English Premiership

Hillsborough families' long wait nears its end

2016-04-26 09:00
Hillsborough disaster (AFP)

London - Families of the victims of Britain's worst sports stadium tragedy that killed 96 people are set to see their near 30-year wait for answers end when jurors at the inquests into the Hillsborough disaster deliver their verdicts on Tuesday.

What should have been one of the great days in the English football calendar, an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough ground on April 15 1989, instead became its most infamous.

Seeking to alleviate a crush that had developed outside the ground at the Leppings Lane End shortly before kick-off, the police match commander opened an exit gate.

It enabled 2,000 fans to pile into the already over-full terracing pens behind the goal at that end, causing a fatal crush.

The tragedy took place when English football hooliganism was at its height and many in authority were prepared to believe the worst of fans.

Days after the disaster, The Sun tabloid published a front-page story headlined 'The Truth', saying drunk Liverpool fans were to blame, prompting a mass boycott of the paper on Merseyside.

In all 96 Liverpool supporters died, with that toll confirmed when the family of Tony Bland took him off life support in 1993.

A report into the disaster by leading judge Lord Justice Peter Taylor recommended the removal of terrace fences and the introduction of all-seater stadiums, which have transformed the experience of going to a top-flight football match in England.

But in 1990, British prosecutors deemed there was insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against the police or any other individual, group or body.

A year later the original coroner's inquest returned verdicts of accidental death for all the victims.

But many of the families of the deceased felt this was a whitewash and continued to campaign for fresh inquiries under the banner of 'Justice for the 96'.

POLICE COVER UP

In April 2009, the Hillsborough Independent Panel was set up following the 20th anniversary of the tragedy.

The panel's 2012 report found that police orchestrated a cover-up, falsified documents and blamed innocent supporters for the disaster.

That in turn led to the establishment of fresh inquests at a purpose-built courtroom in Warrington, east of Liverpool.

A jury began sitting in March 2014 and heard evidence from more than 800 witnesses.

After 267 days of evidence, the longest case heard by a jury in British legal history, coroner John Goldring started his summing up in January this year.

On April 6, the jury retired to consider 14 key questions set out by Goldring including the controversial issue of whether the fans had been unlawfully killed.

Monday saw Goldring inform the jury of six women and three men that he did not require unanimous verdicts regarding questions of unlawful killing and would accept a majority 7-2 or 8-1 decision.

The jury later told Goldring that at least seven of them had reached agreement on this point.

Their decisions are now set to be announced from 11:00am (10:00 GMT) on Tuesday.

"So it will be tomorrow that I will ask you formally to return your findings in relation to the general and individual questionnaires," Goldring told the jury on Monday.

Under English law, an inquest exists solely to determine how the deceased came by their death. It does not impose criminal sentences.

However, an inquest verdict can act as a springboard for other court proceedings.

The final memorial at Liverpool's Anfield stadium for the 96 victims was held this month.

Families of the deceased unanimously agreed this year's service would be the last public event at Anfield in memory of the supporters who died.

One of the bitter consequences in the more than two decades it has taken to get to Tuesday's expected announcement is that a number of those who campaigned for the new inquests have not lived long enough to witness their conclusions.

Anne Williams, whose 15-year-old son Kevin died at Hillsborough, was diagnosed with terminal cancer shortly after the independent panel delivered its findings and she died aged 62 in 2013.

According to a report in the Guardian newspaper, Williams had told friends that once her campaign for justice was won, she had "promised herself a bit of a life again".

Read more on:    liverpool  |  english premiership  |  soccer
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