'None of the 96' should be blamed
None of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster should be blamed for their tragic deaths, a coroner has said, which bereaved relatives welcomed as "music to our ears".
Lord Justice Goldring today laid out key questions facing jurors in the fresh inquests into how the fans died, including how other supporters behaved.
He said: " What was the conduct of the fans or some of them, excluding those who died, and did that play any part in the disaster? I phrase it in that way because I don't believe anyone will suggest that the conduct of those who died in any way contributed to their deaths. "
Speaking outside court, Margaret Aspinall, chairwoman of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, said: "It's absolutely great. We've always known that for 25 years.
"We've had a lot of mud thrown at us for 25 years. It's nice to hear the coroner say that. To hear that officially from Lord Justice Goldring was really music to our ears."
Britain's worst sporting disaster unfolded when hundreds of fans were crushed at the FA Cup semi-final between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool on April 15 1989.
Today, on the third day of the new inquests into the deaths of the 96 supporters who were killed, the jury heard that police accounts of what happened that day were changed, with critical comments about police leadership and fans removed.
Officers from South Yorkshire had been asked to write their own accounts of what happened, and then senior ranks and lawyers for the force altered some of the statements before they were passed to West Midlands Police, which was investigating the tragedy.
The coroner said: "Over the years between 1989 and today it has become known that a large number of statements were amended in the review. The amendments vary in type and significance.
"Some simply involve corrections of language and factual error. Others involve removing expletives.
"A number involved the removal of comments criticising the police leadership on the day of the disaster.
"Others were of deletions of passages denouncing poor and defective radio communications.
"A small number were amended to remove comments which were critical or even abusive of the fans at the match."
Lord Justice Goldring said the jury of seven women and four men would have to consider whether the amendments affect their view of the "reliability" of early written statements given by the officers.
He said: "You will have to give some consideration to the amendments which were made to some of the statements.
"Among the questions which you may consider are these. Do the amendments affect your view of the reliability of these early written accounts given by the officers, an account on which he may be heavily reliant after 25 years? Why was the amendment made? Was it made for innocent and perfectly understandable reasons? Or was it part of a policy of blaming fans in order to deflect criticism from police?
"Do the amendments throw any light on the crucial question, how those who came to die did so?"
He outlined the series of inquiries that have already taken place into the disaster, including the previous inquests where the coroner took the "highly controversial" decision that those who died were beyond help after 3.15pm.
More recently, the Hillsborough Independent Panel was set up and issued a final report in 2012.
Lord Justice Goldring said: "Any views they expressed are irrelevant as far as you are concerned, what the panel said can't be evidence for you to consider. You will hear more information than did the panel. The panel heard no evidence, you, of course, will."
On November 19, 2012 the original inquest verdicts were quashed. The jury, sitting in a court in a specially-fitted office block in Warrington, Cheshire, was told that two investigations are being carried out into the aftermath of the disaster, one led by police, called Operation Resolve, and one headed by watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
The coroner said: "The fact that the IPCC is involved should not be taken as an indication that any police officer necessarily did anything wrong.
"The IPCC is the body which carries out investigations into the police. It is for you to reach your determinations in respect of the actions of the police and others on the evidence you hear."
Jurors were sent away until tomorrow, when a series of "pen portraits" of the fans who died will begin to be read to the court.