English Premiership

New Hillsborough probe starts

2014-04-01 22:07
Hillsborough disaster (AFP)

London - Relatives wept in court on Tuesday as the names of the 96 Liverpool football supporters who died in the 1989 Hillsborough stadium crush were read out and the disaster was recounted.

Lord Justice John Goldring, the coroner presiding over fresh inquests into the deaths, said Britain's worst sporting disaster was "seared into the memories" of everyone affected by it.

In emotional scenes, relatives quietly sobbed as the names of the deceased were slowly read out over six minutes before the jury was sworn in.

The families of the deceased have fought for more than two decades for the deaths to be re-examined.

Goldring told jurors the marathon hearings should not degenerate into adversarial battles between differing versions of events which he said had "scarred" the original inquests, when verdicts of accidental death were recorded.

He also urged them not to apply the standards of 2014 to the actions of April 15, 1989, when the disaster took place.

The hearings, taking place at a purpose-built court outside Warrington, east of Liverpool, are expected to last 12 months.

New inquests were ordered after the original coroner's verdicts were quashed by the High Court in December 2012 amid claims of a police cover-up.

That came three months after an independent panel examining the disaster concluded that 41 of those who died would have had the "potential to survive" if they had received medical treatment more quickly.

Goldring told the 11 jurors that in conducting fresh inquests, "we are not concerned with whether what was decided at the previous inquiries was right or wrong".

They must consider "whether opportunities were lost which might have prevented the deaths or saved lives."

Fans were crushed to death on an overcrowded terrace at an FA Cup semi-final match against Nottingham Forest, staged at Hillsborough in Sheffield.

- 'Open the gates' -

Jurors were shown diagrams and photographs of the stadium and heard of previous, non-fatal crushes there in 1981 and 1988.

Outlining the events of the day, Goldring said a crush developed outside the Leppings Lane end of the ground -- reserved for Liverpool supporters -- before the kick-off.

Superintendent Roger Marshall, who was responsible for that section, asked newly promoted chief superintendent David Duckenfield, who was in command, three times for the exit gates to be opened to let in fans and ease the pressure.

Marshall warned that "somebody would be killed if the gates weren't opened", Goldring said.

Duckenfield eventually decided to do so.

The jury was told Duckenfield said: "If there is likely to be a serious injury or death I've no option but to open the gates. Open the gates."

In five minutes, some 2 000 supporters surged into the Leppings Lane terrace, where supporters were fenced in.

Jurors heard the central pen had a capacity of 2 200, but police relied on security camera footage to estimate how many people were inside.

- 'Terrible crush developed' -

"As supporters moved down the tunnel, those in front were driven forward. People have spoken of pressure like a train moving them onwards," Goldring said.

"Around the time of the kick-off, a terrible crush developed.

"The pressure in the pens built up. Many of those in the pens suffered terrible crushing injuries.

"The events developed quickly. At first, many involved didn't understand they were facing a major disaster," he said of the emergency services.

Goldring said jurors would have to decide whether certain problems should have been foreseen by the police.

He said they would have to consider whether the order to open the gates should have been given, whether the central pens were already crowded, and whether anything more should have been done to stop a dangerous situation developing.

But he warned: "Beware the wisdom of hindsight. Beware too of applying the standards of 2014 to events which happened in 1989. Consider the situation which faced the officers on the afternoon of April 15, 1989."

Inquests set out simply to determine the circumstances of how the deceased came by their deaths. They do not apportion blame.

Read more on:    liverpool  |  hillsborough disaster  |  soccer
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