On 15 April 1989, a Football Association Cup semi final took place between Liverpool FC and NottinghamForest at Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield.
The kick-off was scheduled for 3p.m. Leading up to kick-off there was a huge build-up of supporters outside the Leppings Lane entrance to the stadium which caused pressure on those trying to get into the ground through the turnstiles.
At 2.52p.m. Chief Superintendent Duckenfield, the police officer in charge of crowd control, made a decision to authorise the opening of the exit gates at the Leppings Lane entrance. The opening of one of the gates, gate C, caused a sudden influx into the ground of around 2,000 additional supporters.
The majority continued through a tunnel into the central spectator pens, 3 and 4, which each had a capacity of just over 1,000 people but were already full when the gate was opened. The sudden influx resulted in the build-up of unbearable pressure on supporters at the front of the pens.
Ignoring the unfolding problems, Chief Superintendent Duckenfield decided not to delay kick-off and the match therefore started as scheduled at 3p.m. Shortly thereafter the pressure in the pens caused supporters to be crushed against the wall at the front of the pens, causing severe crush injuries. The match was stopped at 3.06p.m.
95 fans who attended that day to support their team suffered fatal injuries in the circumstances sketched out above. One young man, Tony Bland, was left so injured that he was in a persistent vegetative state and died some years later in March 1993 following a court ruling that it was in his “best interests” for treatment to be withdrawn.
Therefore the disaster claimed a total of 96 lives. The victims were men and women, boys and girls, ranging in age from 10 to 67. Some families lost more than one member.
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge observed that each death was, and remains, the source of anguish and grief to those to whom they were precious.
The disaster has been the subject of numerous investigations in the past, summarised as follows:
On 17 April 1989 the then Home Secretary asked Lord Justice Taylor to conduct a public inquiry. Lord Justice Taylor reported on an interim basis in August 1989 and produced his final report in January 1990.
Preliminary inquest hearings, the so-called “mini inquests,” were held in Sheffield between April and May 1990. The so-called generic inquests began on 19 November 1990. On 28 March 1991 the jury returned verdicts of accidental death in all 95 cases it was considering.
Between 1992 and 1993, some bereaved families sought to quash the verdicts and obtain new inquests, first by an application to the Attorney-General and then by judicial review proceedings. They were unsuccessful.
In June 1997, the then Home Secretary in Tony Blair’s New Labour government, Jack Straw, commissioned Lord Justice Stuart-Smith to undertake a scrutiny review of new evidence. The Home Secretary said the probe was designed to “get to the bottom of this matter once and for all”. The “Stuart-Smith Scrutiny” was published in June 1998 and advised that there was no basis for a further judicial inquiry, new inquests or new criminal charges.
A private prosecution of two of the senior members of the South Yorkshire Police led to their trial on charges of manslaughter in Leeds Crown Court in June and July 2000. One was acquitted. The jury did not agree in respect of the other, Chief Superintendent Duckenfield, who admitted he had lied in certain statements. An application for his re-trial was refused.
A second application seeking a new inquest was brought by Anne Williams, the mother of Kevin, in 2006. This unsuccessful application was considered by the European Court of Human Rights in 2009.
In December 2009, the Government waived the 30-year rule protecting public records from disclosure in relation to Hillsborough. The Hillsborough Independent Panel, presided over by James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, was established and charged with overseeing the disclosure of records and production of a report. This report was published on 12 September 2012 and sought to explain how the wider body of material available to the Panel may add to the public understanding of the tragedy.
Following the publication of the Panel’s Report, the Attorney-General commenced statutory review proceedings. On 19 December 2012, the Divisional Court quashed the verdicts from the original inquests held in 1990 and ordered that fresh inquests be held into each of the deaths arising from the disaster.
The purpose of the fresh inquests is, in the words of the coroner, Lord Justice Goldring, “to examine fully and fairly how each of the victims of this terrible disaster lost his or her life. The inquests will seek to ensure so far as possible that the full facts are brought to light; that any culpable or discreditable conduct is exposed and brought to public notice. However it should not be forgotten that an inquest is a fact finding investigation. It is not a method of apportioning guilt. There are no parties, no indictment, no prosecution and no defence. In other words, an inquest is not a trial but an inquiry to establish the facts… There will be a determined search for the facts in which the process is fair and balanced.”
The fresh inquest will feature a jury and is scheduled to begin on 31 March 2014 at a venue in Warrington.
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