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Hillsborough disaster: Inquest ordered by High Court judges after accidental death verdicts quashed

A request to have the initial Hillsborough inquests quashed was heard today

A request to have the initial Hillsborough inquests quashed was heard today

  • by STEPHEN McGINTY
 

NEW inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool football fans have been ordered by the Lord Chief Justice after the High Court quashed the original verdicts of accidental death in the Hillsborough stadium disaster.

The families of the victims burst into a spontaneous round of applause as Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, struck down the original verdict yesterday due to a “profound and almost palpable” sense of injustice, signalling an important victory in their long 23-year battle to uncover the truth.

The Lord Chief Justice and two other judges granted an application brought by the Attorney General Dominic Grieve, the government’s top law officer, to scrap the original accidental death verdicts. The application was made in the wake of the publication in September of the Hillsborough Independent Panel (Hip), which found that 116 police statements had been amended.

That report also found that the coroner in the original inquest, Dr Stefan Popper, was wrong to assume that all those killed were dead by 3:15pm on the day of the disaster, which meant the response of the police and the emergency services was examined in an extremely limited manner.

The Hip found that 41 victims could have survived beyond the arbitrary cut-off time of 3:15pm, while new medical evidence commissioned by the attorney general raised the figure to 58 who “definitely or probably” had the capacity to survive beyond the cut-off time.

Mr Grieve told the court that the application was unopposed and supported by all the families and the defendants, the coroner for South Yorkshire and the coroner for West Yorkshire.

He also said the new medical evidence from Dr Bill Kirkup and Professor Jack Crane was “the essential basis” for the application.

Mr Grieve argued: “The new medical evidence presented by the panel’s report leads to the conclusion that justice has not been done.”

The Lord Chief Justice and his two fellow judges agreed and Lord Judge announced that there were “good grounds” for the application, described what happened in 1989 as “catastrophic”. Referring to the families, many of whom were weeping in court, he said there had been a “profound, almost palpable belief that justice has not been done and that it cannot be done without and until the full truth is revealed”.

He said: “We must record our admiration and respect for their determined search for the truth about the circumstances of the disaster and why and how it had occurred, which – despite disappointments and setbacks – has continued for nearly quarter of a century.”

Lord Judge expressed regret that the process the families had endured over the years since the disaster had been “so unbearingly dispiriting and

prolonged”.

Lord Judge said each of those who died in the tragedy was a “helpless victim of this terrible event”.

He ruled that it was in the interests of justice to hold a fresh inquest. He said the “interests of justice must be served” – “however distressing the truth will be brought to light”.

Trevor Hicks, chairman of Hillsborough Family Support Group, told afterwards of his delight at the decision.

Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice, he said: “Justice is on its way. Everything we’ve said has been proven to be correct.”

Michelle Carlile, 44, clutching a photograph of her brother Paul, 19, who died at Hillsborough, said: “It is bitter-sweet. We have known the truth for

23 years.”

Meanwhile, the mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, said: “This is a watershed moment on the road to justice for the families of the 96, and I share their overwhelming relief that, after 23 very painful years, the inquest verdicts have been quashed.

“It is the only right and proper decision that the High Court could make in the wake of the overwhelming and compelling evidence uncovered by the Hillsborough Independent Panel.

“We must all keep up the pressure that has driven the momentum over the past few months to make sure that the families get the justice they

deserve.

“I also welcome the new police investigation, which we all hope will result in those that played a role in causing the disaster and the monumental cover-up are brought to account.”

Welcoming the decision, Mr Grieve said: “Thanks to the work of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, it was made clear that the medical evidence underpinning the original inquests, and relied upon in subsequent reviews and inquiries, was fundamentally unsound.

“In addition, the statements concerning the actions of the police and emergency services, and the original evidence concerning the alcohol consumption of the deceased, give rise to questions that fresh inquests should address.

“I therefore believe the interests of justice require the 96 inquests to be quashed and for new ones to be held.

“Today, the court has agreed with me. These processes inevitably take time, but I share the hope that the new inquests are held as speedily as possible, and I know that efforts are being made to expedite them.

“The families’ long and painful quest for the truth reached a breakthrough with the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report.”

Mr Grieve went on: “I hope and trust that new inquests will provide a better understanding of how each of their loved

ones died, and bring closer the justice for which they have fought so hard.”

 

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