens behind the goal.

The jury found that:

  •  Both the police and the ambulance service caused or contributed to the loss of lives in the disaster by an error or omission after the crush in the west terrace had begun to develop.
  • They found unanimously that policing of the match caused or contributed to a dangerous situation developing at the Leppings Lane turnstiles.
  • Commanding officers caused or contributed to the crush on the terrace as did those senior officers in the police control box when the order was given to open the exit gates at the Leppings Lane end.
  • Features of the design, construction and layout of the stadium considered to be dangerous or defective caused or contributed to the disaster.
  • The safety certification and oversight of the stadium also played a part.
  • Sheffield Wednesday's then consultant engineers, Eastwood & Partners, should have done more to detect and advise on any unsafe or unsatisfactory features of the stadium which caused or contributed to the disaster.
  • No evidence of the emergency response after 3.15pm was heard at the original inquests.
  • The medical experts who gave evidence at the fresh inquests said the 3.15pm cut-off which had been imposed in the original inquests was arbitrary and wrong.
  • The cut-off was based on a misunderstanding, the court heard previously, that all of those who died were either dead or had suffered such severe brain injury by that time that it would inevitably prove to be fatal whatever the nature of the response.

On the question of the role of South Yorkshire Police in the emergency response, the jury said: "The police delayed calling a major incident so the appropriate emergency response was delayed.

"There was a lack of co-ordination, command and control which delayed or prevented appropriate responses."

On the role of former South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service (Symas), the jury said: "Symas officers at the scene failed to ascertain the nature of the problem at Leppings Lane.

"The failure to recognise and call a major incident led to delays in the responses to the emergency."

The jury of six women and three men gave their decisions on an emotionally charged day for relatives of the 96, many of whom were at court.

 The fresh inquests began on March 31, 2014, in a specially-built courtroom in Warrington.

The 1991 accidental deaths verdicts from the original inquests were quashed following the 2012 Hillsborough Independent Panel, which concluded that a major cover-up had taken place in an effort by police and others to avoid the blame for what happened.

After the key conclusions were delivered today, someone in court shouted "God bless the jury".

The jurors were given a round of applause as they left the courtroom.

As families left the building they were met with applause from crowds who had gathered outside the court in support.

Many began singing the Liverpool anthem You'll Never Walk Alone.

Former Liverpool captain Jamie Carragher tweeted: "Justice finally. #JFT96."

 John Aldridge, who was in the Liverpool team at Hillsborough, tweeted: "Fantastic to see the reaction of the families outside the court! Very emotional as well.

"The truth is out AT LAST. Take note all the doubters!!"

Home Secretary Theresa May was due to note the inquest findings in a written statement to Parliament on Tuesday, before coming before MPs to set out the Government's response in an oral statement on Wednesday, said Downing Street.

The Hillsborough tragedy unfolded during Liverpool's FA Cup semi-final tie against Nottingham Forest as thousands of fans were crushed on Sheffield Wednesday's Leppings Lane terrace.

At the start of the inquests, the coroner said none of the victims should be blamed for their deaths.

Emotional tributes to each of the 96 were then delivered by family members in the form of personal portraits.


From Belfast Telegraph