Relatives feel vindicated as accidental death verdict is quashed
Relatives of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster said yesterday they felt vindicated in their 23-year campaign for justice after the original inquest verdict of accidental death was quashed in the high court in London yesterday.
The ruling clears the way for a new inquest next year, re-examining the roles of the police and other emergency services, Sheffield council and Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, and leading to the possibility of new verdicts of unlawful killing.
The lord chief justice said it was “inevitable” the emergence of fresh evidence about how and why the 96 victims died made it “desirable and reasonable for a fresh inquest to be heard”.
“However distressing or unpalatable, the truth will be brought to light,” Lord Judge said. “In this way, the families of those who died in the disaster will be properly respected.” The decision came as a new police investigation into the disaster was announced by British home secretary Theresa May. Former Durham chief constable Jon Stoddart will lead the inquiry and liaise with a Independent Police Complaints Commission review
The application by attorney general Dominic Grieve to quash the original verdicts was made after the publication in September of the Hillsborough Independent Panel (HIP) report and was accepted by three high court judges.
New medical evidence revealed that 58 victims “definitely or probably” had the capacity to survive beyond the 3.15pm cut-off point imposed by the original coroner, Dr Stefan Popper. In a further 12 cases, the cause of death remained unclear.
The original coroner said no evidence gathered after 3.15pm, when the first ambulance arrived on the pitch, would be considered because he believed that by that point all 96 victims were dead. As a result, the role of the police and the emergency services in the aftermath of the disaster was not considered.
The lord chief justice said there was “ample evidence to suggest that the 3.15pm cut-off was seriously flawed” and that was sufficient on its own to justify the quashing of the original inquest. But he said there were other reasons for ordering a new inquest, including the 116 amendments to police statements designed to cast them in a better light, and new evidence about the safety of the stadium.
The HIP report raised serious concerns about the original inquest in Sheffield in 1990. The review found the decision to impose the cut-off severely limited examination of the response of police and emergency services to the disaster on April 15th, 1989, in which 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death in the Leppings Lane end of the stadium, and “raised profound concerns regarding sufficiency of inquiry and examination of evidence”. Trevor Hicks, chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, said afterwards: “Justice is on its way. Everything we’ve said has been proven to be correct.”