Lord Justice Goldring yesterday laid out key questions facing jurors in fresh inquests into how the fans died, including how other supporters behaved.
He said: “What was the conduct of the fans or some of them, excluding those who died, and did that play any part in the disaster? I phrase it in that way because I don’t believe anyone will suggest that the conduct of those who died in any way contributed to their deaths.”
Speaking outside a court in a specially fitted office block in Warrington, Cheshire, Margaret Aspinall, chairwoman of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, said: “It’s absolutely great. We’ve always known that for 25 years. We’ve had a lot of mud thrown at us for 25 years. It’s nice to hear the coroner say that.
“To hear that officially from Lord Justice Goldring was really music to our ears.”
Britain’s worst sporting disaster came when hundreds of fans were crushed at the FA Cup semi-final between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground on 15 April 1989.
The original inquest verdicts were quashed in November, 2012. Yesterday, on the third day of the new inquests, the jury heard that police accounts of what happened that day were changed, with critical comments about police leadership and fans removed.
Officers from South Yorkshire had been asked to write their own accounts of what happened, then senior ranks and force lawyers altered some statements before they were passed to West Midlands Police, which was investigating the tragedy.
The coroner said: “Over the years between 1989 and today, it has become known that a large number of statements were amended in the review. The amendments vary in type and significance. Some simply involve corrections of language and factual error. Others involve removing expletives.
“A number involved the removal of comments criticising the police leadership on the day of the disaster. Others were of deletions of passages denouncing poor and defective radio communications.
“A small number were amended to remove comments which were critical or even abusive of the fans at the match.”
Lord Justice Goldring told the jury of seven women and four men: “Among the questions which you may consider are these. “Do the amendments affect your view of the reliability of these early written accounts given by the officers?
“Why was the amendment made? Was it made for innocent and perfectly understandable reasons? Or was it part of a policy of blaming fans in order to deflect criticism from police?”
He outlined the series of inquiries that have already taken place into the tragedy, including the previous inquests at which the coroner took the “highly controversial” decision that those who died were beyond help after 3:15pm.
The inquests continue.