A DAMNING report into the Hillsborough disaster has laid bare a shocking cover-up which attempted to shift the blame for the tragedy on to its victims.
Yesterday the families of the 96 Liverpool fans killed 23 years ago said the report had vindicated them but pledged to carry on their fight by pursuing criminal prosecutions against those who they said should “hang their heads in shame”.
Prime Minister David Cameron led a chorus of apologies – including from former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie, current Sun editor Dominic Mohan and the South Yorkshire Police (SYP) Chief Constable – and said that Attorney General Dominic Grieve will review the report as quickly as possible in order to decide whether to apply to the High Court to quash the original, flawed inquest and order a new one.
Ninety-six Liverpool supporters died in a crush at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium on April 15, 1989 where their team were to meet Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final.
Introducing the report, pictured below, to the Hillsborough families at the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool, Bishop James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool and chairman of the panel, said: “The documents disclosed to and analysed by the panel show that the tragedy should never have happened.
“There were clear operational failures in response to the disaster and in its aftermath there were strenuous attempts to deflect the blame onto the fans.
The panel’s detailed report shows how vulnerable victims, survivors and their families are when transparency and accountability are compromised.”
The panel’s report found:
l There were clear operational failures in response to the disaster and up to 41 fans could potentially have survived;
l The then chief constable of South Yorkshire Peter Wright and his officers, with the help of local Tory MP Irvine Patnick, sought to cover up the failings, briefing media that drunken, ticketless fans and violence were to blame;
l There was “no evidence that fans had conspired to arrive late at the stadium” and “no evidence that they stole from the dead and dying”;
l Police “doctored” 116 official statements “to remove or alter comments unfavourable to SYP”;
l South Yorkshire Ambulance Service documents were “subject to the same process”;
l An attempt was made to “impugn the reputations of the deceased by carrying out Police National Computer checks on those with a non-zero alcohol level”;
l Blood alcohol levels were tested in some survivors as well as in all those who died. In some there was “no apparent medical reason for the test” and no record was kept;
l Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher voiced concern that a 1990 report into the Hillsborough disaster constituted a “devastating criticism” of police.
Hillsborough Families Support Group chairman Trevor Hicks, who lost two daughters at Hillsborough, said they would now press for criminal action against those involved in the disaster, adding: “The truth is out today, justice starts tomorrow.”
Mr Hicks said the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report revealed shocking “depths of depravity” in the way the police tried to blame the fans after the disaster.
He said the report showed that “possibly as many as 41 people might have survived” if the disaster had been better handled.
Margaret Aspinall, chairman of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, whose son James died, said the families had trusted the panel all along and thanked the members for their work and for “exonerating” the fans.
She added: “They have made our city proud today, but most importantly they have made the 96 rest in peace for the first time in all those years.”
Mr Hicks said the families gave the panel a standing ovation when it finished reporting its findings to them and that three people even fainted as the information came out.
Michael Mansfield QC, who is representing the families, said it was “perfectly obvious” from the report that “criminal liability – for which there is no time limit – is on the cards” and that as many as “half-a-dozen” people could potentially be brought to justice.
The chief constable of South Yorkshire Police said he was “profoundly sorry” for his force’s actions in the aftermath of the disaster.
David Crompton said he had been “shocked” by the findings of the report and officers had made “grave errors”.
He said in a statement: “In the immediate aftermath senior officers sought to change the record of events. Disgraceful lies were told which blamed the Liverpool fans for the disaster.
“I am profoundly sorry for the way the force failed on April 15, 1989 and I am doubly sorry for the injustice that followed and I apologise to the families of the 96 and Liverpool fans.”
Mr Mohan also apologised for The Sun’s coverage of the disaster, saying: “Twenty-three years ago The Sun newspaper made a terrible mistake. We published an inaccurate and offensive story about the events at Hillsborough. We said it was the truth – it wasn’t.”
And Sheffield City Council apologised for the part it played in licensing and carrying out “inadequate and poorly recorded inspections” of the Hillsborough stadium.
The report found that Sheffield Wednesday’s ground “failed to meet minimum standards under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975”.
Prime Minister David Cameron told MPs: “On behalf of the Government – and indeed our country – I am profoundly sorry for this double injustice that has been left uncorrected for so long.”