London Evening Standard/London
The 96 football fans who died in the Hillsborough stadium disaster were unlawfully killed, an inquest jury ruled yesterday.
In a historic judgment, the jury found that none of the Liverpool fans were responsible for the worst tragedy in British sporting history.
As the verdicts were announced yesterday morning there was sobbing and cheering in the Warrington courtroom, which was packed with families and friends of the fans who died.
In a series of damning verdicts on the police handling of the tragedy, the jury of six women and three men found there were errors and omissions by officers which contributed to the deaths of the fans.
These included errors by commanding officers and a slow and unco-ordinated police response. The inquest heard how police had tried to blame “drunken, ticketless Liverpool fans” for the tragedy.
But asked if the behaviour of fans “caused or contributed to the dangerous situation”, the jury returned an answer of “No”. The victims’ families hugged each other and broke down in tears after leaving the court. One man shouted “Justice” while two men held up a red scarf which also read “Justice”. They joined together for a rendition of the Liverpool anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone.
The Hillsborough tragedy unfolded during Liverpool’s FA Cup semi-final tie against Nottingham Forest on April 15, 1989 as thousands of fans were crushed on Sheffield Wednesday’s Leppings Lane terrace.
Labour MP Andy Burnham described the Hillsborough jury’s findings as “real justice” for the victims.
The former cabinet minister, widely credited with helping to secure a new inquest into the disaster, said in a statement: “This has been the greatest miscarriage of justice of our times. But, finally, it is over.
“After 27 long years, this is real justice for the 96, their families and all Liverpool supporters.”
He added: “The Hillsborough Independent Panel gave us the truth. This inquest has delivered justice. Next must come accountability.”
The jury ruled on the answers to 14 questions in a questionnaire submitted by the coroner Sir John Goldring.
They had already agreed majority rulings to all questions apart from question six, which asked: “Are you satisfied, so that you are sure, that those who died in the disaster were unlawfully killed?”
Jurors were told they could only answer “Yes” to this question if they were sure that 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. They would need to be satisfied that his breach of duty caused the deaths and that it amounted to “gross negligence”.
Yesterday the jury concluded it was unlawful killing by a 7-2 majority.
Duckenfield, 70, gave the order allowing around 2,000 fans to flood into the already packed central pens behind the goal. He gave evidence to the inquest saying his failure to close a tunnel “was the direct cause of the deaths of 96 people” and admitted that he “froze” as the tragedy unfolded. Lawyers acting for relatives of the victims said the jury’s conclusions had completely vindicated the bereaved families’ 27-year fight for justice.
Among those celebrating yesterday were Trevor Hicks whose daughters Sarah, 19, and Victoria, 15, were killed in the tragedy, and Donna Miller, whose brother Paul Carlile, 19, died.
Former England striker Gary Lineker tweeted afterwards: “Finally, thankfully, justice for the 96! Rest in peace”, while player Joey Barton, who has supported the Hillsborough families, added: “Finally. Justice. #96.”
Features of the design, construction and layout of the stadium considered to be dangerous or defective caused or contributed to the disaster, the jury decided. Jurors also found the safety certification and oversight of the stadium also caused or contributed to the tragedy.
The 1991 accidental death verdicts from the original inquests were quashed following the 2012 Hillsborough Independent Panel report after a campaign by the families of the dead.
Ninety-six men, women and children died as a result of the crush. All except one were Liverpool supporters.
The youngest was 10-year-old Jon-Paul Gilhooley. The oldest was Gerard Baron, who was 67. Thirty-eight of the victims were aged 19 or under.
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