Prime minister David Cameron has offered a ‘profound’ apology to the families of 96 Liverpool supporters who died in the Hillsborough disaster after newly published documents exposed ‘strenuous attempts’ by authorities to blame innocent football fans.
The Hillsborough Independent Panel has released 400,000 official papers relating to Britain’s worst sporting disaster, showing that police and emergency services tried to shift blame that should have been reserved for their failures to prevent and respond to the tragedy on to the victims instead. ‘It is evident from analysis of the various investigations that from the outset South Yorkshire police sought to deflect responsibility for the disaster on to Liverpool fans… there is no evidence to support this view,’ the panel concluded.
Ninety-six fans died in a crush at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium on April 15 1989, for Liverpool’s FA Cup semi-final with Nottingham Forest.A report by Lord Justice Taylor a year later said a failure of ‘police control’ was responsible for the disaster, but prosecutors said then there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone over the deaths.Families of the victims were granted first access to the documents at Liverpool Cathedral, where the panel’s chair the bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, said: ‘For nearly a quarter of a century the families of the 96 and the survivors of Hillsborough have nursed an open wound waiting for answers to unresolved questions.’It has been a frustrating and painful experience adding to their grief.’
He continued: ‘In spite of all the investigations they have sensed that their search for truth and justice has been thwarted and that no-one has been held accountable.’The documents disclosed to and analysed by the panel show that the tragedy should never have happened.’He said there were ‘clear operational failures’ in response to the disaster and its aftermath, when authorities began ‘strenuous attempts to deflect the blame onto the fans’.’The panel’s detailed report shows how vulnerable victims, survivors and their families are when transparency and accountability are compromised,’ the bishop added.
In the Commons, prime minister Mr Cameron said he had asked the attorney general to review the evidence to determine whether a new inquest into the tragedy should be opened.A heavily-criticised inquest originally said all victims were dead, or brain dead, by 3:15pm, recording a verdict of accidental death.But the panel said 31 people had working lungs or hearts after the initial crush and action could have been taken to save them.As to wrongful claims in the media, particularly the Sun newspaper, that Liverpool fans were to blame for the disaster, the documents show journalists were fed erroneous claims of drunk, ticketless and violent fans by a Sheffield press agency, senior police officers, a Police Federation spokesman and a local MP.Mr Cameron said serious shortcomings by various agencies had been revealed by the panel, including the ‘deeply distressing’ finding that 164 police statements had been amended to remove unfavourable comments on the official response to the disaster.
‘I am profoundly sorry that this double injustice has been left uncorrected for so long,’ the prime minister said, adding for the removal of any doubt that ‘the Liverpool fans were not the cause of the disaster’.Labour leader Ed Miliband said the Hillsborough tragedy and its aftermath had ‘shamed us as a country’ and apologised on behalf of previous Labour governments, while Andy Burnham, MP for Leigh, told the Commons the ‘full horror of Hillsborough has been revealed’.Margaret Aspinall, the chairwoman of the Hillsborough Families Support Group who lost her 18-year-old son James in the disaster, said: ‘This is what the families and the fans have been fighting for 23 years. Without the truth you cannot grieve and where there is deceit, you get no justice.’Two minutes of silence will be held in Liverpool at 3:06pm today to mark the exact time the match was abandoned in 1989, while later the bells of Liverpool town hall and other civic buildings will ring out 96 times.