Give Me a Crash Course in . . . the Hillsborough inquest

Twenty-five years after a first discredited inquest, jurors last week found that the 96 people who were crushed to death at Hillsborough Stadium in 1989 were ‘unlawfuly killed’

 Thousands of people gather outside Liverpool’s Saint George’s Hall as they attend a vigil for the 96 victims of the Hillsborough tragedy on Wednesday. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Thousands of people gather outside Liverpool’s Saint George’s Hall as they attend a vigil for the 96 victims of the Hillsborough tragedy on Wednesday. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

 

What happened at Hillsborough? On April 15th, 1989, 96 people died and 766 were injured in a human crush during the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium, the home of Sheffield. The crush happened in an overcrowded area allocated to Liverpool fans when police ordered that extra gates should be opened to ease a logjam at the turnstiles. The victims, most them in their teens and 20s, were crushed to death in overcrowded pens by the incoming crowd and were prevented from escaping by steel fencing between the stands and the pitch.

Why is it in the news? An inquest on Tuesday found that the Hillsborough victims had been unlawfully killed, overturning a 1991 verdict of accidental death. The jurors found that David Duckenfield, the senior police officer in charge of the match, was guilty of “gross negligence”. On Wednesday they blamed Sheffield for providing too few turnstiles for the capacity crowd and said that errors by police and ambulance services contributed to the deaths. The behaviour of Liverpool fans did not contribute in any way to the deaths.

Why did it take so long? South Yorkshire police lied about what happened at Hillsborough and their own role in the mistakes that caused the deaths. Police fed stories to the press blaming Liverpool fans, claiming that many were drunk and violent.

Four days after the disaster, Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper ran a front- page story on the alleged hooliganism, including false accounts of fans urinating on dead bodies. The Sun later apologised, but the slander of Liverpool fans was repeated in 1996 in a letter from Margaret Thatcher’s former press secretary, Bernard Ingham, to a campaigner for the Hillsborough victims.

“After all, who if not the tanked up yobs who turned up late determined to get into the ground caused the disaster?” Ingham wrote. “To blame the police, even though they may have made mistakes, is contemptible.”

How did the truth come out? Relatives of the victims never gave up campaigning for justice. In 2009, 20 years after the disaster, the Labour government set up an independent panel to investigate Hillsborough. The panel concluded in 2012 that no Liverpool fans were responsible in any way for the disaster, which was caused by a lack of police control and inadequate crowd safety measures at the stadium. A second inquest began in 2014 and lasted two years, making it the longest in British history. Will anyone face charges? The Crown Prosecution Service is investigating whether to bring criminal charges relating to what happened on the day of the disaster, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating a possible police cover-up. Home secretary Theresa May told MPs on Wednesday that offences under investigation include gross negligence, manslaughter, misconduct in public office, perverting the course of justice and perjury, as well offences under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The chief constable of South Yorkshire Police has been suspended amid calls for the force to be disbanded and reformed.

What do the Murdoch papers have to say? Not much. The Times on Wednesday apologised for not reporting the Hillsborough verdict on the front page of its first edition. The Sun was the only other British paper not to carry the story on its front page. The Times said it had made a mistake and changed its front page for its second edition. The Sun, which apologised in 2004 and 2012 for its coverage of Hillsborough, again apologised on Wednesday for smearing the dead Liverpool fans in the days after the disaster.

London Editor

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